Each one of us has our own voice, our own way of speaking. Dance is no different than this, except for the fact that instead of speaking with words, it speaks with movement. As I progressed more into my dancer’s soul series, there were still moments where I was wasn’t entirely sure where I was going with these series. What my voice was. All I knew is that I wanted to photograph dancers differently that what one normally sees when they think of dance photography. But as I photograph each dancer, the path becomes more and more clear.
Meet Melissa, a beautiful dancer who happens to be one of my dance instructors. We met when she took over the adult jazz class at the studio, and she and I hit it off. We gabbed like we were old friends. :) I told her about my dance project and immediately asked her if she would like to be a part of it.
Often when I go into these shoots, I don’t have a set idea of what is going to happen. The same happens for many of my other shoots – like with engagements and weddings, and etc. I may scout out locations to get a feel for the place and perhaps the light, but for the most part, I am winging it along the way. When something captures my fancy, I gravitate towards it. When it comes to shooting people, a lot of the factor not only comes with the location, but the people themselves. Shooting people is an art that requires connecting with people, and most importantly, authentically capturing them in the best way possible. And I don’t mean the perfectly posed portrait. I mean looking towards the best in them and saying: you are enough.
In this, it means making them comfortable and allowing them to be themselves and speak freely through not only their voices but their movement, their body language. That is not the easiest task in the world to do — a lot of times when a camera is pointed at someone, they will put up a “front,” pose, make a camera-worthy face and put their best foot forward. I am totally guilty of this myself! There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s not who they are deep down. And that is what I am interested in when I photograph people. The beauty that emanates from within. When people feel comfortable enough to let themselves go.
Coming back to dancers, there is one thing that I think happens with classically trained dancers — they tend to bury their own voice when they dance. Not everyone does this — the dancers that are truly captivating have the ability to let their own soul seep into their movement, but many dancers tend to shove this in the back corners of themselves because classically trained dancers are almost always told what to do. How to look. How perfect your line should be. No, that’s not good enough, keep pushing. That foot could be pointed just a little bit more. That leg could be extended just a little more. And even if it’s not necessarily coming from someone else, it will be coming internally — comparing themselves to others who can do all those things they can’t. It’s a dangerous thing, and causes one to put themselves aside to strive to be someone else (or a more perfect version of themselves) because they no longer think that they are enough. Like I’ve stated before, it is important for dancers to improve skills, but I also think it is important to not lose sight of who you are in that movement.
When Melissa and I first began shooting, I asked her to warm up and dance to a few songs while I snapped away. The beginning of a shoot is always the “getting to know you” phase where we feel each other out and begin to get comfortable around one another. About halfway through the shoot, I noticed that I felt more when I saw Melissa dancing with her upper body. When I saw her putting her energy through her upper half — it’s as if I felt her talking. Speaking. Her dancer’s soul coming straight on through. It was after that realization that I asked her to focus her energy on her upper half and from that point on I began to get really excited about the images because then I felt like I could see her. She was speaking to me. And that was enough.
I realized after this shoot that there is another dimension to these series that I did not consider until now. The idea that these shoots are giving dancers a platform to speak. Speak from their own voices. Not just something someone else choreographed. I want to hear them. I want them to come out so that they can reconnect with that thing that made them want to dance so badly in the first place years ago. Sure, it can be connected with through improv dance as well, but I feel like there is something more vulnerable with having that photographed because it’s like you can see the layers and dimension and depth in a photo that you may not get otherwise save being right in front of them. Plus you can revisit that moment more & not only that, I feel like a photograph allows you to sit in a moment for longer than you might in any other way. In this – it’s scarier to be photographed doing something so vulnerable.
But the beauty you see in it is definitely second to none — save for being in that very moment yourself.
I have made it a goal of mine in 2012 to photograph at least one dancer every month for this project. Who knows where the path will take me, but I just know that each time I photograph a dancer, I gain a indispensable amount of insight that makes the shoots themselves just totally worth it. I feel like I am creating and working towards something very worthwhile here, and that gives me great, great joy . !
(If you know of any dancers that may be interested in this project, please have them contact me! mail at enpointephotography dot com)
past dancers: emily | tiffany