You feel inspired to create a dance film or live performance that does not take place on a typical stage. You have the concept, the dancers, the music, and maybe some of the choreography (some of it may be inspired by and created on site) – but where are you going to perform? What is the backdrop of the video? Location scouting for a site-specific dance can be a lot of fun! Consider the following elements to help find the perfect performance space for your vision to come to life.

1. What is the intention of your piece?

This may be an obvious point – but it’s very important to note the message you want to convey with your work. Once the concept is evident, think about which type of environment (nature/park, more urban, etc.) would best assist and compliment the overall concept.  

2. Number of Shots

If you are producing a dance film, rather than a live performance, consider how many shots you would like the final product to have. Will the scene be set all in one spot? Or, will there be various backdrops, and if so, how many? If multiple, will you be driving to each location? Or, in the interest of time and convenience, you may want to search for a location with a variety of shots, angles, and viewpoints in one! Take into consideration who will be filming, where the camera will be set up, and what will be seen in each frame.

3. Amount of Dancers

If the group of dancers is larger, you will need a bigger performance space. If it’s a solo-danced video or live performance, you can get creative with different options, for example, a tiny room in a house or one small patch of concrete.

Once you have chosen the type of location needed, the variety of shots you want, and the number of dancers – you can begin to research what is around.

4. Foot Traffic

When location scouting, choose a place that does not have a distracting amount of foot traffic - unless that is an element that you specifically want and is intended.

If this work is culminating into a video, you may not be able to post faces in the background of people who do not give their approval to be shown. Not only that, if there are many people constantly passing by, you may have to constantly stop and restart the shot. Because the dancers are dancing outside and in public, the passersby will not be extras who know to walk past without looking, but rather, will be random strangers who won’t be able to help but turn their head and watch. Naturally, this is not a good overall look for the video.

In the case that you’re set on wanting to film in a place that sees a lot of foot traffic, consider times of the day, such as early in the morning, when the area is anticipated to be less crowded. Changing the time of when you are filming can provide more options, but plan in advance for how the sun will be hitting the lens of the camera and the eyes of the dancers.
If the piece is intended for a live performance, will viewers just be those walking by? Or will they be sitting and viewing the dance in its entirety? If this is a full performance, do you want attendees to be standing or will there be seats? Regardless, there needs to be space for the chairs or space for people to stand. Is this one dance or a showcase of multiple dances? If the performance contains multiple dances, think about the transitions between each and where the dancers will stand since there is no backstage or side curtains.

5. Sound Level

No matter where you film, you will most likely be layering the music over the final edited video. In the instance that there will be dancing outside, and you envision the film containing sounds of the natural elements, make sure that where you select has sounds that you want, and more importantly, does not have sounds that you don’t want. For live performance, noise levels of the area are especially important since it won’t be a video where sound can be edited. It is also extremely important with outdoor performances to plan how you will be playing the music (such as where an outlet or power source is nearby for a stereo, or if using a battery-operated device make sure it is fully charged with a backup power source.)

6. Ground

What will the dancers be wearing on their feet? Is there a heavy amount of floor work in the choreography? It's pertinent to consider what the dancers will be dancing on when picking a place – you don’t want them rolling barefoot on concrete. You may even want to think about your concept and possible locations for your work before even beginning to choreograph. If the performance is in a more urban setting like on blacktop, consider wearing boots and doing close to no floor work. If your piece will be performed in bare feet and contains any floorwork, consider somewhere with a more forgiving ground such as grass.

7. Temperature

If you live in a cold area and/or are filming in the winter time, it may be in your best interest to look for inside locations. Exterior locations leave more room for versatility whereas interior locations can look very specific, so scouting an inside location will need to be even more intentional depending on the work. For outdoor live performances with audience members, it would be wise to avoid scheduling these during extremely hot or cold times of the year.

8. Permits

Research if a permit is needed. Keep in mind that while some locations are open for public filming or performance, other locations are stricter and may require a permit or permission from the town – sometimes always, and other times only if you intend to sell tickets/video and make money from it.

All things considered, here are ideas to get you started

  • Exterior – Nature: parks, fields, woods, beach, mountains
  • Urban: under a bridge, on steps, at a pier, in a vacant parking lot
  • Interior – classroom, unfinished basement, attic

When planning your next project – hopefully these tips will aid as a checklist to selecting the perfect backdrop for the piece you imagined!

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