L.A.-based Haylee Roderick has been strutting her stuff on the commercial scene, dancing everywhere from “Glee” to the Academy Awards, for a while. But despite having an agent and killer talent, she was missing one more essential item: “Producers, directors and my agent were constantly asking to see my dance reel,” Haylee says. “I kept putting it off, thinking I should build up my resumé. But with so many creatives asking for it, I knew it was time this year. I just finished it, and I’ve already submitted it for a union project—something I couldn’t have even auditioned for without a reel! It’s essential for any professional dancer in L.A.”
In today’s media-heavy dancescape, a reel is an absolute must. It will give prospective agents, casting directors and choreographers a sense of how you move, your style and strengths as you choose to present them. Plus, with creative teams facing budget cuts, production logistics and scheduling issues galore, reels make it easy for them to see you—and possibly hire you!—even if they can’t hold a traditional audition. Sending a reel can also be the best way to be cast in a company or show that’s far away. Here’s how you can get your own reel together.
Choosing Your Footage
• Showcase your strength, whether it’s your chameleon-like versatility or a single specialty. “If you’re a versatile dancer, include all the genres you shine in,” says JC Gutierrez, director of the dance and on-camera department at L.A. agency McDonald/Selznick Associates. “But make sure your reel is separated by style, so if you’re applying for a jazz job you can say, ‘Fast-forward to 1:33.’ ” MSA agent Shelli Margheritis adds, “If you have a niche, show off. You’re a b-boy? Let’s see your best tricks!” If you aren’t trained in a certain area, don’t sweat it—and don’t include it.
• Be the star. “Solo footage is preferable to a shot with 10 other dancers, even if
it means renting a studio and choreographing a few pieces,” says professional dancer and freelance dance-reel editor Shane Rutkowski. If you do choose to use performance footage (a great option if the piece is well-rehearsed and you’re highly visible), make sure it’s a high-quality recording and you’re the focus of the shot. “If another dancer stands out more, it becomes that dancer’s reel,” Gutierrez says.
• If you have an agent, use him or her as a sounding board to help you choose the best clips and the order in which you should place them.
• Include your name and headshot at the beginning of the reel. If you’re represented, end with your agency’s info. If not, offer your professional email address or website, but never your phone number or mailing address—remember, you’ll be posting this online.
• Choose your audio wisely. The music behind your clips sets the tone and can say a lot about who you are as a performer.
Dance-reel editor Shane Rutkowski in action
• Use only one song for all of your clips to avoid distracting the viewer. It’s OK if the dancing in the clips doesn’t always match the beat of the song perfectly—just make sure there are accents throughout the reel where the two do match up. If you’re working with an editor, there are many tricks he or she can use to make the accents work.
• “Music can be tricky, especially with copyright issues,” Rutkowski says. “If you have a friend who can create music for you, that’s a great option. Choose a song that’s not overpowering or distracting. Instrumental is a good choice because it often has different sections that can correspond to different types of movement.”
• Avoid any possibly offensive material.
• Choose up-tempo music to catch the viewer’s attention.
Order and Length
• Make your reel punchy and to-the-point by putting your best clip first. A busy casting director may only have 15 seconds to watch, so show your strengths immediately. Ending with a high-energy clip is a great way to wrap things up.
• Include different energy levels so the reel doesn’t become monotonous. You could start with a jazz section, follow with a ballet piece and end with some fierce hip hop.
• Shorter is better. Your entire reel should be between one and a half and three minutes.
• If you’re tech-savvy, you may be able to create your own reel with clean editing and streamlined effects. But remember, less is more. Don’t overdo it with flashy transitions and special effects.
• Hiring an editor, like Rutkowski, can be a smart move. Even though it might cost you a bit, it’s an investment, just like your headshots. You’ll most likely be paying an hourly rate, so do research to find out what friends in your area have paid.
• If you use an editor, go prepared! Have all your clips ready (and in the same format, if possible) and write down timecodes of the spots you want to use. It will save you time and money.