Working with the Heart Chakra to Create Energy and Lines in Dance Audition Photos

So it’s the season of dance audition photos and I’m working with a lot of individual pre-professional dancers at the moment.  I just love building up their confidence and getting these young dancers ready to put their best feet forward and launch into the careers they have been working so hard for.

When I work with dancers to create audition photos, before we get to the final version of a shot, we spend a good amount of time working with lines, technique and energy.  Lately, I have started working more with establishing and communicating the energy of a shot earlier in the process.  Today, I want to share a little trick that I’ve come up with that is making a significant difference in the energy we are able to create in dance audition photos.

Most dancers tend to dance upward, because we are taught to lift our eyes and dance to the balcony.  Often, that thought, in addition to the physical tension that comes from pushing for a higher leg line, causes tension and stiffness in the neck, or a ‘ginch’ in the back of the neckline.  You know what I’m talking about… the head lifts too high so the gaze goes up to the ceiling in the effort needed to create a movement.


dance audition photo before pic
Amanda Valentino, Before Photo Dance Audition Photo Rachel Neville

Last week, I asked a dancer to lift the energy from her heart chakra instead.  Doing this allowed the neck to relax and to take on the line that we wanted.  This is such a simple concept and it worked beautifully.  Energy coming from the heart rather than the chin or the eyes was just the right shift to create the line we needed for a powerful audition photo, and the energy my dancer set out to portray was just right.


dance audition photo after pic
Amanda Valentino, After Photo Dance Audition Photo Rachel Neville

Let’s dig a little deeper to get to the connection between energy and the image we are making.  Opening the heart chakra is often something talked about in the yoga world and perhaps, if you are in tune with a certain spirituality methodology, but I have been astounded over the last week at how easy and effective a tool the heart chakra is for dancers to use to create lines and expressions!

It is  one of those tricks that seems to help almost all of my clients so I am eager to share it with you all just in time for the main events that are coming up in your dance world.

I have some dancers who have graciously allowed me to use before and after photos to demonstrate the effect that accessing your heart chakra has on dance audition photos.  Stay with us for a post, coming soon, where we will dig deeper into this topic and review the before and after photos.

My Bag of Tips and Tricks: The Unusual Things Every Dancer Needs

Happy holiday season! Everyone likes a little behinds the scenes peek every now and then right? Yesterday in a shoot we started talking about all the little tricks I have to solve problems that come up for dancers in our studio and we thought we’d give you a little Holiday Grab Bag of odd, unique and interesting tidbits. It’s like the proverbial ‘what’s in your dance bag’ articles in Dance Magazine, but for dance photography!

Now, you know me, I like to give out real info, no fluff posts here! We are not advertising for anyone and we are not getting paid by anyone to push their products. This is a list of real problem solvers that we have researched for dance photography clients, found through clients and vendors, or sourced as a way to solve a problem we were working through in the studio. Everyone has a unique opinion on what works and what doesn’t.  These are just mine and I am happy to share them with you!

1) Ever been in a class or rehearsal space where they won’t let you use rosin but you are slipping all over the place or in a photoshoot with a photographer who wasn’t a dancer and doesn’t understand that the quality of the floor is important?

I spent about a year working on this one: when we use paper backgrounds in the studio, dancers slip. It’s dangerous, and I’m all about dancer’s safety (to the point where we actually put in a sprung floor when we built my photography studio in Long Island City!).

We tried water, soda, traditional rosin, roughing up the platforms of shoes with a scraper, even a solution that dries sweaty palms for aerialists. Some solutions were better than others, but most left marks on our paper that cost me a lot of retouching time. Then I had a pole dancer into the studio last year, Phoenix introduced me to.. wait for it… Firm Grip by Cramer. It’s an anti slip spray, a ‘natural rosin formula’ that we order from Amazon. Better and cheaper than the spray rosin from Chacotte. Spray it straight on your shoes, not on the paper or floor.

2) Occasionally we have dancers in the studio that have super fine, slippery hair. Or, sometimes we want to create a crazy up-do that requires a lot of help.

Two years ago I had a makeup and hair person introduce us to Powder Play from BigSexyHair. Little red bottle, (again, I Amazon it), shake it like baby powder on your hair and presto, it’s like rosin for your hair!!! Awesome!

3) Still searching for leotards that actually look good on you?

If you haven’t already, get a copy of our Leotard Guide.

4) Don’t have the best feet in the world? Interested in using fake arches under your tights?

Listen, we don’t like to talk about it. We like everything to be ‘all us’. But if you are a totally awesome dancer but blessed with average feet, sometimes a little help boosts the confidence. I won’t tell you how many dancers I work with that use them, but I can tell you some of them have gotten jobs, and that’s what it’s about sometimes right? I had a dancer in recently whose mom bought her the best things to use… Nipple Concealers!!!!

Yes you read that right. We have found most fake arches to look, well, fake. They don’t like to stay in place, they can be too bulky, sometimes you need a sock that bunches to go over them to hold them down. Bunhead Smoothies are the best… they kind of stick to your foot, are just slightly big enough to be realistic and just smooth out your line. I saw them for myself, 3 hours later in a shoot and they hadn’t moved and still looked good.

Dance photographer Rachel Neville holiday NYC

5) It’s hair static time!

A handy little trick when you don’t want to wet your hair in a shoot but the flyaways are flying: use a dryer sheet to smooth over those areas gently.  You won’t crush any curls or shift the blowout but you will tame the strays. If you don’t have a dryer sheet, you can use Static Guard: don’t spray it on your hair (it smells a little toxic), spray it on a paper towel then smooth your hair!

6) One of my favorite makeup artists, James, begins his sessions with dancers by doing their eyes first.

That way any powder droppings from shadows and liners are easily brushed away before the foundation is applied, rather than having to ‘fix’ the foundation. Yah, can’t believe we hadn’t thought of that one before, right?

7) James is also currently using a for contouring cheekbones a neutral toned check color (not pinks or reds) and dipping the brush lightly in grey before applying.

Genius right? This is what shadows actually are, an area where there is less light. To a photographer this makes perfect sense, because shadows are actually grey areas, to increase them we sometimes just decrease the density of the light, which we do by adding darkening down the area, not shifting the color.

Finally, the one you’ve been waiting for…

8) What tights are best for photoshoots?

There really isn’t a definitive answer here.  Ever dancer has favorite tights for different reasons. Some dancers like a soft waistband, others like hard. Some like mesh, others do not…

The list of preferences goes on and on, but here are my guidelines:

Avoid pink tights.  Most shoot slightly blue or green tinged, particularly the more they are washed, and they give your legs the stuffed white tube look. Tights that are as close to your skin tone are best, the thinner the better for a photo shoot. The flip side to that is that they run easily, so make sure to pack two pairs. Also look for a softer waistband that doesn’t pull your skin in at the waist.

I do not like Capezio tights. There, I said it. I feel so politically incorrect! I do like that they make a low rider version that goes under low backed Yumiko leos well, but their color does not shoot well.

I do like Gaynor Minden Natural/Classic mesh – very thin, soft and excellent color. Probably the best color out there. Unfortunately, the gusset on these stretches out quite a bit and is a pain to retouch. Take heart, I’m told that they are aware of this and will more than likely be fixing it soon.

I also like American Movement tights. Supper soft and do not shoot blue, but the mesh can be a little orange before the first several washes. The gusset on these: excellent.

Finally, I love the shadowing on the performance version of Zarely wear tights. I create that shadowing on my dance photography clients with lighting, but the added extra there is just subtle enough not to be noticed by the average eye and to have the desired effect if you don’t have the lighting to work with. There is a cooler color tone to these tights, so if you have a warm skin tone your photographer may have to adjust the color on your legs.

One More Gift for My Readers

For all my blog readers, I thought you might like a shot at picking up our Human Nature Calendar! For the next week, you can use the code BLOG15 to receive 15% off to purchase this beautiful, great-for-Christmas Lists present!

Lots of love to you all in this holiday season,


The Gallery: Creating Stories from Emotional Landscapes

I often am asked how I come up with some of my narrative work, where the ideas come from.  To be honest, I imagine it’s a similar process to writers: you write what you know… I shoot themes and images that come to me through personal experiences combined with inspiration shots I am continually gathering. But the Gallery was different.

The process for the shot that we call ‘The Gallery’ started with a conversation with a dancer named Andrew Daly. In this conversation, I asked him to relay to me a few personal stories or events from his life that were highly emotionally charged and relevant. I was looking for his story, for a level of emotional availability that would be fairly easy to access in a photo shot.

Accessing emotional poignancy is a difficult thing for dancers to achieve in a photo shoot. They are often preoccupied with looking good physically.  That concern, along with the absence of the stage lights and the trust that forms between the performer and the black hole of the audience, means that I need to find just the right ‘trigger’ in a photo shoot that can get them to go to that emotional place.

Andrew was very forthcoming with me, telling his stories with enough detail that immediate images started to form in my head.

Image making art storytelling through photography Rachel Neville NYC

Andrew Daly, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville

Selecting one of his stories to create, we moved back to the emotional content when shooting by selecting the right music, taking the time needed to get into the shot and to slow the energy to roll through his body. With some specific directions related to the shapes I was looking for, Andrew was able to give me multiple, really fantastic versions in a relatively short amount of time.

I truly enjoy creating with other artists in this collaborative way.  While I am a dance photographer first and foremost, working with lines and shapes is what I do on a daily basis. Going beyond that to pull out and create stories that we can all connect with on a deeper level is what I love to do most.  And I am so happy to share it with you.

How to Capture Energy and Emotion in Dance Audition Photos

Happy Thanksgiving! As we take a break here at our studio this weekend to spend time with our families, we want to wish you all a great day off and to take a moment to be grateful for all of you, our readers, clients, friends. Love to you all.

To those of you who are entering Nut season, we wish you happy dancing and an injury free season, see you on the other side!


NYC dance photographer audition photo tips Rachel Neville

Alexandra Martin, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville NYC

We are heavily into the throws of audition photo season, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about something that is coming up more and more this year: Energy and Emotion!

In our dance photography studio, we shoot images in a particular order. First we figure out the moment or pose. Next we set the lighting. Then we take some time to fine tune the movement so that the dancer’s lines and technique look their best. Then we start working with the emotional content that is the driving force behind what we do as communicators. Without that, we have a bland shot that never really lifts off the ground.

add emotion and energy to dance audition photos Rachel Neville Photography NYC

Andrew Daly, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville NYC

I find that this order is essential: our brains are actually not hard wired to multitask! We can in any split second only think about one thing. So in order to really accomplish our goals in dance photography, we need the body to develop a little muscle memory as to the best lines possible for a shot (if you have’t had the chance to drop by the studio to watch or participate in a shoot, you’ll just have to take my word for it, what we do in front of the camera is often quite different than how we dance on stage). Once we have that achieved, by shooting a movement several times to get it ‘into’ you, we can tackle the impetus behind the movement successfully.

Rachel Neville dance audition photos with energy

Billie Marder, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville NYC

You would be surprised at how different a shot looks when it includes an emotional component from a dancer. Lines change, tension is added or let go, freedom is allowed and you have a chance to really give your ‘audience’ a moment of your soul. That’s where we grab people, that’s what turns heads and gets attention. The moment you move beyond the physical and into the personal connection… the images become wonderful and we access our viewers’ internal dialogue in a way that movement alone cannot.

Food for thought this lovely weekend.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler is inspired by my love of magic and Steampunk style.  I grew up reading and loving all things magic and extra-sensory in addition to anything period piece, convinced I lived in the 1700s and then again in the 1800s.

I wanted to create a piece that would read dance but also tell the story of a couple that might be time travelers, a poster that would catch the attention of the audience and draw you into wanting to buy tickets to the show, to be part of the story.

art photography concept rachel neville

Steampunk dancers

Look in this shot and see how the characters the dancers were giving me during the photo shoot with their energy and emotions.  Dancers are Alston Macgill of New York City Ballet and Andrew Fassbender of Tulsa Ballet.

Scroll through Instagram and Facebook for outtakes and more of this story we are telling together.

Creating Narrative Images: Betrayal By Rachel Neville

The idea for the Betrayal image came to me one morning more as a video idea around a personal incident in my life.  What woman hasn’t been frustrated to the extreme by her significant other, and what fantasies we create in our heads to deal with the frustration?
A few weeks later, I was shooting a commercial shoot for Averyboardman (a company that custom designs sofas and sofa beds) and, boom, there was this new couch.  It was the couch from my imagination!
Narrative photography Rachel neville
New York City Ballet dancers 
Preston Chamblee and  Jackie Bologna Photo Rachel Neville
So of course we pulled in a favor and asked to borrow it, and called in Preston Chamblee and  Jackie Bologna of New York City Ballet for the shoot.
I can’t tell you what fun it was to work up ideas with the two of them that ran a little macabre with a love story – and a knife!
See this end more of our work on my website and tell us what you think on Facebook.

Creating a Marketing Image that Reflects the Power of a Dance Company

I created this piece for contemporary dance company The Moving Architects in celebration of the company’s tenth anniversary season.

Our goal was to create an image that represented their 10th anniversary season in a way that connects to their branding and resonates with audiences.  Strong, contemporary shapes and emotional content are key to The Moving Architects’ work and to their branding concept.

The Moving Architects Photo Rachel Neville

We wanted to showcase these key elements in an image that could be cropped, or not, as needed for their programming. This is an important thing to keep in mind when you are looking at dance marketing decisions: how and where will you use your images, and how does they way you use your dance marketing images help to influence the design and production of those images.

The dancers in the photo shoot were moved to work with props that would help them illustrate their power, fearlessness and vulnerability.  And this image does precisely that.

Congratulations to The Moving Architects on their 10th Anniversary Season.  We look forward to enjoying your work, your energy, and your power, for years to come.