Kaufman dancers star in global television commercial

Set against a dimming pink sunset, 15 dancers from the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance showed off their moves while clothed in sequins to match the Los Angeles skyline.

The students, all dance majors, performed at Griffith Observatory in January before an audience of cameras while filming a 60-second Discover Los Angeles commercial.

The ad premiered on Super Bowl Sunday and aired during the Grammy Awards. Later this month, it will run globally in Mexico and the United Kingdom and later in the year in other countries such as Australia and China.

Many dancers said they benefited greatly from the experience because they were directly placed in the show business world of lights, camera and action.

“The experience was really eye-opening, and my perception of what it’s like to do commercial work really shifted,” sophomore Brianna Mims said to USC News. “I never understood the amount of work that goes into the one-minute commercials I see on TV until this experience.”

The dancers said that the experience was different from many other dancing opportunities. Rather than performing on stage, they were performing for the camera — but sophomore Mark Daftari said that the two were actually more similar than most people think.

“Dancing for the camera makes you feel like you’re dancing on stage because there is an audience, but it’s technically the camera,” Daftari said.

Daftari also said that the camera adds a new component for the dancers; they are able to develop a new ability for transferring performance elements from stage to screen. He said he gained new insight about how to avoid losing the dancers’ stage presence while in front of the camera.

“When dancing on stage, you have to make sure you are expansive and have elongating movements just so everyone can see you,” Daftari said. “While dancing on camera, you have to be more focused on being very detailed because the close-up shots are more revealing of your technique and emotions. Of course these are things to be wary of while on stage as well, but a camera adds an intimacy factor to you and the audience when it’s so close by.”

Kaufman Vice Dean Jodie Gates designed the choreography for the commercial. According to Gates, the movement was based in contemporary and lyrical styles of dance.

“The shoot at Griffith Observatory was massive and sophisticated,” Gates said to USC News. “The lighting equipment, drones and extensive staff made for an extraordinary experience.”

Sophomore Juan Miguel Posada worked as Gates’ assistant, helping her choreograph and work out the logistics of the commercial. As the choreographer’s assistant, Posada said he was able to see a different side of the commercial world. He helped organize rehearsals, contact agents, perfect the dancers’ technique and design the costumes. 

“It was a good experience of what it’s like to work in the show business world,” Posada said. “It serves as a sneak peek to what the dancers want to be doing in their future careers. I got to see the behind-the-scenes of what the commercial world is like and so much goes into it to making it happen.”