When you think about a dance video, what comes to mind? Madonna’s ‘Vogue’? Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’? Or, of course, the iconic ‘Gangnam Style’?
The rise of MTV in the 1980s made music videos one of the biggest new art forms for decades.
Add in the global reach of YouTube and TikTok and dance videography is not only hugely influential, but one of the most impactful ways an artist can create and build their identity and brand.
So, how do you make a great dance video? We’ll take you through the essentials:
- Choosing the right song to dance to
- Choreography and style
Choosing the Right Song to Dance To
If you’re looking to make a high concept video (think Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’), then obviously choosing the right song to dance to is the first thing on your list.
A great song could be what takes your choreography to another level – plus the genre may also dictate the look and styling of your video. Think of the story that you want to tell in order to find the right track.
Try searching on Soundcloud for a track that fits your choreography style, or the concept of your video – or find a cool cover or remix of a track.
Choreography & Style
When it comes to making a dance video, you’ve got masses of different styles to choose from.
There’s your one-shot extravaganzas, such as the opening sequence to La La Land’s ‘Another Day of Sun’, which is nearly six minutes long:
Or this iconic little number, which catapulted the Spice Girls to the top of the pop pantheon:
The secret to successfully pulling off a one-take video is a lot of rehearsal, some very carefully planned camera moves and choreography that’s polished to within an inch of its life.
A one-take can result in something truly spectacular, such as Kiesza’s ‘Hideaway’, which features awe-inspiring choreography, but it’s not something for the faint-hearted.
Alternatively, watch a wide variety of different videos and ads that feature choreography for inspiration.
You might want something where the choreography is showing a story or a concept. What feeling are you trying to express?
Director and star Philip Chbeeb’s promo for Elliot Moss’s ‘Without the Lights’ is a representation of violence in an abusive relationship:
Or watch ‘Nightdare’ by JaJa Vankova, which uses dance to bring to life a child’s nightmares and terrors, through classical music and stark styling:
AXA UK shows dancer and choreographer Taylor Haine’s determination to succeed in its ad, ‘The Dancer’, which expertly pairs its soundtrack – Karen O’s ‘I Shall Rise’ – with inspiring visuals of Taylor, who was fitted with a prosthetic leg from a very young age and whose passion has always been dancing.
Let’s Dance - Choreography
Is your choreography going to be modern or street style, classical or freestyle – do you want to bring in some ballroom steps to create an interesting fusion?
If you’re creating your own choreography, you need to study the music. By knowing it inside out, you can design dance moves that work with both the beat and the lyrics.
Watch the pros for inspiration; whether it’s dance-focused musicals, such as Chicago, or competitive series like So You Think You Can Dance, study the styles and combinations of movement – as well as how the dancers are conveying emotion:
Top choreographer Arlene Phillips – an ex-Strictly Come Dancing judge – advises that you should plan out your most impactful elements first, then work in additional steps around them.
She also suggests challenging yourself with unique rhythms, styles and techniques.
For more inspiration, Wayne McGregor demonstrates how to communicate ideas through choreography in this TED talk:
What equipment will you need to film a dance video? Well, it can be as simple as just using your phone!
Check out Steezy’s expert hacks for shooting dance videos on your phone:
But if you want to up the quality, then you’ll need to either buy or hire a camera and some lights at a minimum.
You don’t have to invest a huge amount of money in cameras to create a dance music video that looks amazing. But a top tip is to have a few cameras on-set so that you can capture footage from various angles – this will give you plenty of options when it comes to editing your video.
The best camera for dance videos? Bestoflens.com recommends the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, while Cameragurus.com plumped for the Fujifilm X-T4 (which also has a feature to record slow-motion) or the GoPro HERO9, which is great in low light.
A top tip for filming dance videos is to get a wide-angle lens, as you want to show as much of the dancing as possible, by shooting at a wide angle.
To stand out from the crowd, and create really high-end video, then the best option is to rent the most expensive cameras the pros use (such as the RED), rather than buying them, as a more affordable alternative when you’re starting out.
This video from Parker Welbeck compares footage from a $30,000 RED camera versus a $600 DSLR:
If you’re filming in a dance studio, then make it look more interesting and give it depth with clever lighting – and even effects such as a smoke or fog machine.
Fstoppers has useful tips on how to light your dance music video with just two lights:
Spotlights create a harsher light that looks more dramatic, as there are more shadows, whereas soft box lights create a softer look, which is the most flattering for people’s faces.
Best use of lighting in a minimalist set up? Definitely Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ – it’s an absolute masterclass, and one of our picks of the best ever dance videos below.
Get more tips on the best gear to use when filming dance videos from Bryce Koebel:
A useful element when you’re planning your dance video is to create a treatment, outlining the video’s concept, direction, aesthetic and style. A treatment doesn’t have to be complicated - it provides the building blocks and the structure for everyone to follow.
Often, when creating your treatment, you may realise that your concept will take you way over budget. Or that your concept is out of sync with the style or tone of the music, so it’s a useful exercise in lots of ways.
The most effective dance music video treatments have plenty of visual images for reference – don’t make it too descriptive, as people reading it may tune out.
Listen to the track at least 20 times, to figure out what will best bring out the emotion or themes. Then, depending on your budget, think of a location, together with planning what kind of lighting, camera movements and camera lenses you’ll need.
Plus, who else do you need on your team? From dancers to a director, a choreographer to a lighting assistant, make-up artist and a stylist, the list will depend on your concept, and your budget.
If you’re filming a choreographed dance, then try to attend as many rehearsals as you can, so you know what movements the dancers will be making, and how to track them with camera movements.
Can’t get to the rehearsals? Ask for video footage that you can study.
Go behind the scenes with Mabel as she rehearses with her choreographer and dancers for the ‘About Last Night’ videos:
Creating moodboards (also known as idea boards or theme boards) can help you to put together a succinct treatment and will provide the foundations for a storyboard and shot list.
Moodboards are a practical way to take your creative ideas and bring them to life in the real world.
Your dance video moodboard can include shots illustrating the choreography, location, costume and make-up looks, to share ideas with your team, from the director to the stylist.
There are various free apps to create moodboards, which include templates to make life easier. Online moodboards can include images, video, links and colour references, such as stills from previous shoots, or images you’ve saved from Film Grab, Instagram or Pinterest.
Get inspiration from Garrett Sammons on how to create your own moodboard, to make your vision a reality:
It would be nice to think you’ve got a massive budget to play with, but the reality is you probably won’t have.
So, if your location is a dance studio, or somewhere that’s fairly plain, add in interest with accent lighting or effects such as the fog/smoke mentioned above, plus make the most of environmental textures and colours.
You could even try shooting with green screen if you want to bring in something more dramatic, or out-of-this-world.
When dividing up your budget, work out what your priorities are – is it the equipment? Paying for a professional choreographer and dancers? The location, set design, costumes or effects? Your treatment and moodboard should help with this.
When it comes to how to film a dance video, if you’re filming outside, then aim to shoot during ‘golden hour’ – the hour after sunrise, or the hour before sunset.
Make sure the sun is behind your subjects, which gives you a nice backlight to work with. When shooting indoors, the experts recommend turning off all the fluorescent lighting, so you can choose the amount and type of light that’s going to work best for you.
When it comes to camera movements, match them to the feel and pace of the song. Slow, smooth movements will fit an emotional ballad or love song.
Try to match the speed of your movements to the pace of the track – obviously, if you’re shooting a track with a much faster bpm, then quicker movements and speedy edits will fit the bill.
If you’re shooting in different locations, then when you’re putting together your shotlist you’ll need to work out which parts of the song will be filmed in which location – and how you’re going to transition between the two.
FKA Twigs’ ‘Cellophane’ video starts out with the artist pole dancing on an empty stage, before segueing into a dreamlike, sci-fi-esque location:
Through watching the choreography rehearsals and listening to the track multiple times, you should be able to work out ‘action points’, which are moments where there’s a change in the vocals, the tempo or the instruments.
This is where you can put in specific action or dance moves to heighten the dramatic or emotional impact of the video.
Ashlie Jow has five more tips for filming dance concept videos in her explainer:
How to Edit Dance Videos
There’s a wide range of video editing software options; however, if you’re doing minimal editing, then the software on your computer – e.g. Windows Movie Maker or iMovie - may be good enough.
Adobe Premiere will give you a lot more flexibility in terms of video editing – and there are plenty of video tutorials to help you get started. If you’re new to editing, then go with the adage ‘less is more’ – keep it simple and follow your instincts.
Dominique from Neek Films talks you through the process of editing a dance video with Premiere Pro.
From selecting the best part of each take to ‘editing to the dance’, adding effects and, most importantly, not ‘overpowering the dance’ – you need to be able to see the full choreography in the video:
For more great advice from the experts, check out these top 10 tips for shooting cinematic music videos and making your way in the music business:
What Are the Best Dance Videos?
Here’s our pick of the top 5 dance videos of all time.
Madonna – ‘Vogue’ (1990)
The Queen of Pop has nailed pretty much every music genre and dance style during the course of her career, from pop to disco, country music to R&B and dance.
You might know about voguing from POSE, the award-winning TV series about New York City’s Ballroom culture – in 2019, Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win in an Emmy lead acting category (Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series).
But arguably most people’s introduction to voguing was through Madonna’s black and white video, directed by David Fincher, and choreographed by Karole Armitage.
Inspired by the LGBTQ+ subculture of the African-American and Latino communities throughout the 1980s and 90s as well as 1970s disco influences, the song set a trend, bringing voguing into mainstream pop culture. And with that ‘Vogue’ became the world’s bestselling single of 1990.
Also referencing the style of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s, the video won three awards at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, out of a total of nine nominations.
Pinkfong Kids’ Songs & Stories – ‘Baby Shark Dance’ (2016)
It may not be cool, but in January 2022, ‘Baby Shark Dance’ became the first YouTube video to surpass 10 billion views – it’s now clocked up well over 11 billion.
It’s probably not going to be winning any awards for its choreography, but it’s super easy for kids to pick up and the cartoon visuals are bright, colourful and ideally tailored for its audience.
Add in the fact that the song will get stuck in your head for weeks at a time, and you’ve got the perfect blend of song, choreography and video.
Lady Gaga – ‘Bad Romance’ (2009)
When it comes to extreme visuals matched with, ‘I have to watch that again’ choreography, no-one does it better than Gaga and ‘Bad Romance’ has it all. There are weird, white pods in an underground bunker, with dancers dressed like white latex versions of the creature in Alien.
Gaga appears in a selection of futuristic outfits and wigs, from Goth to glam, her character morphing from passive to powerful. Plus there are dance sequences in a variety of outfits (were the white/red colourways inspired by Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ video?)
Directed by Francis Lawrence, it was nominated for ten MTV Video Music Awards, winning seven, including Video of the Year. Billboard went one further and hailed it as the best music video of the 21st Century.
The video’s concept is that Gaga is kidnapped by supermodels and sold to the Russian mafia – by the end of the video, though, Gaga’s got her revenge and is lying next to the remains of the man who bid for her, on a dramatically burned-out bed.
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – ‘Uptown Funk’ (2014)
Snappy outfits, (extra props for the shots of Bruno, Mark and the crew sporting curlers in a hair salon), a big white limo and some awesome dance moves have made this one of the most-watched videos of all time, with over 4.6 billion views.
It’s a great example of a classic ‘let’s do the show right here’ street location, which has the feel of an old-skool Hollywood backlot (helped by the fact it was shot at 20th Century Fox Studios’ ‘New York Street’ backlot in LA). Then the action shifts for the final third to a neon-lit club.
The retro feel is enhanced by the late 70s/80s clothes, leading the Guardian to praise its, ‘super-slick, Jackson-like group choreography, glossy production and retro styling.’
Beyoncé – ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ (2008)
The track itself won three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year, and the video is another black and white favourite, showing that you don’t need massive sets or elaborate costumes to make the best dance music videos – you can create something truly iconic on a very low budget, if you’ve got the talent and the moves.
Directed by Jake Nava, who also directed ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Beautiful Liar’, the amazing choreography was put together by Frank Gatson Jr and JaQuel Knight – the inspiration was a 1969 Bob Fosse routine called ‘Mexican Breakfast’ on The Ed Sullivan Show, featuring Fosse’s wife, Gwen Verdon, and two other women.
Beyoncé revealed to Entertainment Weekly that, ‘We kept a lot of the Fosse choreography and added the down-south thing — it’s called J-Setting, where one person does something and the next person follows. So it was a strange mixture... It’s like the most urban choreography, mixed with Fosse — very modern and very vintage.’
The video shoot apparently took about 12 hours, with multiple performances being filmed and then edited together to give the impression of a single take.
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