Instagram 101: How Dance Companies and Organizations Can Harness It

By Christopher Duggan

From Facebook to Twitter, Google+, to Pinterest, today there are so many ways to express yourself through social media. Instagram is one that’s easy and fun and allows you to immediately share pictures with all of your followers across social media platforms. This is a boon for dance companies who want a smart visual way to keep themselves in the public eye.

People follow you or your dance company because they are interested, they want to keep up with what you are doing, or simply because their friends follow you. Because not everyone engages online in the same way, I find that the more methods you can use to engage your followers the better. Using Instagram is another one of the great ways to connect with and cultivate your audience. As long as it’s organic for you.

Instagram is a way for your followers to see what you see and the reason I love it is that the photos you make are all about what’s happening right now. The photo goes out into the world and reaches whoever sees it at that moment. Then the “news feed” continues on and your image sort of disappears. There isn’t a lot of pressure to share only amazing photos; just to share interesting stuff and move on.

Does this ephemeral, in-the-moment attitude remind you of anything? Maybe the art form you’re working with on a daily basis?

Of course, the more you use Instagram, the more you stay on your followers’ minds … and in their feeds and inboxes. By extension, you appear more relevant to your audience.

It’s good to use Instagram often, use it as it feels right organically, use it to share—not to inform (i.e., don’t constantly blast out marketing messages), and use it to engage with others. Follow others and “like” their photos, too. It is social media, after all.

My Own Experience
I discovered the appeal of Instagram when I was attending a DanceNOW showcase of emerging artists at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I was not going to photograph the showcase—just see some new work and meet some new people. But whenever I watch dance, I see pictures, and I wanted to shoot.

I had just started playing with the photo app , and I thought it would be a fun challenge making some dance photographs then and there. I knew that shooting with Instagram on the iPhone is far from an ideal way to capture dance, especially the way I like to capture it. I prefer to use two cameras, one with a wide lens and one with a long lens, both at the same time. I like having the freedom to move around the theater if need be. With my digital cameras I can shoot hundreds of images very quickly without reloading and without any delay on the trigger or delay in the capture processing. I can simply keep shooting and make choices later in the editing room.

This technique suits performance photography perfectly, and Instagram just doesn’t allow for many of those options. Even if you have unlimited movement for camera location during your shoot, you’re working with a square frame, a slow shutter speed, and a delayed shutter trigger.

Instagram is a novel way to capture the informal and inviting feel of a workshop or rehearsal. The vintage filters can add to the gritty feel of building a dance, of the sweat and work and personalities that come together in the studio. I think using Instagram as a way to showcase what’s behind-the-scenes—peeks at new projects, for example—and the personality behind the work—juxtapositions of strange prop pieces or still lifes from note-gathering at rehearsal—are terrific uses of this new social medium. When shooting in this format, it’s important to take a variety of shots, too, with the goal of capturing something unique in the work you’re sharing.

Instagram is a novel way to capture the informal and inviting feel of a workshop or rehearsal. The vintage filters—like Inkwell, which provides a black-and-white effect, or Sutro, which emphasizes dramatic highlights and shadows—can add to the gritty feel of building a dance, of the sweat and work and personalities that come together in the studio. Use Instagram to capture the significant moments and quirky shots and leave the larger moments for the professional photographer.

Christopher Duggan is a New York City-based wedding and dance photographer and has worked as Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. He has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene, with clients including Gallim Dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and The Joffrey Ballet, among others. He has photographed WestFest at Cunningham Studios, Dance From the Heart for Dancers Responding to Aids, The Gotham Dance Festival at The Joyce Theater, and assisted Nel Shelby Productions in filming Vail International Dance Festival. Duggan’s images from Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s Inside/Out have been chosen by the National Museum of Dance for a 2012-2013 photographic exhibition. He is a regular contributor to and the Culture section of Huffington Post, and his photographs appear in The New York Times, Photo District News, Boston Globe, and Dance Magazine, among other esteemed publications and popular wedding blogs. Follow him at


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