Instagram Live with Carolyn Dorfman: Creative Process and Dance Video

by | May 5, 2023 | Performance Video

I recently hosted an Instagram Live with one of my longtime clients, Carolyn Dorfman.

Carolyn and I have been working together for more than 15 years!

I remember the exact moment we started working together. I was working out at Equinox—they used to have little computer stands at the machines—and I got an email from Carolyn’s Executive Director asking us to film her show.

We talked about Carolyn’s work and why dance video is important to her process. She creates unique environments and movement worlds, which makes filming her work so much fun.

Carolyn said, “I work in a human centered environment. It’s about humanism! The process for me is just as important as the product, and that’s why I love working with you Nel!”

Process is so important to us at NSP. A lot of times, our dance clients come to us ready to film a show or event. But we love getting involved even earlier in the planning process with a client, getting to know their goals for their video, brainstorming what they can use it for before and after the event, etc.

Archiving is a really important aspect of video for Carolyn. We discussed that a three-camera shoot is her ideal for this purpose – a wide camera, close camera, and a third camera to capture the work from a vantage point off to the side. 

For archival purposes, Carolyn said the close camera in particular captures “the details, the essence. Literally you can see where somebody’s hand goes on a shoulder, or see it go under the arm, or a complex lift… From the wide angle you can’t see those details and parts… Wide is whole. Close-up is in the details. And for me, it’s always in the details.” 

Carolyn also noted that video, especially close camera video, allows her to “always go back to the source and the people who made the work” when she’s restaging pieces of her repertory on other dancers. 

We also had a great discussion about editing:

“We’re basically choreographers [when we edit]. We’re designing with the elements we are given. We’re all different in what we want from video, because our work is different.”

I love Carolyn’s take on this, and I completely agree! I always say that you have to know how dance feels to film it, and this applies to editing, too. Different dances require different kinds of cuts and fades. And different artists have different sensibilities about how to edit their work – what to prioritize or how often to switch angles…

Even when an artist comes to Nel Shelby Productions without an exact idea of how they want to capture and edit their dance on film, we can help them figure it out. My husband Christopher keeps reminding me: “We know dance.” We know what questions to ask in the editing process to get at the tone and structure you’re looking for. And we get to know our clients as artists so we can bring some of their preferences and priorities into the next project. We figure it out together. 

Follow me on Instagram for more conversations with artists and my collaborators!

Nel Shelby is Owner & Filmmaker for Nel Shelby Productions, her New York City-based company dedicated to dance videography and editing. Nel shares her mission to preserve and promote the art of dance with her husband, Christopher Duggan, a dance and wedding photographer. They collaborate on projects with dance companies of worldwide renown, up-and-coming choreographers, dance educators, dance schools and more. Nel is Video Producer at Jacob’s Pillow and Vail Dance Festival and is also the proud Director and Producer of PS DANCE! — a New York Emmy-nominated documentary about dance education in NYC’s public schools.