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Show Off the Reel You

Nicole Decsey shares her tips and tricks for creating a blockbuster dance reel!

When is it time for a fresh start, a blank slate and a reset for another year? Probably more often than you think. So, maybe it’s time to update your dance reel or make your first one ever. Because why not?

Reels are incredibly important for any dancer or choreographer. A great resume and cover letter go a long way, but they can’t show the way you move. The important thing here, is finding a way to show off your physical talents and give choreographers and directors a visual peek into your past work before they get you into the rehearsal studio. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, how much do you think a video is worth?

So, what do you need to do to make a dance reel?

The most important thing is the dance footage, but sometimes getting the footage is easier said than done. Most choreographers and directors will have video footage of their work for archival purposes, and if you want a copy of that material, you will have to stand up for yourself and ask for it. Most of the time this will work, but remember there are other options when it doesn’t. No need to panic, you can always get your own footage. Simply find a studio and film yourself doing some improv or performing a piece of choreo (if it isn’t your own, be sure to get permission from the choreographer), get videos from classes you take, and create your own opportunities to get quality videos. No one is going to hand you the perfect clip for a reel, you will have to figure it out on your own. Remember: people want to help you, but some things are out of their control. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you need or just do it yourself.

My first reel:

Next, you have to pick and choose what clips you want to showcase in your reel. This, again, sounds easier than it is. In a video audition choreographers and directors don’t want to be watching 5-minute compilations of your work. Reels should be 1-2 minutes MAX, meaning you will have to pick the best material that shows off all your individual skills and experiences. Remember, a reel is pointless if they don’t know who you are and can’t identify you in the different videos. Therefore, avoid footage where you are hidden in the back and/or can’t be seen easily. People don’t want to have to look for you. A great way to start your video is with a headshot or a clip of just you dancing and your name on a title.

Make sure you include your name, headshot, and contact info at the end (even if you have it at the beginning). If a choreographer doesn’t see your name, they could attribute the wrong video with the wrong dancer. It is a common formality to include it at the beginning and end. Besides, a little reminder of who you are never hurts in this biz!

Once you have made your decisions it’s time to edit. Pick any software you want, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, iMovie is great for editing dance reels.

A few key tips for editing to remember are:

  • Always cut on the action: if you are jumping between clips, cut the clip during movement. This will allow for the cut to seem smoother and less jerky.

  • Do not cut between two clips of the same piece at the same angle. If you want to show the same work twice, use different camera angles for the cuts.

  • Match the cuts you make with the music you have chosen. Music can hide mistakes or jumpy cuts 😉

  • Transitions can be useful, but they tend to be overused and at times unnecessary.

Once you are done the editing process, the final thing for you to do is upload it to YouTube, Vimeo or another accessible hosting service. This is an important step, as most companies hosting auditions want your reels sent through links and not files that they will have to download. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to see your reel. The harder it is to access and the longer it takes, the more likely it is that people will not take the time to watch it. If you want your reel to be private but also want to make it easily accessible, I suggest making it an unlisted link on YouTube. This means that only people with the link can view the video.

My second reel:

Tips from the Casting Seat – by Rachel Levitt

When I started my company, Dance : Corps, I held video auditions to maximize the opportunity of people applying. I didn’t want to lose applicants due to people not being available on the day of the audition, so I requested reels instead. Here are my tips for ya’ll based on what I was looking for:

  1. Make it clean and polished: if it’s too messy, it comes across like you don’t care. Sometimes something is NOT better than nothing. This is your first impression! Make sure the footage is clear, your name appears at the beginning and end, and that you have at least a few clips.

  2. Show off a variety of genres and styles: you never know what we are looking for now or later…

  3. Include footage from the gigs on your resume: this authenticates that you’ve done what you say you’ve done, and demonstrates your performance on those projects. Don’t panic if you can’t attain footage from these though, we know it happens. We’ll still believe that you’ve done that work, but may hold a slight preference for reels who do include clips from their credits.

  4. What you do outside of your reel is just as important: when Nicole applied to Dance : Corps, she just had a video of her improvising in a studio. My impression was that she is a contemporary dancer who really likes floor work, and I was a little surprised that she hadn’t included footage from anything on her resume. This doesn’t make for easy casting, but another dancer said really nice things about her and Nicole was good at responding to emails and letting me know she was interested in my company, so she was my first call when I needed a contemp dancer who was good at floor work. So, a reel is great, but there are more important things. There are so many talented dancers, you are one of many. You need more than talent to stand out, get hired once and then get hired again.

For some of you, all of this may be common knowledge. But it never hurts to get a refresher and reminder. For those of you who this is new for, I am so excited for you to start this video journey! Reels are important, and it’s important to update your reel regularly as new (and good) footage is added to your repertoire. And if you get really good at making reels, think of what your next steps in the dance film industry could be…

Happy reel making!!

My latest reel:



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