Capturing the Art of Movement

Portrait of Sjoerd Derine


First of all, we can tell out of experience, that Sjoerd is a very cool guy! We've worked with him in a passed life and thus knew we had to contact him for an interview. Sjoerd Derine is a dancer and photographer who decided to stop working full-time in advertising and instead give himself a chance to merge his true passions: dance and photography. He has now become a specialised photographer of the beautiful art of dance. We sat down with him to have a chat about the body in movement, photography and the happiness one gets upon doing something they love.

 8 min read

What is your goal in the field of dance photography, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?You are a dancer yourself, right? How did you get started?

It all started when I was in middle school. As a kid, I was the energetic one, always on the move and always playing. So my parents tried to find something that matched my hunger for movement. I remember doing all kinds of different sports but only tennis was interesting to me. But at my age around middle school, my interest in other things was awakened by an after school activity. I decided to do karate. At the end of each school year, the school organised a night full of performances. On this night I had my first performance on stage ever. With my karate group I acted out a small scene that was inspired by James Bond and I had the lead part. When my mom saw me acting, jumping and fighting on stage, she saw a talent in me that was hidden during all my childhood.

So my mom reacted to an advertisement in the newspaper of a dance theatre group in Utrecht. I went, did the audition and got through, and so my first years as a performer started. I was 15 years old then. Along the way one of my friends saw me dancing and asked me if I would be interested in hip-hop classes. So of course I said yes and I ended up in Eszteca Noya dance classes - what I did there was unforgettable! The energy in the dance classes was insane. It was one of the best places to learn to dance and develop my skills! We had a small group whom we trained with, performed with and sometimes lived with. We would go out and dance all night, and we did that 4 times a week. So from 2001 to 2008, I was very active as a dancer. But coming to a certain age (25), I knew I needed to think about my life. I had my degree in Interaction Design and I wanted to think about a career move. Was it going to be dancing or something in the field of design? I chose the safe option, design, not knowing that I would come back to the dance field in the most romantic way possible.

So you’re working in design? How did you get started as a visual artist?

So when I decided to get into the design scene I met this girl, Anna, and she changed everything for me. We fell in love, and because she is a dancer and choreographer, we did a lot projects together. I was the photographer and she was the mastermind behind the projects. During the time I was working at different design companies, my passion for dance never went away. It even became stronger when Anna and I started to do a dance project together under the name of Sine Forma. It was then when I found my love for video-making and photography. My creative directors where more impressed by the dance projects compared to my work at the design agencies. So after some thinking I decided to end my career as a designer and start a career as visual artist in the field of dance.

Are you still both dancing and doing photography?

So when I started to do more photography and video-making instead of dancing, I found out that I felt more love with watching and analysing dance than doing it. I think I could have had a nice career as a dancer, but you must follow love anytime it hits you. So the decision to do photography and video-making for dance has been the best one of my life so far. But dancing is like riding a bike, you never lose the feeling. I am not a professional dancer but I can still move around and express myself through dance. But I still think it is important to still be active, not to lose the feeling of dance.

I remember you started with breakdance, as a B-boy. When did you open your scope from street to all kinds of dance?

I have to correct you there, I was never a b-boy. Hip-hop is a culture with a lot of aspects and break dancing is maybe the most well known dance style from this culture, but as I mentioned before, there is so much more to hip-hop. When I was in class at Eszteca we learned all stand-up dance styles like hip-hop, locking and house. So to be precise, I did street-dance and sometimes I was literally being taught dance on the streets.

Technically speaking, dance is a movement. So wouldn’t video be the perfect way to document dance, instead of photography? Why is it that you document dance with photography?

The lifestyle as a photographer suits me better and this is why I am now fully concentrated on doing photography.  Also, when working as a photographer you have different options than as a video maker. I think a photographer has a faster way of living than a movie maker. So what does this all mean? When I am shooting photos for a dance company I can deliver the photos in the days that follow. When I am shooting a video, this process of creating and delivering a finished product is much longer. I am more the type of person who doesn’t want to work too long on a project. I perform better when I have to deliver in a short concentrated time period. When a process takes too long, I lose my concentration which is needed to create something beautiful. Also, the speed that I am working at as a photographer is now on a kind of level that I can do more projects at the same time, as opposed to just working on one video project. But, from time to time, I still do some video projects and mostly these aren't overly time-consuming.

How is dance photography different compared to other fields of photography?

Well here we come to the part where I think my work as a photographer is a profession in itself. Dance is probably one of the most difficult things to capture. When I look at a dance piece, I see more than someone dancing, I feel everything around them as well. When I started to do photography, my years of experience as a dancer came into play. I started in 2008 with taking pictures of dancers, and during the last 3 years I have been working full time as a professional dance photographer. To sum it up, that is almost 20 years of experience in the field of performing arts. I have talked to many other dancers, choreographers, photographers, video-makers and they all claim that dance photography is a profession in its own right. I think you need a lot of experience as a dancer to be able to even understand what is happening on stage. The second thing you need is an eye for detail. Just because you were a dancer doesn’t mean you automatically see what’s happening. This is a skill that only comes with years and years of experience. When you have seen that much, you will develop a second nature for seeing the right moments and the detail. It is something you can’t explain at all, but when I see it, I know it. I think this is the main reason why there are only a few dance photographers out there. It is a skill which has to be known as a unique one.

Is your passion full-time or do you have time for other things?

I think it is clear that my passion for dance is a lifestyle. I breathe it, eat it and live it. So for me it was never a profession and it will never be. It's something that I love to do and when I do it, I don’t even think. It's just a matter of doing and being at the same time. When I am taking pictures, I come into this kind of state which is not something I can explain. It is best to explain in terms of a flow I get into. I just love to be solely doing dance photography.

Who are your heroes in your field, both dancers and photographers?

There is only one above all and that is Michael Jackson. What he did was more than any other entertainer could imagine. It all started for me with just watching and dancing like MJ. Along the way I was also inspired by different artists for their vision, people like: Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, but also modern artists like Wim Vandekeybus who is a photographer, choreographer and director for a company called Ultima Vez. Close friends of mine, who keep on pushing the boundaries of dance, are a huge inspiration for me too. People like: Anna Maria Suijkerbuijk, Kevin Paradox Oelen and Daniel Cloud Campos. All of these are dancers with a vision and that’s so inspiring.

Sjoerd Derine / Blenard Azizaj / Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten
Sjoerd Derine / Blenard Azizaj / Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten

What is your goal in the field of dance photography, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I have a goal and that is to make dance photography a profession that is respected by the industry and far beyond it. I want to make a living out of this work, so I need to step up my game and explore every possibility. I want to start a small company that will deliver a package which contains a combination of video and photography on a high-level for the dance industry.

What would be your dream location for a dance photography shoot?

That is a hard question to answer, but if I may rephrase, it has always been a dream to work in NYC for a dance company. The vibe of the city and the theatre industry is something I would love to explore.

Finally, if someone wants to try dance photography, how can they get involved? 

Well, I get this question a lot. What I answer is this: don’t follow your passion. Find something that you are good at and be passionate about it. I didn’t have a dream to become a dance photographer, I just rolled into it. But good advice for a starter in this field: first watch and feel dance. Try to understand what you are seeing and why you love it. Then just start by making a lot of pictures. Just go and explore your possibilities. My path was at some point very clear for me, but it took years and years of experience to get where I am now. What I did is just follow what my guts were telling me. The result now is that I can say I am a professional dance photographer and I love my job.

Sjoerd Derine / Rosa Allessie, Wies Berkhout /  ECHO /  2018
Sjoerd Derine / Rosa Allessie, Wies Berkhout / ECHO / 2018

Mariano Galán is co-founder of Dedico. With a Bachelor in History of Art and MA in Multimedia Design he likes being involved in our arts and creative content. He is also a water guy and enjoys surfing for almost 30 years ago.

Why learn dance photorgraphy?

  • Learn about documenting your passion from an artistic angle.
  • Find your niche as a photographer to create a recognisable language.
  • Mix up two art disciplines in one activity.
  • Try and explore something before you try to capture it; get closer to it.
  • If you become good at it, you will probably pay never again for a show.

Related Holidays