Sunday, May 17, 2020

Zoom as a choreographic tool - tech considerations

No matter the context, Zoom (or any virtual meeting) is a type of performance. We get to choose how and what our audience sees and how we respond in real time. This is similar to practicing performance in the dance studio classroom or rehearsal space. We make conscious decisions about how we present ourselves while in the process of learning and growing. It is a practice to make decisions in preparation and in real time.

Here are some of the things I've learned from the Zoom-field:

1. Set. What is your "set"? What are you inviting your audience to see and learn about you through the way you create and order your space? When I'm teaching, I understand that I'm getting a private look into my students' lives, based on their space. I need to be aware of how, where, and when they're moving. Some folks are working on carpet or uneven flooring. Some only have the space of a yoga mat. Some are in a different time zone. As I prepare them (and myself) for performance, I remind them that their "set" also becomes part of the performance. Do they want their closet door open and if so, what is the process of making that choice? What do "we" as "audience" members learn about them from their "set"? How does their set inform the narrative of the work? Should it? Conversely, if one chooses to use a virtual background, what does that say about their "character" (both the choice NOT to share their space and where they choose to place themselves)?

2. Costume. How does a dancer choose to "costume" themself? This is not only about a) choices of exposure, b) choices in ability to move, and c) choices in design, but also d) choices in color. Based on how the set is arranged, costume color may be a factor in seeing the movement. For example, when I was arranging my space to teach and perform on Zoom, I initially created a "black box" to reduce light (more on lighting coming up) and create a seamless line of vision for my audience. (My "studio space" is being borrowed from an otherwise colorful and crowded room.) However, I quickly learned that, because most of my work/dance clothes are black, I blended into my set. This was resolved with light colored sheets. I've also come to realize that loose-fitting clothes are not ideal for seeing the lines of the body. In person, they may accentuate the flow of the movement, but that often can be lost in the chance bandwidth of virtual performance. 

3. Lighting. If a dancer stands between a light source and the camera/ computer, the dancer is backlit and in silhouette. Most computer cameras don't capture this as clearly as a professional photographer, videographer, or the human eye. If a dancer stands under a light, the detail clarity is better. The best option I've discovered is an additional light behind the computer camera shining at the dancer. Like most lighting situations, having light shining directly into your eyes is not ideal for performing or balance, but we're talking about adjusting for and to the audience, in this context. In addition, please be aware of the sun. In live performance situations, presenters and theatre directors have taken care to control most aspects of the space, including ways to block the sun. But, depending on your space, the sun could enhance your lighting or be a distraction. Sunlight through windows is a wonderful addition to our indoor, isolated lives. The opportunity to be outside in nature with some Vitamin D is a gift. But, filtered sunlight in a virtual space can be blinding and distorting. Again, choose your lighting with awareness. 

4. Angle of audience. Distance + an upward sight angle for the audience in person = psychological elevation of performance, a range of sight-lines, and choices for the audience to witness the performance. With virtual meeting platforms, most "sight-lines" are close up and the upward angle is less flattering than it can be with distance. This can often be controlled "behind the scenes" with additional props and angling of the digital device. 

5. Distance of audience. Most of the digital meeting platforms are designed to focus on the face of an individual. Dance is usually designed for the entire body to be viewed. Body part dances can be made with the focus on just one part of the body, but a dancer needs to play with their space in order for a full body shot to be visible. Distance away from the recording devices is necessary for a full body shot. This might not be possible in all spaces. But with careful awareness to set, lighting, angle of movement, additional props, and sound, a consciousness performance experience can be created. 

6. Angle of movement. Digital platforms present in two-dimensional movement. I've found that angling the body on croise allows for more of a three-dimensional experience of movement. (croise with an accent over the e). Movement that is presented "flat" front or side can be lost, especially if part of the movement is away from the recording device. 

7. Mute yourself. Sound travels and just as a performer needs to be quiet backstage, a Zoom-performer needs to be aware of the other sounds in their space. Many live theatres and performance spaces are equipped with devices to transmit or muffle sound effectively. Most personal spaces aren't designed this way so, please still silence or turn off your phones and other noise making devices during the performance. If you're sharing music, there are a lot of tutorials for the best ways to do this on your platform. Thank you to all of the folks who have taken the time to share their best sound practices while social distancing.

I'm learning as I'm going and I'm grateful for the collaborations of other artists and professionals.

What have you learned? What are some of your Zoom best practices? 

Screen shot of my performance in Dr. Nathan Thomas's live-streamed Zoom play "The Feast" performed on 4/22/2020. Yep, it's blurry. Such is Zoom-life. 


  1. So comprehensive and thoughtful. Being totally an unstudied amateur admirer of your art, this is interesting. A sense of new awareness provided.
    Thank You

  2. Thank you, Michael! I always find it so interesting how much detailed focus a performance requires from so many different participants - but as in dance as in life, the process is similar to any event planning.