Hair. Make up. Costume. Poses? Different costume? Fix hair. More makeup. Different costume, again?
Every year, the Middlebury Dance Department puts on a photo shoot for all majors and minors in the department. It’s an exciting time to work with a photographer who really knows dancers. It’s also a time filled with indecision. As I walked into the costume closet–hair a mess, makeup only half plastered on my face–I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I’m almost certain some of those costumes have been in that closet since before I was born. There was everything from silver unitards to oversized red blazers to dresses only a barbie could fit into, and I wasn’t interested in any of it. Did I want to look pedestrian or full on diva? Use the clothes I brought or be completely transformed? And for heaven’s sake, what was I going to do with my hair? It’s amazing how quickly such trivial questions became so vitally important when there’s a camera involved.
I was at the shoot with the three other senior dance majors, who were also trying on and throwing off costumes at an alarming rate. Each of us was to decide what our solo shoot would look like, but also how we wanted to look for our shoot as a group. Here we were, four very different dancers with four very different bodies, all trying to look like we fit together. There were some serious, and thankfully some not-so-serious, decisions to be made. Ultimately, we decided we would all don jumpsuits of varying colors. My first thought: you want me to dance in this thing?
Once we were all together and under the lights, I had a second thought: this might be kind of neat. I had done the shoot the year before but only as a soloist. For the most part, solo shoots are all basically the same, because I know how I dance and what it feels like to be in front of the camera. Shooting, and more specifically moving, as a group would prove to be an entirely new and surprisingly rewarding experience. None of us knew where to begin, but we knew we had to start dancing eventually.
What happens when you put four dancers with different backgrounds in jumpsuits and tell them to move? They move! Although our collaboration typically starts and ends with us all being in the same room for technique class, there was a mutual understanding of each other’s strengths as both people and dancers that allowed us to create some truly beautiful images. It was surprising how well we knew each other and were able to respond to each other’s movement. All having to overcome the awkwardness of the clunky jumpsuits gave us a common enemy, and this created a level of comfort with each other we had never been able to achieve before. At first, we were afraid to even get close to each other, but as the shoot progressed, we learned how to lean on each other for both moral and “oh my gosh, stay still, please don’t let me fall over” support.
Having completed both sessions, I can now say the group shoot actually taught me more about who I am as a dancer than did my solo shoot. Being me is pretty familiar, but being me in a jumpsuit with three other dance majors, that’s a whole other story.