Strategies and Tips for Making Dance Web Videos

On Monday night I attended a panel seminar on web marketing at the Joyce Soho as part of their “Free Advice” series. The panelists were all familiar dance blog acquaintances and friends: Doug Fox (my fabulous host on, Kristin Sloan of The Winger blog and the Director of New Media at New York City Ballet, Jaki Levy an interaction designer and New Media Director at Misnomer Dance Theater and Chris Elam, Artistic Director of Misnomer. The collective knowledge of those four panelists was very rich and insightful, and got my mind working.

What the evening made me think about most was how to enlist video in a dance company’s overall web marketing strategy. To me, the video element of a dance company’s web presence is super important. Nothing can come closer to showing someone what your work is, short of witnessing it live. However, making a highly effective dance video is a very different process from making a highly effective dance for the stage. Not just that, but a dance video should be catered specifically to the type of screens it will be viewed on. Different media platforms have different characteristics, and a brilliant documentary film on your new work for 1500 dancers won’t necessarily be interesting viewed on a small patchy YouTube screen.

Here is a short list of tips for making effective dance videos for the web.

1. Set intentions for your videos.
What do you want your videos to do for you? Do you want to get more bodies into seats at your next concert? Are you trying to build audiences for the future, or do you want to test out some ideas you’re working on for feedback? Whatever you want, be specific about it and align your video efforts around that intention. Kristin Sloan talked about the different marketing intentions behind NYCB’s video campaigns. In their marketing department they make promotional videos for each program in their up-coming season with the sole intention of getting people to buy tickets. At $80/ticket, video previews help people decide whether to splurge and go to a concert. In Kristin’s new media department, the intention is to grow a future audience base for NYCB. Here they make videos that allow people to encounter the company in different ways, such as through intimate glimpses behind the scenes or interviews. These videos get distributed around the web and help increase the visibility and recognition of NYCB in demographics outside of their core audience.

2. Keep them short and streamlined.
People don’t spend much time on any one thing online. They browse and flit about. Just think about your own behavior online. I know I’m all over the place sampling one thing that links me to someplace else. So, if someone comes across your video, you need to capture their attention in the first 10-15 seconds and then complete the thought in 1-3 minutes. Aggressively edit your videos and cut out all the fat. By that I mean unless you are telling us something new and relevant in a scene, leave it out. Have other people look at your video and watch them as they watch. You can see where they fade out or are trying too hard to get it.

Here’s an example of a dance video that’s short, simple, and streamlined.

Video by Nagi Noda

3. Make it personal and informal.
The web is about making connections with other people in ways that wouldn’t be possible offline. The more human and relatable your video is, the more people will connect with your work. Some of the most popular dance videos on the web are of awkward teenage boys in their livingrooms trying to outdo each other with bad dance moves. For professional dancers, this means stripping away the make-up and the stage dressing, and giving a glimpse into the processes, joys and pains behind your work. Kristin Sloan did an amazing job of this in her series on the making of NYCB’s Romeo + Juliet. Anaheim Ballet has also made a great video podcast series that gives viewers a back-stage pass into the workings of their company.

4. Make different videos for different viewing formats and contexts.
You may have a great promo video that you send out to presenters to get gigs, but it has lots of different clips that go all over the place and wouldn’t draw in the average viewer. Or maybe you have a great video of a performance you did, but the wide shots make the dancers look like little white blobs when you watch it on YouTube. In these cases, you should re-edit your video with footage that looks good in a small box (use more close-ups or mid-shots). Focus on one excerpt or idea from your piece that has a beginning, middle and an end. Or shoot an informal interview with a collaborator and put in short clips of footage from the concert to highlight something they said. Behind-the-scenes stories and rehearsal footage can also be very compelling for a web format.

Here is a link to a couple good examples of web videos made from dance concert footage by Misnomer Dance Theater (edited by Jaki Levy).

5. Make them easy to share.
In many cases the intention of a web video is to have it be seen by as many people as possible. This means you should make it easy for users to share your videos, comment on them, and embed them into their own websites and blogs. Chris Elam and Jaki Levy described the web as a place where information is spread not from one central broadcasting place, but through dozens of individuals that spread it through their own niched networks. The more niches your video shows up in, the better its chances are to become viral and spread. Social networking sites and bloggers can help facilitate this type of distribution very effectively.

6. Make lots of videos, and experiment!
The great thing about the web is that it’s cheap and results come very fast. So just jump in and try stuff out. You will know almost instantly if your strategy worked or bombed. Then go back to the drawing board, tweek things and try again. The risks are low and the potential rewards in eye balls, ticket sales, and supporters are great. So go for it! And be sure to share your videos here with me. I’ll do my best to blog about them!

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