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Technique Tuesdays – Getting ready to shoot a dance

I’m two weeks out from one of my favourite yearly events, Swinging Vegas at Gloster Swing Dance. A fantastic night of dancing and raising money for amazing causes. This year we are very lucky as The Revolutionaires are coming to strut their funky stuff; as a dance photographer it is a perfect event to capture. But what does it exactly mean for me in terms of prep?

I’m capturing in three different forms; general photography, a Photobooth and video. So I need a variety of kit that is easy to transport, easy to handle on the night, and quick to pack down at the end of the evening. I’ve played around with several different set-ups over the last couple of years, trying to refine and reduce my kit and make the most of the features that the cameras have. With each event I’ve weighed up the pros and cons of what I took vs what I actually managed to capture and I’m at a point where I have a lot of flexibility without having to compromise on image quality.

...the band, the caberet performers and the dancers will be the ones to create the atmosphere and the story of the evening...

For the general photography and the photobooth I’m going to be using my Canon 5D MkIII. This beast might be a weight to carry around for a whole evening but it can capture 3200 images and has the low light capability that I need to avoid using flash for every image. I’ll be using this for photographing the dancing, the caberet and the photobooth images so my main issue will be making sure I have the settings dialed in for each change of lighting. The 5DMKIII has 3 custom settings on the dial which I will be using, so I will be doing a bit of research beforehand to make sure that they are all working. I also want to experiment a little bit with blurred images and rear curtain flash.

The photobooth set up is fairly straightforward, a black backdrop with a custom hand-painted frame. I love to do these frames and have quite a collection now, all made from A1 posterboard. So next week I will be popping out to buy the board and paint up the frame. I also have a lot of inflatable instruments which I’ll be bringing along; if you let people loose to be silly then you get some amazing images. So I’ll be hunting them out and checking for punctures.

Video is a new element and I have a two-fold approach. Mainly I’ll be shooting on my Canon 760D which I have now fitted with a handle and boom mike. This allows for a steadier image as well as a bit of creativity in the capture. I also like playing with timelapse sequences and will be using an Ipad mounted on a lightstand to capture as much of the dance as possible to use as starting points and B-Roll. I need to test this rig and clear out the memory as the ipad cannot use external memory which I find quite limiting.

And then there is the usual battery charging, memory card clearing and packing up to make sure that I have everything to hand. I don’t make a specific list of shots to get; the creative aspects are very much dependant on how I feel on the night. The band, the caberet performers and the dancers will be the ones to create the atmosphere and the story of the evening; I’ll be there catching it through the lens ready to share it to the world.

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Monday Musings – Dancing Friends

Monday Musings – Dancing Friends

A professional dancing couple can really set the floor on fire. You can always spot them very easily and they are incredible to watch. Two people with a very obvious spark and connection, who have a lot of opportuntiy to practice together and who can easily read each others signs and signals. But as much as I enjoy watching these couples on the dancefloor I have recently enjoyed spotting a different type of couple to watch when taking a breather. And that is the “Dancing Friend” couple.

This type of couple is made up of two people who have been dancing together for a decade or more. They know what each other can and can’t do, know the best tempo and track to dance to and know each other so well that they can dance with the minimum of signals. They can bring in new things that they have learnt and are eager to share as well as dipping into a collection of favourite moves and steps. They are a joy to watch.

...there's always something very comforting and welcoming about coming into a room of people who are moving from table to table to greet everyone as an old friend...

The best thing about this type of couple is that you get so many variations of inviduals making up the couples, especially in an area that where dance classes are well established and there is a large surrounding community. These are the people who have stood the test of time and circumstance; who reliably turn up to social dances week in and week out. In my experience of spotting these magic couples, most are experienced in several different types of Swing dancing; Lindy Hop, Balboa and Shag, and many women can lead and follow. All the better to improve their chances of spending the whole evening on the dancefloor with as many different partners as possible. And these are often the people who help the instructors in the continuation of a successful and friendly dancing community.

The instructors and event organisers are the ones who set the tone on their events, but these are the people who help to maintain it. There’s always something very comforting and welcoming about coming into a room filled with people who are moving from table to table to greet everyone as an old friend. Those entering as a beginner may feel awed by so many groups of people, but this welcoming feeling is very pervasive and they can see what to expect from the future.They see couples mixing, leads taking out single follows and follows taking out single leads. And most importantly they see people who are good friends enjoying dancing together, just for the joy of dancing. In short they see the dance as it was meant to be seen.

I am currently reading the biography of Frankie Manning and his description of the early days of Lindy Hop in the Harlem ballrooms. Obviously in Frankie’s time there absolutely were those star couples who would feature prominently in the Cat’s Corner of the Savoy, as well as partners for their professional appearances and competitions. But overall he talks of halls of people dancing; groups of friends enjoying the music and each other’s company. And it is so easy to picture because I get relive it every time I go to a social dance in my local dancing community. A room full of people dancing to excellent music, enjoying each other’s company with no regard to anything beyond choosing the right partner for the right music and the right moment.

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I have always lived in a world of stories. Whether reading, writing, thinking or capturing them in the photos I take; I love stories and the comfort and information that they bring to us. Words are incredibly powerful at helping us to express our thoughts and dreams. But equally they can be fun; found in catchy slogans, clever puns, or the lyrics of our favourite songs. And I was blown away the first time I saw the calligram style of design on a t-shirt.

It was the layout of a F1 car, with all the major components shown as text. My OH loves that T-shirt and we were both struck by the simplicity and cleverness of the design. It was the major influence when I was creating my Lindy Moves print, and it has translated incredibly well for other designs, both of my own and others that I have seen.

...the calligraph style allows me to really delve into the subject of what I'm illustrating and highlight the most important ideas either by their repetition or size/placement...

What I have only recently discovered is the name for this type of design, which is Calligrams. Wikipedia describes them as …” text arranged in such a way that it forms a thematically related image”… and goes on to state …”The image created by the words illustrates the text by expressing visually what it says, or something closely associated;”…

While my version is fairly loose interpretation of the style, I was also very interested to learn that they are mostly associated with poetry. In 1918 Guillaume Apollinaire published Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916  where he uses the typography and layout of the text to help illustrate the meanings of his poems. This is a very exciting idea for future design concepts.

Guillaume Apollinaire Calligramme

Calligram about the Eiffel Tower by Guillaume Apollinaire

For me, the calligraph style allows me to really delve into the subject of what I’m illustrating and highlight the most important ideas either by their repetition or size/placement. The resulting image is full of interest but is still clean and sharp. It lends itself particularly well to screen printing and it’s such a joy to see the prints coming out so clean and crisp as I lift off the screen. I still have several designs in mind in this style, and with the possibility of incorporating free-form poetry, I am very excited to see where exploring Calligrams will take me. 

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Grab yourself a cup of something nice, a plate of something tasty, pull up a chair and relax. We’re in the zone of stories, articles and interviews, all about swing! As a dancer of 5 years, and a total behind-the-scenes obsessive, I want this to be a place to discuss how the 80’s swing dance revivial played out in the UK, through to how things are currently in the UK for swing dancers.

Copyright Adventure in Imagination 2021

The last 5 years learning how to do the Lindy Hop have been truly transformative for me, but I certainly claim to be no expert on the dance, or the history, or the music. What I’m proposing here is a place to learn more about all of these things, and I want my readers to be able to learn along with me, and contribute to the conversation. That means as well as interviewing some big names in UK Swing dancing, I also want to interview the everyday dancers who in their part are making the continuation of this artform possible.

I was first introduced to the Lindy Hop back in 2008, but for various reasons decided not to pursue it. The same friend recommended that I come back in 2017 and this time it has firmly stuck! Dancing is something that I truly enjoy, as well as all the benefits of belonging to a group of like-minded and friendly people. Like many I was devestated by the pause in social dancing during the pandemic and grateful that we were able to return to dancing and slowly begin to re-build the calendar of events that we had enjoyed in up to 2019.

The world of swing dancing is made up of various people; the teachers and students, DJ’s and social dancers, event organisers and those who travel the country to attend as many events as possible. So I feel to truly get the full picture of UK Swing dancing then everyone should be able to share their story. With so many interesting and different perspectives we will all be able to see as much as possible. 

I hope that you will enjoy all of the stories that I bring here, and may consider to share your own. If you would like to get in contact, please leave a comment on any of the posts or use the details on the Contact Me page.

Keep Dancing & having fun!