Houston Ballet first soloist Oliver Halkowich filming Stanton Welch's "In Good Company" for Houston Ballet's film series

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Four Pros Share How to Master Dancing on Camera

Dancing on camera has always been a part of the industry: Music videos, commercials and televised dance competitions are nothing new. But this year, dance on video has taken off—and along with it, new demands on dancers.


Dance Spirit spoke with Sophie Pittman, former contestant on "So You Think You Can Dance," Fiona Claire Huber, background dancer on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Oliver Halkowich, first soloist with Houston Ballet, and Kaycee Rice, former contestant on "World of Dance," for behind-the-scenes input on what it's like to perform in front of a lens.

Transitioning From Crowds to Cameras

Halkowich has danced his entire career at Houston Ballet in a theater that seats 2,300 people. But when onstage for the company's film series, In Good Company, this number dwindled drastically. "There was no hum of an excited audience past the curtain," Halkowich says, "just four people in masks and a camera."

"There's a big difference between dancing to one audience member—the camera lens—and dancing to an entire audience of people," Pittman says. It affects how you move, emote and connect.

On camera, move bigger than you think. "The camera takes away about 15 to 20 percent of the energy that you give," Pittman explains. "You have to dance even more full-out."

But be conscientious of how your movement matches your role. "With background work, like 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,' I never want to be too sharp, too distracting," Huber explains. "Whereas with a music video, my movement can be sharper and more dynamic."

Shooting Take After Take

On set for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Huber danced a 10-hour day…to shoot a two-minute scene. While you may have multiple tries to get it right and smaller chunks of movement to dance each take, stopping and starting can wear you down.

"You have to be vocal," Pittman says. Don't be afraid to let the choreographer (or the director, if the choreographer isn't present) know that you need a minute between takes to grab some water or catch your breath. "Come prepared and know how to pace yourself," Pittman adds.

Staying Consistent

In every take, be mindful of what you're doing. "Consistency in spacing, in timing, even in how your costume lies is more important in film than in a live performance," Halkowich says. While filming for Houston Ballet's In Good Company, ballet master Amy Fote took notes on a whiteboard. "It was important to keep track of spacing and camera movement so things would line up in editing," Halkowich explains. "On the first day of filming I wore a jacket that we realized at the end of the shoot had torn. I came in the next day to refilm everything without the jacket."

Live performance is about the big picture. "There's more room for choices," Huber says. "Whereas on camera, it's about the details. Every time you do the scene, it has to be the exact same for continuity."

But don't let the lull of repetition dull your moves or affect your attitude. "Make it feel like the first time you're dancing each and every time," Rice says. If you have a bad take, shake it off. The camera catches variations in your approach that an audience member may not.

"A camera picks up authenticity at a faster rate," Halkowich says. "If you are feeling free and having fun, the camera recognizes that. If you are feeling anxious and uptight, the camera also understands that."

Halkowich is onstage dressed in a white button down and dark pants. He is in a forward lunge position with his hands on the floor, looking out

Houston Ballet first soloist Oliver Halkowich filming Stanton Welch's "In Good Company" for Houston Ballet's film series

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Locking on the Lens

A lens captures a more personal view than an audience member can see alone. "There was something more intimate about dancing for a camera, as if I was dancing for a single person," Halkowich says.

Use this close relation to the camera as a way to connect—with the audience and with yourself.

When Rice looks into the lens, she imagines looking into someone's eyes. "I'm talking to them directly, and my movement is conveying what I would say to them," Rice says. Relate that imagined person to the intention behind the piece. "Say the song's about love," Pittman suggests, "then the camera has to be my boyfriend."

"Another thing is connecting with myself," Rice says. "Because when the camera is so close, I want to make sure that I am in touch with how I'm feeling and what I want to come across."

Having this awareness is a sign of star quality. "When I watch a dancer on camera and they can make me feel something through the lens," Pittman says, "I know that they are a star."

Be wary that this dancer–camera connection depends on the job. Sometimes a choreographer or director may want you to look past the camera, ignoring it's there. While filming for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," for instance, Huber did not look directly into the camera, knowing her character was dancing as if in the middle of a 1960s party. "I think it's kind of like breaking the fourth wall," Huber says, referencing the imaginary boundary between a performer and the audience.

Pittman says it's always a good idea to ask the choreographer where to look before shooting.

Conquering the Camera

Dancing for film is a way to immortalize a performance, reach audiences beyond a theater's capacity and inspire others. But being in front of the camera can be intimidating, bringing new emotions, pressure and stressors to the prospect of performing.

"A lot of the last year working on film, I felt the most awkward I ever have about my dancing," Halkowich admits. "I would do the eight-counts and hear 'Cut,' and look at four people watching playback on a monitor and wonder, 'Did I do it right? Was I any good?'"

Rice, too, admits to the added pressure on camera, from how she moves to what she's wearing. "In this day and age of social media, too, it's scary because people judge," Rice says. But what she reminds herself and warns others: The worst thing dancers can do on camera is get in their heads.

"Be secure in yourself and who you are as an artist," Pittman urges. "You can't compare yourself to others or let what people say about your dancing impact you. Know your worth. Know your value."

This includes embracing your mistakes rather than fixating on them—an oftentimes easy thing to do when caught on camera. "Imperfections are what make us all human and interesting and different from one another," Halkowich says. "In movies, the flawed character is always more interesting to watch than the perfect one. The camera eats that up. Striving for perfection is a necessary part of a dancer's life, but remember, the audience wants to watch a human being."

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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