Coming up in my career I made countless marketing materials for myself-but none so much as the ever-important dance reel. I poured countless of hours into collecting footage, editing, choosing the perfect music, re-editing, researching formats, editing again, updating the old reel with new footage-trust me, it's exhausting! But with the help of my mentors, trial & error, and did I mention countless hours of research, I've cracked the code on how to make a stand-out reel that will get you noticed.
We are living in a virtual world where your digital marketing materials are all a casting director (CD) has in which to judge you. Don't eliminate yourself by presenting a dusty reel. If you're like most of us and can't afford a professional video editor, you can save the coin and pull a DIY. Read on if this is the adventure you choose...
Q: What type of footage do I need to make a professional looking dance reel?
A: Gather all the hi-resolution clips of your most recent and notable performances. These clips should be clear and display you as the focus of attention. Avoid using clips with large groups. This is YOUR reel. We want to see you, not your entire competition team.
Pro Tip: If you have group clips you want to include in your reel, no worries. Just make sure to draw the viewer's eye to you as quickly as possible by using the Ken Burns zooming effect, and/or arrows pointing directly at you.
Q: What type of video editing software do you use to make your reels?
A: I am not a professional at all. And I did not pay for a fancy editing system. I use the iMOVIE app that came with my laptop. Since that's all I know that's all I will speak on. I like it because it is easy to use, straightforward, allows you to save your work for future edits, and you can create files of all sizes to meet the requirements set by CDs. The only problem I've had with the app is it tends to crash if you add too many editing elements to your project in a short period of time. I recommend saving your work as you go just in case this happens to you too.
Q: Any advice on how the layout of my reel should be?
A: Be yourself! Your reel is a visual representation of you and you are free to be as creative as you wish. I've seen people use single-take dance videos which are especially good for a job that needs specialty dancers, multiple take videos: where they create 15sec of choreography highlighting their proficiency in different techniques (ballet, hip hop and heels, for example), and I've seen people create reels with multiple clips grouped into categories like "Film," "Stage," "Commercials," etc. If you do this, make sure to include your role and the name of the job in a place that doesn't distract from your dancing for each clip. Be creative! Show them why they should hire you over the other 500 dancers who are waiting in the wings.
Pro Tip: Always include your commercial headshot and body shot in the beginning of your reel, and end with your/your agent's contact info (name, email, etc). Start with your strongest moments.
Q: How long should my reel be?
A: The perfect reel is short and sweet - 1 min max. But if you are a career professional and have amassed a large body of work it will be difficult to fit your accomplishments into a 60 sec video. In that case, you want to shoot for the 2-3 minute range. Any more than that and you start to bore the viewer. Casting directors don't have time to watch a short film about you. So keep it cute and quaint.
Q: I'm having a hard time finding music for my reel. Can you help me?
A: This, for me, is by far the most important yet hardest decision to make when attempting to craft the perfect commercial dance reel. So I'll tell ya MY DO's and DON'T's:
Make a list of songs, genres, and musical eras that make you happy.
Stick to instrumental tracks with a catchy, old school beat that everyone likes dancing too.
Choose a song that reflects your personality and professionalism.
use music with profanity (for obvious reasons)
Use loud music with distracting or disturbing noises. When I see a reel accompanied by crazy music I immediately reach for the stop button. Don't give the CDs a reason to end your video! You want whoever is looking at your visual to have an enjoyable viewing experience.
Pro Tip: Transitions between clips should be smooth, not choppy. Avoid using crazy animated transitions & stick to your basic fade-in, fade-out and fade-to-black. Cute & Quaint, remember?
Q: I have really great footage of me dancing when I was 6 years old. Should I include that too?
A: Absolutely not! Before you put your stamp of approval on your reel I want you to put on your Coco Chanel hat and edit, edit, edit! Store your StarPower competition footage in the basement, delete the clips where you look like "Where's Waldo" and make sure your reel reflects who you are as a dancer today. You are playing in the big leagues now, time to act like it.
Congrats! You just received a ton of info on how to make a winning commercial dance reel that will get you noticed. With this knowledge I want you to make yourself undeniable. I want your digital marketing materials to be so good that the CD's and agents are begging to hire you. Not the other way around. The power is in your hands. Use it wisely.
If you have any questions while creating commercial dance reel please don't hesitate to ask me. You can also send me a quick DM on IG if you need swift answers.