Sisters Emily and Elizabeth Dell Capture Dance on Film
When sibling filmmakers Elizabeth and Emily Dell roomed together at UC Berkeley, they were on different paths, majoring in public health and biology, respectively. Though Emily had dreamed of directing movies since age 16, it wasn’t until she studied filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts during summers that her creative drive inspired Elizabeth to get on board. Today, Emily, who writes and directs, and Elizabeth, who produces, are busy promoting their 15-minute film B-Girl, a story of a breakdancer named Angel (played by Lady Jules) struggling to get it together before a big competition. They’re now working to secure funding to make a feature-length version.
The sisters aren’t dancers themselves, but when they visited San Francisco’s Mission Street Fair in August 2002, they were inspired by a b-girl crew called the Sisterz of the Underground. B-Girl is playing internationally; last fall, it won the Audience Award at the H20 Hip Hop Odyssey Film Fest in NYC.
Skills Needed: “Filmmaking is something you learn as you go. It’s very much an apprenticeship,” Elizabeth says. Both agree that all aspiring filmmakers should have passion, commitment and organization. A degree in film isn’t necessary, but knowledge of the biz will put you a step ahead. “School is an advantage, but it’s just a forum for you to learn the practical skills you can also learn on your own,” Emily says.
Hours: The industry’s standard day is 12 hours, but the Dell sisters say they work for upwards of 14 hours. They were the first ones on set at 6:30 am, to plan out the day’s shooting schedule, and the last ones to leave. B-Girl took about a year to make from conception to finished product, and the sisters estimate the feature film will take about two years. The work doesn’t stop after a film wraps; Elizabeth continually works on distributing B-Girl to festivals and selling the DVD at breaking events, screenings and through its website, bgirlmovie.com.
Tools of the Trade: Camera, script, lights, sets and precision dancers. The final five-minute breakdancing scene in B-Girl took an entire 12-hour day to shoot, because the dancers had to repeat choreography exactly the same as the previous shot while the camera people changed angles. “I just can’t give enough props to our dancers, who did some really incredible dancing again and again for us,” Elizabeth says.
Co-workers: Director of photography, production designer, assistant director, camera people, editors, wardrobe designers, makeup artists, actors, dancers.
Funding: “Money is always a problem, because movies are really expensive,” Emily says. The budget for B-Girl was $23,000, gathered from private foundations, donations and sponsorship from a nonprofit organization. Many of the dancers were so passionate about the film that they worked for free. As the producer, Elizabeth’s primary function during pre-production (the planning phase before filming begins) was to fundraise. “Any dancer or dance group knows you need to be really creative about who can help you in the process, where you can reach out and where the community can step in,” she says. Money worries are common in the industry, and Elizabeth admits raising money is her least favorite part of the job. But “to have an exciting vision and no way to fund it is the worst feeling,” she says.
Research: The Dells nabbed b-boys and b-girls from all over California, then interviewed them to compile the plotline. In December 2002, Lady Jules, known for her Gap commercial and music video breakdancing, also shared her stories with Elizabeth and Emily in a pre-B-Girl interview. In fact, the actual character of Angel encompasses some aspects of Jules’ life.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.