Dance editing is very different than other types of projects editors usually encounter, such as narrative, training or commercials. Dance performance videos are designed show the choreography and highlight the performances of skilled dancers. Dance recital videos also need to show close-ups of the performers for their families, who are often paying for the videos.
Most of these training articles include examples of good editing as illustrations.
Cut to the phrasing or lyrics of the music as often as possible, i.e., the words of the song, not just the beat. Often the choreography is designed around the lyrics. If you sing a line of music, you are starting at the beginning of a phrase.
Edit differently for different skill levels. Young beginning dancers don’t have much skill — they and their families are mainly looking for cute close-ups. For intermediate dancers, capturing their performance at its best is important — get close-ups of them only when they are dancing well, not doing something wrong. As dancers become more skilled, the choreography becomes much more important.
For younger, less skilled dancers lined up on stage, alternate between wide shots and panning close-ups to get close shots as often as possible without leaving the other dancers out of the shot. Picture in picture is a good technique to use if there is a good, long panning close-up.
Cuts should “disappear”, i.e., not be distracting to the viewer. Cutting to the lyrics and cutting at the beginning of a movement help. Dissolves can help smooth out transitions that seem abrupt.
Cuts add energy and dynamics to high-powered songs with more advanced dancers. It’s typical to have 30-40 cuts in a song like this. Think of where the audience’s eyes will be and cut to close-ups of those moves. Use a balcony camera to add a 3rd dimension and show where dancers at the back are doing something different than dancers at the front.
Dance editing takes time. Don’t expect to become fast at it. Check and recheck your work to make sure you are doing the best job possible. Make sure you aren’t missing something with your cuts. Watch for possible distractions, like a camera move making a dissolve look bad.
Tips for capturing the choreography
If you aren’t sure about choreography, look for who is doing what on stage. Sometimes different dancers will be doing different things — don’t miss what one is doing focusing on someone else. After making cuts, look over the wide view again to make sure you haven’t cut something out.
Choreography for young beginning dancers is limited because of their skills. A choreographer will often use advanced dancers to tell a story around the song.
Start with an establishing wide view of the stage to show backdrop, positioning, props, etc. Hold this shot long enough to capture the design of the dance before looking for good close-ups. Generally, don’t go from close-up to close-up. Instead, cut back to a wide shot so viewers can remember where everyone was on the stage.
Sometimes, choreography calls for a dialog between groups of dancers — one group of dancers does something, then another group responds. Use a wide shot of all dancers at first to show the pattern, then you can cut to a close-up of one of the groups afterward.
The video at the top of this blog page is a 11-minute edited version of the interview. If you want to watch the full hour-long interview, that video is embedded below.