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Video Taping
Dancer’s Training Tool or Stealing Device?
(The Pro’s & Con’s Of Video Taping)
-by Manny Siverio 

  • Question: Is Video Taping a useful training tool for mambo dancers?: 
    Answer: YES
  • Question: Can it be used to steal from other artists and performers?: 
    Answer: YES

Everywhere I go nowadays, I see people with video cameras. These little babies have come a long way since first hitting the American market. First, came the big bulky Beta/VHS camcorders, then came the smaller Video 8/Super 8 cameras, followed by the Digital 8 recorders and finally the digital video camera. They’ve gotten so small you can almost hide the damn things in the palm of you hand. Yet with all the good these little technological wonders are able to create, they still can be used for ill-gains. The purpose of this little essay is to point out both the advantages and disadvantages of video taping, not to attack or point fingers at anyone.   Mostly, I would like to explain why some dancers find video taping abusive or intrusive.

Wow! What a wonderful training tool! - The Pro’s for Video Taping:
Lets begin by briefly talking about the positive things that video taping offer to the average artist in any artistic activity.  I remember that when I used to teach a martial arts class, I used to set up a camera on a tri-pod and shoot an entire sparring session on tape to later go over it with the class. It was an excellent way to illustrate all the errors committed during a sparring session.  Later in my life (during my stunt career), we would use video cameras on film sets to remember fight choreography, show the director exactly what we had in mind, or to test which camera angles would work best when filming an action scene. Nowadays, at this point in my life, I see how dancers use the video camcorder as a modern training tool. I see how taping helps people remember turn patterns or open floor shines. Some dance company directors even use it to remember dance choreography or point out particular errors to their dancers when performing a specific dance number.  I guess if I were to sum up what video taping could mean for the mambo dancer, I would say that it serves as a tool to correct, memorize, preserve, categorize and improve an individual’s dance skills.

Non-consensual taping or the Quick Steal:  The Con’s of Video Taping:
Unfortunately, the video camera like any tool can be abused. For example,

  • Many instructors forbid the use of video cameras during classes or workshops, yet people still try to hide cameras without the knowledge or consent of the instructor.
  • People dancing at social events are usually unaware that someone has taken the opportunity to whip out a camera to film them without their knowledge or consent.
  • During dance performances at socials, night clubs or dance conventions, people video tape performances even when some dance companies have asked not to have their material recorded.

The 3 examples mentioned above don’t sound like a big deal to most people.  I would even say that they sound downright harmless. And I’m not suggesting that the individuals taping in these circumstances are bad people or criminals in any way. From my prior experience, these dancers are usually harmless fanatics who are thirsty for knowledge. To them the video camera is a quick device meant for memorizing, storing and recording dance technique and skills. They fail to understand why, or have a hard time comprehending why, someone might protest to being recorded. Better said, they don’t realize that they could be abusing anyone in anyway.

The Other Side of the Coin:
To see how some people might conceive of being video taped without permission as theft, or a personal violation of some sort, lets look at it from the possible P.O.V. (point of view) of the person being recorded.

Why Instructors Could Have A Problem Being Video Taped:
Lets take a look at this from an instructor’s P.O.V.  A mambo instructor shares the knowledge that he/she has accumulated over the years, knowledge that has come as a result of years of hard work and practice for them to learn, develop & create. These same instructors have spent many hours learning from their mentors, mentors who I’m sure have charged for their instruction and their time.  This was knowledge that came as a result of a great deal of sweat.  It was not picked up overnight, nor was it something that came to them naturally. Therefore, having someone video tape a session without an instructor’s consent is essentially stealing the effort, time and money he/she has put into learning their dance skills.  I myself have heard stories of people being asked to leave a class because they were caught taping without permission.  I’ve even witnessed someone being escorted from a workshop due to the same reason.  Even more outrageous was the time I was taking a class and someone visiting from out of town wanted to watch the class, video tape the turn patterns on the sly and not want to pay for the class because "they weren’t actually taking the class".

Why Social Dancers Could Have A Problem Being Video Taped:
There are people who seem to go everywhere with a video camera in hand, almost as if the damn thing were grafted onto their bodies like an appendix. These very same people use every opportunity to shoot dancers in action, most of the time without the dancer’s knowledge or consent.  In some ways its like voyeurism. Now speaking from a social dancers P.O.V., I’m no Torres, Anton or Thomas in the NY mambo world, but there are a few little "Manny-isms" in my dancing that I’m proud of calling my own. These are little things I’m happy to say I invented.  I’m sure that all of us have little quirks we can call our own. 

When a person tapes without the decency of asking their intended victim for permission, they could be cruis'in for a bruise'in (depending on the person being taped and the mood they find themselves in that day). But for the most part, many dancers are like me, we don’t mind sharing stuff as long as you ask us.  I know that this is how I learn new things.  When I see something I like, I ask the person if they won’t mind showing me how to do it. In return I try to give them something back (i.e. a shine, a turn pattern).  Its this consensual exchange of knowledge that partner dancing is all about.  Its personal, its clean, its fair and its up-front. This may not seem like a big deal, but there are some days when I feel like we’re dancing in the middle of a news conference with cameras all around. There was this time at one of Jimmy Anton’s Social Dances when I saw a video camera pointed in my direction. "No big deal", I thought, let me dance myself away from it.  I soon maneuvered away from one camera when I realized that I was in the path of a 2nd camera. "No problem", I said to myself again, let me dance away from it too. As I made my way to a 3rd position I saw that the person with the 1st video camera had maneuvered himself next to a 3rd video camera.  It was not that I was the best thing dancing at the moment.  It just seemed that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Regardless, I had had enough.  I stopped in mid-turn-pattern and kindly signaled these three people to stop taping, then informed them that if there was something they liked that I would more that happy to share it with them.  But I firmly reminded them not to  tape me again without my permission.  What can I say, I guess it was just one of those days when I wasn't in the mood to be in front of a camera. I'm sure everyone  goes through days like this.

Why Dance Company Directors Could Have A Problem Being Video Taped:
At many dance events like socials, dance clubs and dance conventions, people spit out video cameras like they're going out of style. I myself have video taped at such events, but I respect the wishes of fellow dancers when they request that cameras be turned off. Taping at these performances usually isn’t a problem, but there are times when dance companies request not to be taped.  Most non-performers are dumbfounded by such a request. Yet its something totally acceptable at a Broadway play. No one would even think of video taping "Forever Tango", "Swing" or "Fosse", yet think of a "Mambo Showdown" or "Jimmy Anton’s Social" and cameras come flying out. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you look at it from a Dance Company Director’s P.O.V.

Few people realize the amount of work that dance company directors/choreographers put into creating a number. The end result is an artistic creation that represents their uniqueness.  An Eddie Torres number doesn’t look like a Santo Rico, Addie-tude or even a Salsa Brava number for that matter. These are all examples of very good dance companies, yet each has their own specific trademark choreography stamped onto their numbers.   When a company performs a number, especially when the number is new, directors have a desire to restrict video recording because they are trying to protect their creations.   It may be one thing to capture and practice a shine or a turn pattern and incorporate it in a new number, but its something entirely different to "borrow" (a.k.a. "steal") blocks of moves in one routine and place them in another. Believe it or not, this has happened.  I witnessed one team at a "salsa convention" perform a routine which used a NY "On 2" floor shine routine I was familiar with, with an L.A. turn pattern sequence I vaguely remembered seeing before, and a Miami "Casino Rueda" pattern.  Maybe it was a new concept to mix these 3 variations into a new number, but never asking for permission from the groups they "borrowed" it from was definitely wrong.  I guess its pretty much like grabbing the words from one song and shamelessly putting them into another.  I have even heard stories where people have gone out of town and have witnessed groups performing numbers created by other dance companies. The material apparently was shamelessly copied from a video recording.  People usually say that imitation is the best form of compliment.  But its only natural for a creative artist or performer to get offended when someone takes from them without their permission.

How To avoid these problems:

  • RULE 1 - Ask for permission.  Get consent. Make sure your subject is both aware that he/she/they are being recorded and that permission has been granted.
  • INSTRUCTORS - Get an instructor’s permission to tape. Not all instructors are against being taped and might possibly grant you permission to record their class.
  • SOCIAL DANCERS - Get the dancers attention and either ask or signal to see if its okay to record them dancing.  Most of the time I find that dancers won’t care one way or another, but there are exceptions. Remember Rule 1.... ask, ask, ask, to avoid problems. It better to be safe than sorry.  Just think of it as a common courtesy from one dancer to another.
  • DANCE COMPANIES:  If video taping a performance is permitted, then knock yourself out. If not then please respect the wishes of your fellow dancers.  Again think of it as a common courtesy from on dancer to another. The only exception to this rule would be if you were to tape yourself performing because you are part of the dance company actually doing the number.
  • Video Camera Holders:  Don't get offended if someone rejects you.   Don't take it personal, because its not.  Just respect the other person's wishes.  Besides, there are plenty of dancers out there to tape.  And by the way, please don't pull the "I'll make it seem I'm video taping someone else and you happen to be in the frame routine". Its an old, stupid and transparent trick. One I might add, that could get people really pissed off.

The Bottom Line: Video taping is like a double-edged sword, it can cut both ways.  Its an excellent training tool and a major reason why mambo dancing has been able to spread and grow so rapidly over the last few years. Yet it can be used to steal at the same time.  The important thing to remember is not what you do, but how you do it.  Be courteous and respectful to your fellow dancers by asking them for permission before taping.  Besides, the true foundation to all dancing is based on personal contact.  Never forget that what we do is all about the sharing and free exchange of information between individuals.  Its personal hands-on instruction and social inter-activity.  In the end, what makes it so much fun is the challenge of learning how to read signals and sign language between two people dancing together (following and leading), and no video camera can ever substitute that. 


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