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Behind the Scenes of Skunkworks Dance Film 'All For One': A Fusion of Contemporary and Hip-Hop Dance

Click the video to see"All For One"!

Every semester at Skunkworks Dance, our Performance Program dancers participate in creating a professional dance film. This past semester, we produced two films that will premiere online this summer. The first film, "All For One," is a fun and funky short inspired by West Side Story. It features two "rival" dance crews blending Contemporary Dance and Hip-Hop elements, set to the music of The Roots.


The Team Behind the Film

The Team Behind the Film - Daniel Williams and Skunkworks Dancers

We are fortunate to have Mr. Daniel Williams, the top dance film videographer and editor in the Chicagoland professional dance scene, working with us at Skunkworks Dance.

Additionally, many may not know that my passion for dance film started in college, where I completed a "mini-master" and my upper honors thesis in the art form. As the first person at my college to study dance film, I helped pave the way for it as a course now offered in the dance department. Since then, I have created over 40 dance films.

With Daniel's and my unique partnership, born out of our shared love for dance film, we have collaborated for many semesters to produce some of the most incredible and elaborate films in today's dance scene. "All For One" was directed and created by Daniel, with me assisting in the movement direction. While I can't speak for Daniel's ideas, I can give you a behind-the-scenes look at the filming process of this spectacular film.


Inspiration from a Unique Location

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skunkworks dance film all for one

Our film creation process varies each time—sometimes, it starts with a concept or story, other times with a piece of music or even a movement phrase or idea.

SITE/less Zephyr Dance Chicago experimental dance company

The inspiration for "All For One" began with a unique location I discovered while scouting potential film sites. The space was whimsical, colorful, and reminiscent of a skate park. Surprisingly, I learned it was a site-specific dance installation created by a Chicagoland professional dance company, Zephyr Dance.

About Zephyr Dance

A quick aside about Zephyr Dance: "Zephyr is an experimental dance company with a strong artistic presence in Chicago for over twenty years. Zephyr pushes the boundaries of the discipline to question current trends in dance-making and the reduction of the art form to its most quantifiable, easily recognized patterns. Zephyr critically investigates the overreliance on virtuosity, popular definitions of dance, and the tendency to rely on narrative without confronting the history or meaning of the movement." - Zephyr Dance.

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Back to our incredible location: this space was initially created by Zephyr Dance for their work "On Notice" (2019) and has since been used for other performances, including "Not Dead Yet" (2022) and "S45" (2023). Describing the space for "On Notice," Zephyr Dance states, "Navigating an environment of overlapping green screen runways piled upon each other in a kind of architectural redundancy, Zephyr dancers launch and dissolve constructed personas into the audience, who take their place within carved-out areas amid the stacked runways to sit, look, reflect, and be aware of the space."

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The space was like stepping into a green version of Candyland, with its unique floor shapes converging at distinct points and multiple layers of stage.

Ladders led up to the stage, and hidden spots provided unconventional yet playful seating for the audience. When watching our film, you can see the "runways" of green and the intricate layering of shapes. This space's whimsical and unique nature captivated me, and I instantly fell in love with it. It was the perfect film location, and Daniel was equally thrilled with the choice!


From Concept to Action

After a site walk-through, Daniel and I brainstormed ideas, and I mentioned a "West Side Story" vibe. Daniel envisioned two rival dance crews, and this shared inspiration became the foundation for our dance film. From there, I let Daniel take the lead on selecting the music, creating the shot list, and deciding on the color scheme.

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Daniel decided that each group would have its own color signature to clearly define the two rival groups—one in blue and the other in yellow.

Since we weren't sure who would be in which crew until the day of the shoot, we asked our dancers to bring blue and yellow outfit options. With their dedication and creativity, our dancers did a fantastic job assembling the perfect costumes, contributing to the film's vibrant visual appeal.


Preparing for the Shoot

The filming was scheduled for Monday, February 19, 2024 (President’s Day), and our company dancers met us on location in the Ukrainian Village/Bucktown area of Chicago. As always, our day began with an early site walkthrough.

skunkworks dance faculty

Daniel, myself, and our on-site assistant, Linda Watson, reviewed the action plan, which covered everything from the shot list and day-of schedule to where the dancers would store their items and eat lunch.

As the dancers started to arrive, our first step was to get them settled, ensure they had access to bathrooms and snacks, and check their costumes. This process, filled with excitement and anticipation, took almost 45 minutes as we meticulously ensured everyone wore the perfect outfit for the video.

Since this film featured a dance-off, Daniel assigned small groups of 2-3 dancers to battle each other, and the filming began!


Opening Shots

We started with our opening shots, some of my favorites in the entire film. Daniel gave each dance crew specific directions on where to start, where to move when to look, and what emotions to portray. This section was enjoyable to film because both groups had to look serious as if they were about to face off, and the kids loved putting on their "fierce" faces and pretending to battle a crew of their best friends.

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The Battle Begins

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And then the battle began! Daniel called up the small battle groups, giving them directions on how to enter and exit their shots. Some received specific movement instructions from either Daniel or me, such as “We are looking for you to play with negative space around your dance-off partner” and “Can you try hopping in a circle on one foot before you begin your improv solos?” These creative decisions were made to add depth and variety to the dance sequences, enhancing the overall visual appeal of the film.

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What you will see but not hear in the dance film is all the cheering during the shoot. With music playing in the background, the dancers had to stay in character, enthusiastically supporting their crew members. My mom (Dr. Linda), Daniel, and I were also shouting and cheering for each dancer, making the experience incredibly lively. Each dancer followed our directions and improvised their sets, dancing off against their scene partner.

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The dancer battles were the longest part of the shoot, with each group getting multiple chances to perfect their shots. After this high-energy section, it was time to film the ending. Despite the exhausting nature of repeated high-energy dance shots, our dancers remained spirited and eager. After a brief break for bathrooms, water, and snacks, we were ready to film the finale.


The Grand Finale

This film wasn't about winning or losing but finding equality and joy with those different from us.

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The last part to be filmed was the crew leaders' hand-to-hand tension-building circle, dance-off, truce fist pump, and dance party. Achieving the right level of tension in the hand-to-hand circle for the crew leaders, which translated well on screen, took some time and effort, but not without a few laughs!

Our crew leaders excelled in their dance battle, and then it was time to capture the "truce" hand pump to the sky. You wouldn't believe how challenging it can be to make simple movements look natural on camera, but our leaders nailed it after a few tries!

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Finally, we filmed the dance party, which was a celebration. The kids had a blast, which is evident on camera. From filming to final editing, this was one of our favorite dance films to create and watch.


Favorite Memories

Some of my favorite memories from this dance film include:

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  • Watching our youngest "K.I.T." dancers give their all during the battle scenes was genuinely inspiring. Their enthusiasm and energy were contagious!

  • I was thrilled to see several dancers volunteer for solo performances for the first time. They executed their moments with such confidence and poise!

  • Witnessing dancers of all ages and levels come together was heartwarming, with older dancers helping and cheering on the younger ones.

  • It was a proud moment to observe our more advanced dancers' growth and intricate battle sets. Their skills and creativity shone brightly.

  • Seeing all the smiles and the pure joy on the dancers' faces while filming was incredibly rewarding. It was clear they had a blast on set!

A Remarkable Dance Film Experience

Creating "All For One" was a remarkable journey that showcased the dedication, creativity, and passion of our Skunkworks Dance community.

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Every step, from the initial concept to the final edits, was filled with enthusiasm and collaboration.

The unique location, the vibrant costumes, and the spirited performances all came together to create a film that celebrates unity, creativity, and the joy of dance. This behind-the-scenes look has given you a glimpse into the hard work and fun that goes into our dance films.

Call to Action

I would love to hear your thoughts! Please leave your comments and questions below. Have you experienced similar creative processes in your projects? What was your favorite part of our behind-the-scenes journey? 

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Let's keep the conversation going, and let us know your thoughts about our dance film, “All For One”!

Article by Skunkworks Founder and Director Jana Bennett

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