by Jessikah Bellydance We’ve all seen the videos where people lip-sync to existing trending audio and use their
10 to 15 seconds to do something fun and silly, which the creator hopes will end up going viral.
These types of short videos have their place, but when it comes to making a video for your
dance students or classes, the same tools you might use to make a TikTok video are not really going to help you deliver your message, communicate your instructions, and get the interaction that you need. Here are some useful tips I have learned throughout my video production career to help not only dancers but teachers. Since video has been integral to my career, it should have been an easy transition to online teaching and performing, but it still had its challenges.
The pandemic changed the way I teach my bellydance classes, but it was not too hard to adapt since I was already technically inclined. However, I know it’s been a big challenge for others who are not used to using video. These teachers probably never dreamed they would need such tools now have to figure out how to make their classes/performances work online, while also being their own “production company." With lockdowns and variants spreading over the past two plus years, dancing over zoom has been getting more and more popular and “normal.” The urgency of learning to keep us connected via video, whether from being in class or performing has been a real challenge for everyone, experience or not.
When I first used video as a tool for my dance classes, pre-pandemic, it was mostly to
record my choreography, which I made up (so as to not forget it), or to give my students a
practice video, which they could follow along with to learn and practice in their own time for an upcoming performance. I also would record my solos and my troupe performances, whenever I could. As a Videographer and having had a career in Production since High School, always having current video was so important to marketing myself, using visuals for a demo reel, and so I never really liked the idea of dance performances being in the moment in time and not captured on video or film. Especially with the amount of work I always put into performances with hours and hours of rehearsing. Performance and practice videos were very important tools, but now seem very simplified when comparing to zoom classes or especially live online performances, where people now have to act as their own director, cameraperson, audio mixer, and stage manager when teaching or producing/performing in a show.
So what is needed to teach online classes, to produce an online hafla, or to just be a
“video” performer? The first and most basic set up for any of these situations should include the following: a Camera (this can be on a laptop, web cam or phone); a Tripod; Basic Lighting; a Microphone; and good music integration. A solid picture, good sound and video should be the goal before moving forward.
1. Camera: When shooting video, landscape is still the preferred method (horizontal) for
television, including YouTube. Sometimes vertical video is shown cropped or scaled down with black bars on the sides and the image ends up being very small, hard to see and not as
interesting as if it filled the whole “screen.” The image could also be cropped inward in a way you do not want, such as heads being “chopped off” or only showing part of your image. This can get messy if you are using a phone as your camera. Phones sometimes flip the image upside-down, or cropped weirdly, and I would discourage use of a phone unless it’s a backup camera (more on that in a second). This being said, when I teach a class on Zoom, I use my laptop camera for my main camera in class. My laptop is propped up on bins to make it closer to eye level, and I do not touch the screen once I have it set up at the angle I like. I do use an iPhone as my secondary camera. My phone records the class and I end up using that camera for my main camera if I keep a class for a replay. The reason for this is quality. My phone camera is much better quality than my laptop. There are ways to mix your cameras and use more than one for a class, but you need a video mixer for this and since it’s not basic, I’ll save that for another article.
Camera angle is also important, what the audience will see through your camera. This can be difficult when using a laptop, because it’s not as adjustable as a camera on a tripod. For one show I did, I stacked 3 bins in my living room and put my laptop on top of them so that my camera angle would be nice looking, and not aimed at my knees. Make sure you don’t have too much space above your head (tilt the camera down, so it’s not aimed at the ceiling), but you have enough space to dance and show your movements. We often have to sacrifice something, maybe it’s the feet, so that you aren’t so “far away” on the screen. Practice standing where you want to dance and seeing what it looks like on camera. Find the angle that looks best to you, as if you were an audience member.
2. Tripod/Stabilizer: A tripod or a stable laptop camera is very important to make sure
your video is at eye-level, and not shaky. My phone is on a tripod to raise it up. A secondary
camera can be any camera; it does not have to be a phone. It can be a GoPro, higher quality
web camera, or an SLR, although there could be a higher learning curve to these types of
3. Lighting/Set Design: Most people don’t really have the luxury of having a “set” in their
homes, but if you think of your space more in terms making it clean and not distracting, this can be your simple set. Make sure the “frame” of your video is clean, and free of anything extra, such as clothes, or “junk” piles. Try to move the camera so that you have good lighting, and you can see the person dancing in the frame without distractions. Natural lighting is nice, but generally it’s not enough for video. Without additional lighting, you could end up having a silhouette (back lighting), or sun stripes from blinds or a window in your space. Lights are pretty inexpensive online. I have two LED lights I use on either side of my room, and a Ring for close ups. I have struggled with where to put my lights because of the mirrors on my wall. Reflections can be really annoying if the light is too bright in one spot or another. Lighting the room to have “equal” lighting everywhere (i.e. no shadows) is most flattering to the “talent” (i.e. on camera person). This is also called “flat” lighting or high key lighting, because your main lights are your “key” lights. This is used in portrait photography. The opposite of flat lighting is low key lighting or dynamic lighting, which incorporates shadows and details. This is harder to accomplish but it is more dramatic (better for performance).
4. Audio (Microphone and Music): Sound is as important as video when filming yourself
or your class. If the audio is not clear and audible, no one can follow directions, or it can
become annoying and cause a viewer to turn it off. I use a headset microphone and a simple
USB mixer which mixes my microphone and iPod music source into my room speaker, which is then picked up by my laptop. There are several ways to do audio, an alternate way is to use a microphone for voice, such as bluetooth ear buds, and sharing the music directly from the computer, which works well too.
I hope with these simple but important tips, you can improve the quality of your Zoom
classes or performance videos!
Jessikah has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Television and Film Studies from University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is a 4 time Los Angeles Area Emmy Nominee and 2 time Los Angeles Emmy Award Winning Producer. She is a life-long dancer, including ballet, jazz, hula, and has studied primarily Egyptian and American Cabaret Styles of Belly Dance since 1997. She has been teaching Raks Sharki since 2016. Her website is www.JessikahBellydance.com and she can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube @JessikahBellydance