Dance Up Close: The Dance Enthusiast

Dance Up Close Dance Enthusiast

Organization Name: The Dance Enthusiast

City: New York City

Program Name: Dance Up Close

Time of Program: Any time- accessible online 24/7

Program Length: Located online- accessible anytime after the article is published.

Goal: Our goal is to respond to the desire of dance audiences (as per Dance USA research) to go behind the scenes and become acquainted with artists and their methods of working. We offer an online window into the creative process for audiences who are interested but not able to access a “real” behind the scenes visit.

Time of Year Offered: n/a

Program Description:

Dance Up Close is a web-based project designed to reveal the choreographic process to an online audience. We go behind the scenes to show artists as people our audiences can relate to, rather than abstract figures on stage. Anyone, anywhere in the world, at anytime of day, can feel as if they are in the studio with a dance company speaking directly to an artist.

The Dance Enthusiast sends a reporter into a dance company’s rehearsal about a month prior to a performance. We film rehearsal, and then we interview the choreographer and/or the dancers about their work. From that material, an article featuring unique written and video content is created for our news site, Published about 7 to 10 days before a performance, Dance Up Close articles are vivid, visual preview stories. Our articles are roughly 350- 600 words long, and the accompanying videos are short-1 to 3 Minutes- designed to work for the fleeting attention span of the Internet audience. If there is enough video content, we create more short videos specifically for social media sharing. Those are typically less than a minute long- and we call them Dance Enthusiast Minutes.

In addition to providing our online audiences with education and engagement around our communities’ dance artists, Dance Up Close articles serve the artists we cover for their grant applications, in their own engagement/education programs, and for their marketing purposes. We offer the artists we cover the ability to directly embed our video pieces on their website or anywhere else for their benefit.

The Dance Enthusiast is actively involved in social media and an essential aspect of our Dance Up Close coverage includes sharing our stories across our social media networks and with the company, theater, and artists profiled. We aim to create virtuous circles of engaged and interested viewers. As our fans become acquainted with the artists that we cover, and as the dance companies’ fans become acquainted with our dance journalistic hub, we all become part of a larger circle of more knowledgeable dance appreciators.

Out of necessity, we designed Dance Up Close to be an affordable program to run. We felt it vital to have our staff learn how to create video reports as opposed to hiring an outside company to create video for us. This was appealing to our staff as well who are comprised of dance writers always striving to develop new skills to communicate their ideas. With this in mind, the hardware that we use to film and edit our content was chosen because of its affordable pricing, accessibility and ease of use.

We currently work with a Panasonic HC-X900M Full HD Camera (everyone should work with a video expert in their community to figure out what camera and brand will be best for their needs and budget). We edit within iMovie on our personal MAC computers. While The Dance Enthusiast owns three computers that can be used for editing, it is easier for our freelance contributors to work at home on their MACs. We create and save our material on portable hard drives (so no one’s personal hard drives are taxed). Our final work is copied to a master hard drive when completed. Our completed video reports are uploaded to our YouTube channel. We are members Apple’s Business Program and enjoy access to the Geniuses of Apple when technical questions arise. They are a great resource.

Our experience has proved that although there are challenges to this work, it is by all means possible and a worthy addition any artist’s toolkit. Our belief is that any one can create original video material that shares their story effectively (and inexpensively) online.

Number of Participants: This program allows individuals to participate on their own time, and subsequently thousands have read Dance Up Close articles.

Target Audience: We are making dance content for everyone, across age brackets.

Is the program for kids? n/a

Private/Public Public

Nature of Audience Engagement: The first level of interaction with Dance Up Close is usually through social media or if you subscribe to our RSS feed. We announce our publishing of Dance Up Close articles on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumblr, and GooglePlus, and RSS . Once we announce we have an article up, readers immediately come to our site. We continually monitor the numbers of our readers on the back end of our website to figure out where and how to promote our articles. The first level of interaction with Dance Up Close is usually through social media or if you subscribe to our RSS feed. We announce our publishing of Dance Up Close articles on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumblr, and GooglePlus, and RSS. Once we announce we have an article up, readers immediately come to our site. Readers can read the articles and view the videos on the page, but they can comment and share the links through URL sharing our using the social media buttons to share on their own networks. There is no time limit to this interaction, and the audience can view the articles whenever they please. The promotion of our work is almost as important as the work itself. We try to specify what groups of audience might be more interested in a given article and why they might be interested. We attempt to work with dance companies and their social media efforts to promote articles and videos within them. (Some dance companies are savvy in this area; and some have no skills whatsoever. We try to assist them as much as we can.) An important goal as an online entity is to get more readers to “like” and “share” our work. We aim to satisfy the urges of current fans and to entice new fans to dance work. Another goal is to continually work to build our brand as a trustworthy arts journalistic voice in our dance community – one that is automatically turned to as a source of dance information.

Location: This is a completely virtual program, but the work of it takes place in the real world of New York City dance spaces with real New York artists.

How Many Staff: We have five reporters who are assigned to visit the dance companies during rehearsal, video at least a portion of the rehearsal, interview dancers and/or choreographers, and edit together a written piece with short videos. One administrator oversees the coordination and outreach to the dance companies, while the Editor gives a final edit and uploads the material. Our social media editor pushes the content to our social media channels. In addition to meeting in person, All Dance Enthusiast staff are part of a private Facebook group where we share the joys and trials of working on this program. It has been a great resource for us to find solutions to common problems. Since we all use Facebook as a way of communicating it is simple to not have to log on to another website to share our experiences of work.

Program Cost: We create 8 stories per month at $200/ each for the site visit, filming, editing and writing. A portion of the budget goes to our administrator, social media editor, and editor in chief, all of whom central to the management of Dance Up Close. We invested in 3 cameras, 3 tripods, 3 lavallière microphones, 6 portable external hard drives, 2 regular external hard drives as well as packs to carry our equipment to and from our worksites. We found that in the middle of the year we needed to buy 3 more lavaliere microphones (so that we could interview two people at once) and that we needed to purchase a few new portable hard drives. (They may be called rugged portable hard drives, but they don’t last forever.) We required all writers on our team to take a one-day course in how to video dance and conduct interviews for video. (Some of us already had experience.) We worked with a video consultant, paying for his time in consulting, and leading our educational workshop[s]. We assigned the summer as a practice period to play with video interviewing, editing in iMovie. We paid our reporters at a lower rate for their first “practice” video stories. We understood that there would be a learning curve and some of our reporters would more easily adapt to video reporting than others. This practice period was essential to working out early kinks we hadn’t anticipated. This can all be right-sized for a project on a budget that fits your needs.

Marketing for Program: Dance Up Close is marketed on social media and has become a prominent portion of our online publishing. Between our natural traffic, social media marketing, and our work with some of the best dance companies in the world, we have seen significant growth in the traffic to our site due to this program. As an example of this growth, The Dance Enthusiast’s website traffic went from 7,000 unique viewers in May of 2013 to 10,000 in March of 2014; our Facebook page’s Total Reach jumped from 2,500 to 18,200 during the same time frame- and that is strongly influence by our outreach to the dance companies to share into their own networks. The views of Dance Up Close videos on YouTube are around 6,000 a month- although we did not track Youtube viewership before the Dance Up Close program. 

Cost for Program Participants: There is no cost to participants. It is accessible to anyone with access to Internet via a computer or mobile device.

Attendance To Date: At least 125,000 views of Dance Up Close articles.

Past Iterations: We have played with video in the past and knew of its potential, but were never able to carry out such an extensive program before because we didn’t have the funds to do so. For the Dance Up Close, we published 33 Dance Up Close articles September- December, 2013. We will publish another 30 by May, 2014.

What works? Our system worked well. The good news is that filming can be done with inexpensive hardware and editing is easy with iMovie. Some advice: * It is mandatory that you have the “broadcasting rights” to music that may be picked up during your video recording. If not, and you include this sound, you risk your video work (especially if it is put on YouTube) being pulled or cited as inappropriate. You can work around this by covering over the sound of music with your interviewees’ comments, or showing movement in silence or, purchasing music specifically to use for your videos. It is also mandatory that the studios you are filming in know that it they being put on video. For our projects, we require the companies we cover to make these arrangements. * Practice, practice, practice before you begin anything official. Use a camera you already have or an iPhone to start playing with your ideas in order to figure out a template for video reporting that works for you/your organization. * Playing with how you will work for an Internet audience is important. It is a small screen with audiences who have smaller attention spans. Consider the story what you want to reveal and how you want to reveal it. We consider each article a performance, and the web page is the stage. It is not enough to have good information; it needs to be visually pleasing and easy to access. Put your videos in an attractive house. * You will need to develop the trust of the people whom you are creating stories about. The Dance Enthusiast is a journalistic entity. We have worked for 6 years going on 7 to build our brand and our trustworthiness in the NYC dance community. Our Editor, Christine Jowers, had done much work personally to establish trust with contacts by meeting them, attending rehearsals, and establishing a reputation for writing well about dance. It is important to have trustworthy talented communicators on your team and to always strive to create quality work. *Video can be very revealing and some dance companies/artists are more comfortable and have more experience with being “covered” than others. It is the job of the reporting team to put their subjects at ease. Sometimes, people get reticent about how they might be perceived on videotape. Everyone on the team needs to able to communicate your mission to people who know nothing about it, especially to potential subjects of video stories. Your team needs to easily articulate who you are, what you do, and how your work can be of benefit to your subject. Sometimes we need to hold peoples hands and be reassuring. It helps to have an awareness of possible questions /problems (should they arise) and, for clarities sake, to have any big problems handled by one point person on the team. * You need to be clear about rules of coverage- i.e. a dance company might like to approve your final edit or they may desire be an integral part of the editing team. If you are a dance journalist, as we are at The Dance Enthusiast, your work ceases to be journalism if a company “requires” that they give you approval before publishing. You can, of course, offer your subjects approval as a courtesy, but it can waste much time and inhibit workflow especially if you are creating many video stories per month. Sometimes, it is simply not workable to create a video story about a particular dance company. In this case, we have found the best way to handle the situation is to be clear and polite about it. Clarity on both sides is necessary for this system to work. * Journalists can cover copyrighted material such as choreography under the Doctrine of Fair Use. Basically your video stories have to: 1. Add to a larger cultural conversation 2. Add to the educational/engagement aspect of the work you are covering, in other words, broaden that work’s reach 3. Be of appropriate length in comparison to the work you are covering (We cover evening-length works with our longest recording of actual work being 3 minutes). * YouTube questioned our content for the first half of the dance season (September-November) and it made us very nervous. Our partner at TenduTV suggested we create a form letter to respond to their queries. We did. Every time we were cited, we replied to YouTube saying that all of our material was created by our reporters for our arts journalism website and that we were using others’ material according to Fair Use Doctrine. After 4 months of annoying alerts, The Dance Enthusiast Channel on YouTube is no longer questioned.

What doesn’t work? We did a good job of pre-planning. The main struggle thus far has been with scheduling rehearsal visits. Our administrator says, “It is like playing Tetris.” We’ve tried to schedule our work far in advance because of touring schedules and infrequent in-town rehearsals. The winter storms were a huge impediment to our scheduling. It is important to realize that scheduling is a bear and to do as much pre-planning as possible.

Performances Where Offered: n/a

Past Research on Program: In January of 2014, we surveyed the 33 dance companies who participated in the first half of the program, and the feedback was very positive. One note: although we had communicated to the companies that they could share our work virtually- YouTube videos, article links, etc- we found we needed to communicate that more clearly. Some artists had not realized that was a possibility. That may be because as a general rule the dance companies do not tap into their social media capabilities. We continually track the analytics on our website and Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics, and YouTube Analytics to chart growth and understand our audience and the audiences of the dance companies we cover better.

Continuing Program? Yes, this program infused our dance news site with a new energy! It is wonderful to make full use of visuals (to see moving bodies) on a dance news website and there is nothing like hearing an artist’s philosophy in their own words, feeling as if they are speaking directly to you about what they value. The rehearsal studios are where the magic happens, and it has been an honor to be allowed behind the scenes access by some of the greatest dance/performance companies in the world! What a gift for our reporters and our audiences. Telling the stories of our dance community is important and necessary work. For their first few weeks, our Dance Up Close articles are preview stories, but as time goes on beyond the dance performance, they become historical snapshots of our dance community and are a testament to who we are as artists. Even though we run the program in a cost effective manner, it still is one of our most expensive programs because of the work it requires from our reporters and the amount of pre-planning it requires to cover dance companies in rehearsal. As we search for new funding sources, we will probably relax the pace of publishing a bit and play with other ways of using video to tell stories about dance. (We have the equipment now and well-trained reporters thanks to our Dance/USA EDA founding) Dance Up Close has been a great experiment, and we are excited to play with even more online and offline platforms. Because of this wonderful project and the support we got for it, we know we can do more!