Like many dancers, Kristie Kahns covered her bedroom walls with dance photos snipped from magazines and newspapers when she was a child. Now, she’s the one producing such images.

Dance and Camera: Kahns, who studied ballet, jazz, tap and lyrical in her native Grand Rapids, MI, discovered her passion for photography in an introductory course at the local Kendall College of Art & Design. At 17, she moved to Chicago to pursue a photography degree at Columbia College of Chicago and also studied dance at Lou Conte Dance Studio and the Ruth Page School.

Good Gigs: Since graduating in 2002, Kahns has made a living as a freelance dance photographer, running photo shoots for promo materials, snapping candids of rehearsals and performances, and photographing performances of such companies as Luna Negra Dance Theater, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Chicago Dance Crash and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

Education: BA in photography. “Not all professionals study photography in college, but I feel [it] gave me an invaluable foundation,” Kahns says. “I learned the importance of putting your thumbprint on everything you do, which pushed me to find ways to capture dance through my own eyes, rather than mimicking the work of other dance photographers.” Kahns recommends taking courses to learn about the language of the field, lighting and composition, and also apprenticing with pros in order to learn how to work with a creative team, direct subjects and the business side of the industry.

Salary and Schedule: Hours range from all-day shoots to 2- to 3-hour drop-ins at rehearsals or performances, plus time to see shows to stay in tune with the scene and to meet potential clients. One roadblock is that new or small companies often don’t have budgets for photography. Kahns photographed fledgling company Instruments of Movement for only the cost of expenses, but it was worthwhile to help build her portfolio.

Tools of the Trade: Camera, film or memory cards, light meter, Sharpie marker (for writing on film containers and Polaroids) and cable releases. Various lighting and grip equipment and backdrops, all of which can be rented. Kahns prefers film to digital, because she can alter images during the development process according to her own artistic exploration.

Skills Needed: Persistence, adaptability, a knack for problem solving, attention to detail and knowledge of dance. “I like to watch a piece once through before shooting,” Kahns says. “If that isn’t possible, my dance knowledge helps me read what is happening onstage and anticipate when to shoot.”

Latest Posts

Courtesy Hollywood Vibe

These Dance Comps and Conventions Are Coming to a Living Room Near You

While dancers all over the world are sharing the heartache of canceled classes, shows, and projects, our hearts hurt especially hard for a group of dancers we at Dance Spirit couldn't admire more: comp and convention kids. Determined to challenge your artistry and learn from cutting-edge faculty, you dancers normally brave crowded ballrooms and nonstop schedules all year long. But just because you might not be in one of those crowded ballrooms for a while doesn't mean that part of your dance life has to grind to a halt.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Troy Ogilvie, who teaches dance improvisation classes in NYC (Franziska Strauss, courtesy Ogilvie)

Stay Creative with These 5 Improv Exercises You Can Do at Home

If social distancing has you feeling unusually restless right now (cabin fever is REAL), a good improvisation session could be the dance remedy you need. Improv, which is the simultaneous creation and performance of movement without any preparation, doesn't require a dance studio or stage. In fact, sometimes working in an unconventional space—like your own home—can prompt even more interesting movement. And when done right, improvising is seriously liberating.

"Improvisation can be uniquely healing if you give yourself time to listen to your body without judgement," says Troy Ogilvie, who teaches improvisation classes at renowned institutions like SpringboardX and Peridance in New York City. "It allows us to interact with our surroundings and emotions more directly."

Here are five improvisation exercises you can do at home to keep your body and mind moving.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.


Enter the Cover Model Search