In Conversation with DANCIO & Diana Byer: Filming Online Dance Classes

by | Feb 9, 2024 | Promotional Video, Virtual Events

I shared this really special conversation with Diana Byer & Caitlin Trainor—talking about documenting Diana’s legacy and teaching artistry with DANCIO—on Instagram!

Diana is Founder, and now Artistic Director EMERITA, of New York Theatre Ballet School. She continued directing and teaching through early 2022. Last year, she was a 2023 Martha Hill Lifetime Awardee, and she was our child’s ballet teacher for a few years! She trained with the renowned Margaret Craske.

Caitlin is the founder of DANCIO, an online subscription service for dance classes that was created to provide access to incredible stars and teaching artists from anywhere in the world.

Working with Diana and Caitlin in documenting Diana’s teaching was an absolute honor. My team has been working with DANCIO for a while on and off, and I was really excited when Caitlin asked us to do this project.

DANCIO and Diana

In 2015, Caitlin had the idea that online dance classes with world class teachers should be widely available, so she started DANCIO’s first boutique class collection with us at NSP. They launched their subscription services right before the pandemic hit.

 

“…I’ve been chasing [Diana] down almost as long as DANCIO has been around… because, though we have over 100 teachers on our platform, I knew that Diana’s teaching legacy and that of Margaret Craske is extraordinarily valuable and really singular in the dance world, in the fact that it prepares dancers in such an extraordinarily effective and really detailed way.

 

I had the idea to do a legacy project: to see Diana teach and train a dancer from the young ones all the way through professionals whose artistry branches in so many directions. And somehow Diana consented to do it!”

 

— Caitlin

“I went to Jacob’s Pillow… and I remember taking classes with [Margaret Craske] in the same studio where we shot the [DANCIO] classes! After class, we would go to her cabin, and Ted Shawn would come out and the two of them would tell stories…

 

— Diana

 

This legacy project was so awesome to create… it’s aligns exactly with why I believe dance documentation is so important!

Diana always knew she wanted to preserve her teaching, which comes from Margaret Craske’s pedagogy. So when Caitlin asked her to do this project, she was on board.

Diana shared that one of the reasons it’s important to preserve Craske’s pedagogy is that she “taught a class, she never gave a class.” It was always about giving her knowledge to her students, and preparing them… never about flashy choreography or “tricks.”

Structuring the class documentation

I wanted to know how Diana and Caitlin prepared and structured the classes for documentation. They are two very smart, very experienced people.

I learned that Diana created the curriculum, while Caitlin offered support by asking questions and considering what would be most helpful for teachers and students.

Diana shared that it was incredibly important for her to have the freedom to teach what she needed to teach… the “immense vocabulary” of the Cecchetti syllabus.

 

There’s a wealth of vocabulary that you just don’t see anymore.

 

Ballet seems to have gotten more and more upright, with the emphasis on how many turns you can do, what your feet look like, rather than on movement. The whole body moves in ballet!…ultimately, ballet is dancing!


…I’ve never understood why a wealth of vocabulary is old fashioned, and a limited vocabulary is current.”

 

— Diana

 

This is why dance documentation is so important. Dance, as an art form, is fleeting! It disappears once it is done. Good video documentation ensures that techniques don’t get lost in translation over time.

 

The legacy of the Sommers Studio

We filmed the classes in the Sommers Studio at Jacob’s Pillow—right where Diana took class with Craske! I wanted to know what that was like for Diana.

“Oh, it was fabulous, extraordinary. I mean, to be in that studio again, and look at the old tree where she’d throw us out to practice was incredible. It was a lot of pressure because I wanted to be faithful to the training that I had, because I believe in it 110%. That is the way to train an artist who dances.”

 

— Diana

Jacob’s Pillow is such a special place, full of time-travel moments like that. It’s part of the reason I love documenting dance there… it’s a living, breathing treasure trove of dance history unlike any other.

What Caitlin learned along the way

This was such a unique and important project, and I wanted to know, from a videographer’s perspective, what Caitlin learned from it.

To my surprise, she shared a really specific memory from when we were working on a shoot together in NYC, and I sent her out to a bodega to get a tree branch! I wanted an ornament of some sort in the video we were making. This attention to detail stuck with Caitlin, and she brought it to Diana’s legacy project, along with keen sense of listening and knowing when to support or “get out of the way.”

 

“I try to trust my instincts about people and what they have to share. Sometimes someone’s there because they’re a true master teacher, other times I’ll choose someone because they’re a really different kind of performer or legendary performer. But I think my main role and lesson is when you choose that person, choose very carefully and then get out of the way. Let them do what they came to do, which is their life work. That’s their artistry.”

 

— Caitlin

 

It was such an honor to collaborate with Diana Byer and Caitlin Trainor/DANCIO on this important project. This kind of work is always a highlight in my career!

Check out the full conversation on Instagram @nelshelbyfilms!

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.