Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidich Launch “Dancers & Dogs” Book Ahead of the Holiday Season
What if we took pictures of ballet dancers ... with dogs?
This simple question laid the groundwork for Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidich’s viral sensation “Dancers & Dogs,” a project with modest beginnings that has ballooned into a full-fledged phenomenon over the last few years, as we'll discuss below. The wife and husband team out of St. Louis are veteran dance photographers, giving them a launching point for a piece of work that has touched thousands of hearts. All the quotes in this article belong to Kelly.
This project started [in early 2017] with our friends at the St. Louis Ballet. Once "Dancers & Dogs" went viral and we decided to pursue it on a larger scale, we thought that photographing 100 dancers and 100 dogs was a good goal to try and reach.
The first dancer/dog pairing Kelly and Ian worked with featured Ericka and her English Bulldog, Baxter, shown above. During this session, the photographers saw the potential for this project “to really speak to people and make them smile.” From there, the couple continued to flesh out the concept, identifying what worked and what didn’t over the course of the first few shoots.
I have a good background in dance technique, particularly with ballet. I fell in love with ballet late but fell hard.
Going into a shoot, we’ll have at least five or six pose ideas for each dancer and dog pair. Those ideas are usually based on the dog's breed, size, and abilities. Not all of these ideas will work. Sometimes we'll breeze through those ideas and then just play around. Some great shots have come out of candid moments in the studio.
Though Kelly and Ian are experts when it comes to dance photography, they were much greener as it related to working with animals when the project began. Finding dancers was never going to be difficult for the pair, considering their connections in that world. Getting the right dogs for the work and capturing the best shots of them, however, proved a bit more challenging.
We’ve learned a lot through the years. The most important thing you can do to get great images of your dog is to train them with really solid commands, like "sit", "stay", and "down." You should also know what motivates your dog. Some dogs are motivated by treats, while others respond more to toys. We ask a lot of questions when we are casting for dogs, as there's a lot going on in the studio. We’re looking for dogs that are comfortable being in new environments and around strangers.
As you can imagine, the smoothness of this kind of shoot comes down to the obedience level of the dog. Some of the dogs that Kelly and Ian worked with are professional performers, so this was a cakewalk for them. Other times, things don’t go as swimmingly.
The dancers know what we are trying to do; the dogs obviously do not. The easiest dogs to work with were the Super Collies. They and their owner, Sara Carson, placed 5th on "America's Got Talent."
They've had extensive training and could do anything we asked of them. The most difficult dogs to work with have been the select few whose owners say they are more trained than they actually are. It takes a lot more work to get images when the dogs cannot sit or stay reliably.
It's an intriguing contrast, ballet dancers and buoyant dogs. As explained in Kelly and Ian’s pitch letter, “ballet is often seen as stuffy, moody, or unapproachable, while dogs are known to be inherently playful, happy, and goofy.” Dancers are perfectionists by nature, dedicated to their craft and lifestyle in a way that can sometimes come across as aloof. This project gave them the chance to “embrace their imperfect, silly side.”
The soul of this book is not about perfection, an idea that can be very hard for ballet dancers to grasp! It’s about being in the moment and experiencing joy. Dogs don’t care if you have the highest arabesque or can do 32 perfect fouettés. They just love you as you are.
Though this work has garnered a global audience, it didn’t blow up until about a year after Kelly and Ian started shooting. What really gained traction was a short video that peeled back the curtain and let viewers see how a project of this ilk operates.
After putting together a calendar with [the St. Louis Ballet], we weren't sure where the project would go next, or if we would continue. We put together a compilation video of behind-the-scenes footage and final images and put it on social media in 2018.
That's what went viral.
“Went viral” is something of an understatement. Ready for these numbers? “Dancers & Dogs” has a combined social media following of more than 225,000 accounts. And that behind-the-scenes video you just saw? It's accumulated 41 million views across the project’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Seeing an opportunity to expand on this concept, Kelly and Ian hopped from city to city, connecting with individual dancers as well as ballet companies while overcoming newfound obstacles inherent to on-the-go shoots.
It has not been easy keeping things consistent! We have done this project in 10 different cities. We have traveled to each city to work with dancers locally. We travel with cameras, lights, and modifiers, renting other equipment when needed. We have rented photography studios in some cities, while in other cities we have been allowed to work in ballet companies' studios.
We have worked on a CYC wall where possible, but much of the project has also been shot on paper seamless backdrops.
Because color backdrop paper does not come in a wide enough size, we have actually had to perfect a system where we put two rolls of paper together — which is difficult in itself!
Once the pair reached their goal of working with 100 dancers and 100 dogs, it was time to put together a hardcover book. Here’s the thing: between travel costs and studio rentals, the budget for this project kept growing and growing. Needing some help with funds, Kelly and Ian started a Kickstarter campaign and began selling "Dogs & Dancers"-themed merchandise. Their rabid and perpetually increasing following was only too happy to help out.
We raised over $43,000 during our Kickstarter campaign by selling copies of the book, among other things, like prints and experiences, which allowed us to produce and print the book. We actually started selling shirts along the way in order to raise money to keep the project going.
Our followers have 100% kept this project alive. We are grateful for their support.
The book, which contains over 200 pages of photographs as well as Kelly and Ian’s favorite behind-the-scenes stories about the project, is scheduled to be released on November 19th. Kelly and Ian will donate "a portion of the book’s proceeds to Stray Rescue, a St. Louis based non-profit that is currently at capacity and is eager to find homes for loving pets ahead of the holiday season.”
It has been a crazy journey, and everything has been made possible by the dancers and dog owners who have volunteered their time and talents to take part. We have learned so much as we've gone along — from working with animals to social media to self-publishing.
It was amazing to see how quickly the project spread around the world. We never expected that "Dancers & Dogs" would touch so many people.
Check out more of Kelly and Ian's work at prattkreidich.com.
Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!