Why do I photograph dancers? Well…. roughly six years ago, my two gorgeous daughters started dance class. I watched them developing their own style and technique, I saw the hours of work they were putting in to learn the routines and nail specific moves. And like any proud Mum, I wanted to record it!
Initially the girls did exam and show classes, but inevitably, they wanted to do more. They joined stretch and competition classes too, and we were introduced to the fun and sometimes crazy world of competitive freestyle disco!
At the same time, I had been studying a Lev 3 extended diploma in Photography. I was coming to the end of my first year and I needed a project. The advice given to me was ‘shoot what you love’. So, it was obvious…. my girls, dancing. As anybody in the freestyle world is aware, photographing the dancers on the floor is against the rules, so I photographed the team as they were preparing, stretching, hanging out. I began to notice just how close the bond was between the dancers. They were a unit. If there were two dancers in the same section, dancing against each other, they walked onto the floor holding hands. If one made the final and the other didn’t, it would be that dancer leading the cheering and the first to congratulate. The younger dancers were mesmerised by the older ones. It was the same at shows, and it was at this point that I really fell in love with the dance world and I rarely shot anything else.
As I evolved as a photographer, I began to shoot more and more in the studio. I experimented with some still life, food photography and other types of portraiture, but I kept coming back to dance!
Dancers are fabulous in the studio. They have an ability to take direction and perform for the camera that comes from years of learning choreography and participating in shows and comps. They have endless energy and confidence, and they always bring loads of ideas and suggestions to the shoot. It’s a real collaboration. Unusually (I think) for a photographer, I am not a fan of working alone. I much prefer having someone to bounce ideas off and chat to while I work. Dancers are naturally very creative people and they bring that to the shoots.
Each dancer brings me something different. A favourite move, a pose, a costume, or even a favourite colour. We work together to create the best images we can. Dancers are notorious perfectionists and will constantly check the back of my camera to make sure their leg is as high as it will go, or their arms are positioned correctly. The studio can end up sounding like a dance class with either me or my dancer shouting “one more time”!! Or “Do it again”. Then of course, there is the laughing when a move goes slightly wrong and I catch it!
Each image, to me, is way more than a photograph of a really cool jump or an interesting flexi shape. The images represent the end product of dance teachers and dance parents working together, to support these amazingly talented young people, who are artists and athletes rolled into one. Hours upon hours of stretching, practising, training and doing things ‘one more time’. Each dancer has experienced disappointment and frustration, and has come back time and time again.
This is why I photograph dancers!!
About the Author
Helen Wood is a photographer from Cumbria in the north west of England. Find out more about her dance photography by clicking the button below..