Photographers Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidich frequently work with professional dancers, capturing their gorgeous movements and their breathtaking abilities. But in a random moment, Pratt suggested to her husband, Kreidich, that they throw a few dogs into the mix for an unusual collaboration.
"We definitely didn't fully know what to expect with this project," Pratt tells MNN. "We started very small — at first we worked with our friends at the St. Louis Ballet — and just slowly tried to figure out what worked and what didn't, when it came to working with dogs. No one had ever done this before, so it was all trial and error."
Pratt and Kreidich spent more than two years photographing 100 dancers and 100 dogs in more than 10 cities across the U.S. Now the images of graceful dancers and furry companions are in the book "Dancers & Dogs."
The authors write:
"The dancers are smiling and laughing, because the dogs are being dogs — just goofy and lovable. That isn't a depiction of the dance world that is shown all that often. Dance is most often shown in movies and TV as being dark and moody, full of drama and backstabbing. I often feel that people don't fully think of dancers as humans, because their abilities and beauty are so otherworldly."
This fun, human side was something they set out to portray.
"It was definitely a goal from the beginning for this project to be different from a lot of other dance photography," Pratt says. "Dance photography is so beautiful and a great love of mine. But in all its beauty, dance is very exacting, and all about perfection — which we all know doesn't really exist. A big part of this project is getting the dancers to a place on set where they are just laughing and being in the moment, and not worrying (at least too much!) about looking perfect."
When the canine casting call went out, they mostly looked for well-behaved dogs who could act cool under the spotlights.
"We do have certain criteria we are looking for when we cast for dogs: Dogs have to be able to sit and stay, with their owner at least five feet away," Pratt says.
"We never want dogs to be scared, so we are looking for fairly confident dogs that are comfortable in new surroundings, strangers, with a lot of things going on around them. Working in a studio with big lights and dancers moving around is not the right situation for every dog, and that's totally fine. Many of the dancers have worked with their own dogs as well — probably around a third of them."
The photographers get lots of questions about whether they'd consider using other animals such as cats or horses, and whether they'd use rescue dogs. They'd love to use cats — in fact their own rescue cat, Sam, and rescue dog, Dillon, made an appearance in the book.
They're worried, however, that shelter dogs wouldn't feel comfortable in the studio in the spotlight. They would love to work with dogs in foster care that are more confident and have a human to lean on for support.
Some interactions between dogs and dancers worked out particularly well.
"I think the best sessions have happened when the dogs have been well trained and are eager to please, and the dancers have had an open mind, and been up for anything," Pratt says. "This is not normal for anyone involved. We are asking both dancers and dogs to do things they have never done before, so a certain amount of trust is key."
And in some situations the dogs just weren't impressed or didn't cooperate.
"Things go sideways all the time!" Pratt says. "Even the most well-trained dog can have a day when they just aren't into working. That's when we really have to be creative, either with treats or trying to make things enticing in any way that we can. It can be exhausting! When all you see is the final shot, sometimes you can't imagine how much work went into it behind the scenes."
Each session lasts about 90 minutes. During the first 20 or 30 minutes, the dancers warm up and stretch and the dogs get used to their surroundings and get to know the dancers, if they haven't already met.
The photographers go into each session with a pretty good idea of what they'd like to see.
"We try to have 5-6 poses or types of images planned for each dancer and dog pair. Those ideas are usually dictated by the dogs' abilities (and sometimes the dancers')," Pratt says.
"If the dog is really good at a particular trick or behavior, we try to find a creative way of working that in. Other things like the dog's coloring, size, or their overall look can also play into the final look we are going for. For example, a white standard poodle is very elegant, slender and soft, so we would have certain ideas that would go along with that aesthetic, when opposed to, say, a more stout, muscular dog, like a bulldog or a pit bull."
Pratt says that she and Kreidich were surprised that the photos and video had such a strong response from fans on social media.
"We never expected the growth in followers we had, once we put the viral video out. The feeling is unexplainable if you haven't experienced it firsthand, to see something you posted grow exponentially in front of your eyes."