Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Will They Like Me in Kansas? -- Dancers Among Us Goes National!


Two years ago I met Paul Taylor dancer Jeffrey Smith. I had the germ of an idea for dance photographs- incorporating dancers into everyday situations in NYC- and Jeffrey got me access to the entire company. I had limited, okay, no dance photography experience, and I was suddenly collaborating with some of the best dancers in the world.

I spent the summer of 2009 discovering the style that would become Dancers Among Us. The dancers were very enthusiastic, often returning several times with new ideas. Their commitment and creativity was invaluable, and I felt indebted to them. After Labor Day I sent thirty images to Paul Taylor, with no strings attached. The company was free to use the images in any capacity.

The company manager loved them, the publicist loved them, the dancers loved them, everyone loved them... Except it didn't work with their marketing strategy at the time.

Michael Apuzzo, my very first shoot

Michelle Fleet, my last Paul Taylor shoot


I had only created the images for Paul Taylor and had no idea what to do next. The photos sat on my website through the fall and winter, and I moved on to other projects. In the spring of 2010, Photo District News, prompted by tech reviewer Dan Havlik, chose an image of Annmaria Mazzini for their prestigious "Photo of the Day" website.

That's all it took- Dancers Among Us went viral. I was inundated with requests for interviews, phenomenal dancers started posing for me and I was flooded with congratulatory emails. I was shooting again with renewed enthusiasm. My photos were showing up on television, and in blogs and magazines around the world.

View Magazine, Germany


After the NY Daily News feature, I received a call from literary agent extraordinaire Barney Karpfinger. He wanted to pitch a book to the big publishing houses. After months of preparation, we started making the rounds in the winter of 2010. Everywhere we went, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The editors loved it, the designers loved it, the publicists loved it, the interns loved it, everyone loved it... Except the sales departments- they were apprehensive.

"It's too New York. They might not like it in Kansas."

"But I've had millions of views on my website from all over the world!" I reasoned. "I'm sure some of them must have been from Kansas."

Then a funny thing happened- I began to wonder if they were right. How can I represent moments in the lives of Americans without photographing America? I had always envisioned a NYC setting, but I became very intrigued with the prospect of taking it on the road. The potential seemed limitless, and I wanted to give regional dancers the opportunity to strut their stuff.

Three weeks ago I began my journey by testing the Northeast waters. I've visited college campuses, suburban neighborhoods, picturesque towns and rural farmland. I have to admit, I love it- I wish I had done this a year ago!

I am very excited for all the new dancers and places I will encounter and photograph this summer. Dancers Among Us is evolving before my eyes, and it is thrilling! If you have any suggestions of great dancers or fun locations, please feel free to post your ideas on my Facebook fan page or @jordanmatter on Twitter. I'll see you soon!

Kansas, here I come!