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.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The 2018 Oscar noms are here. Which is fun and all; we'll never not get excited about a night of glitz and glamor and, when we're lucky, pretty great dancing. But we'd be a heck of a lot more excited if the Academy Awards included a Best Choreography category. And really—why don't they?
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
Maud Arnold is one of the busiest tap dancers on the planet. As a member of the Syncopated Ladies, Maud—along with her big sis and fellow tapper Chloé Arnold—is on constantly the road for performances, workshops, and master classes. For the average person, that kind of schedule could lead to a serious derailment of healthy habits. But Maud's far from average. Here's how the fit, fierce, flawless tap star stays stage-ready—no matter what time zone she finds herself in.
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Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.
There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.