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How to Create a Stand-Out Video Submission For Virtual Competitions

Check out our podcast episode on this hot topic! Subscribe on Apple Podcasts!

Dancer: Cydnee Abbott - Canadian Dance Company

As the whole world has had to shift to primarily digital platforms, the dance industry has continued to navigate these tricky times through online classes, virtual competitions, and even virtual auditions. On this week’s episode of Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley sat down with IDA Judges Alex and Traci to discuss tips and tricks for filming self-tapes and virtual submissions for any dance gig.

So what are the best practices for filming, specifically for virtual competition submissions?

Alex and Traci agree that the biggest mistakes people make are disregarding the background and not being conscious of camera angles. You don’t need to submit a professional video, but the background of your space is important, especially because these submissions translate into professional work. Traci explains that casting directors see your background as the first impression, just like the judges who are critiquing your dance. If your living room is the best you can do for your submission, that’s okay! However, if your younger sibling’s toys are in the frame, consider moving them so that you get the cleanest shot possible! Alex explains,

“Just make sure that whatever background you have and wherever you are that the focus of the video is your dancing and we’re not distracted by a weird angle or a toddler running in the background.”

Of course, there’s a lot of forgiveness in these times and these are just tips! Before filming, Traci suggests doing some research and checking out self-tape videos on Youtube. Figure out what looks good to you and then try to replicate it for yourself.

On the topic of camera angles, be sure to ALWAYS film horizontally so that the viewer can see your entire body at all times. Both Alex and Traci note that many professional submissions actually emphasize not to film vertically. Also, it’s preferable to film from the front if you have the depth, as opposed to a mirror shot. A tripod is also a great idea to get a steady shot--more on that later! Remember that the camera angle from a height perspective is important. For instance, filming from the bottom up will distort your lines, so be sure to place the camera where the viewer can see all of you. If your space lacks depth, filming from the back corner in the mirror is definitely okay.

Some dancers and parents might be wondering if it’s worth investing in a videographer or using fancy steadicam techniques that follow the dancer around. There are definitely pros and cons. Using the steadicam technique is great because it can capture more emotion. However, if there is too much going on, it might seem to the viewer like you’re trying to hide something. The same goes for fancy editing, multiple angles, and jump cuts. These techniques, while super useful for choreographic submissions and great for social media, might tell the judge that you’ve edited out something that didn’t go as planned. Remember that dance is a live art form and the beauty lies in the quirks and imperfections! We don’t get second chances on stage so try to treat virtual competition entries in the same way. Lesley suggests setting a limit on how many times you film your dance, perhaps three takes, and choosing your favorite.

One great editing skill, though, is to include a short introduction at the beginning. In the professional world, this is referred to as “slating,” where you introduce yourself and tell the viewer what you’re about to do. Not only does it give the judge information, but it is also great practice for the future!

Another tip is to use an external speaker to play your music if you’re not filming in a studio with a large stereo system. It’s also a good idea to do a sound test to make sure that your music is loud enough. And again, it’s critical to remember that these are all just tips to take you to the next level moving forward. Traci offers a great perspective,

“Even if you try this out and it doesn’t work...if the technology is too much for you, just the act of trying means so much and you should be really proud of yourself. This is new territory for a lot of people.”

If dancers are interested in employing some of these tips, there is plenty of affordable equipment available:

  • Amazon tripod and ring light: five foot tripod can adjust the height. Be sure to get something that expands to about 5 feet...check the height! Ring lights are great and it’s a good idea to have two or three. Be sure to face the light forward so you aren’t backlit!

  • Camera Lens Attachments: Newer iPhones have a wide-angle option, but if yours doesn’t, you can get lens attachments that can give you the wider angle with good quality. They’re super easy to use and cheap!

  • Phone Stabilizer Steadicam: If you’re wanting to try out the steadicam option, check this out!

Traci also offers two resources for continuing education for self-tapes:

At the end of the day, let’s remember that we’re all doing our best in these unprecedented times. Whether you’re super tech-savvy or still use a flip phone, there are plenty of easy ways to navigate the virtual dance world. If you have a question, Google it! Don’t forget to take your time and read the directions---there are often helpful tools embedded! Give yourself some grace and remember that when we all get back to in-person events, we will have acquired many useful skills to carry forward!

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Thanks to our guests, Alex Frohlinger and Traci Swartz, for joining us on the podcast this week! You can follow them at @alexfrohlinger and @traci_swartz.


Maddie Kurtz is an IDA staff writer/admin, choreographer, judge, and dance educator. Check out her other articles on the IDA Blog, visit her website, and follow her @maddiekurtz92.

Please note: we may receive a small commission from clicking our affiliate links in this blog.

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