Meet the Photographer Behind All Those Dance Photos You're Obsessed With
We're on somewhat of a dance photography kick here at DS, so we figured we'd keep it going in a very big way: an exclusive interview with Rachel Neville, the photographer responsible for all those absolutely drool-worthy dance photos on your Instagram feed. We caught up with Neville at PurePoint Financial in NYC, where she just wrapped up her new show, "A Command Performance"..
Dance Spirit: How'd you start your photography career?
Rachel Neville: I was a dancer in Europe, and suffered a finish-your-career type of injury. I went back to Canada to live with my parents and finish high school, and photography was the senior year art class offering, so I took it. And I suddenly realized, "I like this, this could be something." So I took a year off, applied to colleges, and went from there.
DS: What's your dance background?
RN: I was classically trained in Toronto, Canada, where I'm from. I stopped dancing when I was 21.
DS: How does your dance background help you in shoots?
RN: In so, so many ways. I'm also trained to teach, and I really love teaching. Being a dancer allows you special insight when photographing, in that you know what [the dancers] are looking for, and what you should be looking for.
DS: Do you have dancers prepare in any specific way prior to a photoshoot?
RN: I'm really the director on almost all of my shoots. I tell the dancers what to do and wear. Occasionally they prepare things, but really it's just an organic process once on set. As dancers warm up, I help them understand how to pose in front of the camera, because you're trying to make something that looks beautiful in 3-D translate onto a flat screen. It often takes an hour for them to understand twisting, changing their lines, hitting things all at once. So, organically, poses and movements begin to come out of this, and I begin to see what their facility is, what their level is, and what I can and can't push.
If it's a more conceptual shoot, like with Jorge Villarini and the bird, then there's more that goes into it. He watched videos of birds and how they moved, and came into the shoot with specific ideas of how he wanted to move. I often give the dancers the story and emotion I'm envisioning, so they can start to think about it.
Jorge Villarini as "The Bird" (courtesy Rachel Neville)
DS: What are some of your favorite recent shoots?
RN: Any time there's a shoot with a narrative, and the dancers give you a performance that brings you to tears while you photograph—those are my absolute favorites. Being able to communicate with audiences and have those moments is what dance is all about, and I hope that's what I do with my shoots.
One of my favorite shoots was when I worked with Boston Ballet and William Forsythe. It was amazing to get the chance to work with him, because we quickly realized that we see things very similarly. We were finishing each other's sentences, he was on board with every idea, the dancers were incredible to work it, the entire team—I can't say enough about that shoot.
Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in William Forsythe's "Artifact" (courtesy Neville/Boston Ballet)
DS: What's the best advice you have for dancers going to their first photoshoot?
RN: Great question. I have three main pieces of advice:
- Have absolute patience with yourself. Don't expect good shots right away. Sometimes a two or three hour photoshoot yields five to seven good shots. Take some time to learn the skills needed for taking a good photo.
- Try to arrange for your first shoot to be with a dance photographer who truly understands dance. Even if it means you're getting less time with the photographer, it's worth it—the pictures will be worth it.
- As your shoot progresses, don't be afraid to ask your photographer to be involved in the process. Go back to the screen once in a while, look at the photos, fine-tune your poses, and try again if the image isn't working. Be confident, because everyone can get an amazing dance photo—it's just all about the process that goes into it.
Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."
The Olympics are always full of inspiring Cinderella stories, where athletes no one had heard of mere months ago end up blowing all expectations out of the water, and maybe even nabbing a medal in the bargain. But we've recently caught wind of a different kind of Cinderella story—and it's one we really, really hope shows up in the Closing Ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics, airing tonight on NBC starting at 8 pm Eastern/5 pm Pacific time.
Being a dancer comes with the task of having to entertain the same questions over and over again from those outside the dance world. Of course, we love having our friends and family take an interest in our passion—but if someone asks ONE MORE TIME whether or not we've met Travis Wall, we might just go crazy.
Here are 10 questions that dancers hate getting asked.
Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."
Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.
Last month, we asked why there wasn't a Best Choreography category at the Oscars—and discovered that many of you agreed with us: Choreographers should definitely be acknowledged for their work on the super-dancy movies we can't get enough of.
Now, we're taking matters into our own (jazz) hands.
We've decided to create a Dance Spirit award for the best cinematic choreography of 2017. With your input, we've narrowed the field to four choreographers whose moves lit up some of the best movies of the year. Check out our nominations for best choreography below—and vote for the choreographer you think deserves the honor. We'll announce the winner on Friday, March 2.
Once upon a time (until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi concluded, to be exact), figure skaters had to compete to music without words. Before this rule change, a skater faced an automatic point deduction if the music even hinted at vocals. Understandably, there were *a lot* of Olympic programs skated to classical music, and you'd tend to hear the same music selections over and over and over.
There are plenty of current Olympic figure skaters who'd make beautiful dancers (first among them Adam Rippon, whose gorgeously choreographed long program won the internet, if not the gold). But today, as we wait for the women's figure skating competition to crown its new champions, we wanted to throw it back to one of the most beautifully balletic skaters of all time: Sasha Cohen.
The high-flying leaps of grand allegro are meant to be incredibly exciting. But at the end of an intense ballet class, when you're exhausted, it can be hard to give them the attention they deserve. Want to pump up your big jumps? Follow these 10 vital tips from Jennifer Hart, curriculum director and instructor at Ballet Austin.