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Essential Dance Stage Lighting Tips

Dancers bring the theatre to life with their dynamic, athletic art form when they perform on stage. Dance is an expression of moving bodies, as well as the patterns, shapes, and stories they reveal. Effective stage lighting contributes to the creation of art by highlighting movements at the appropriate times and framing each dance piece so that the audience has a complete theatrical experience.

For dance performances, stage position lighting highlights the action on stage while allowing the dancers to see their surroundings. As a lighting designer, you are responsible for assisting performers in performing their best while also providing the ambiance for a spectacular show.


You can expertly illuminate all types of performances, from lighting for dance studios to concepts for professional companies, with communication and industry knowledge. Here are some pointers to help you plan lighting designs and stay on schedule during production.

Understand What to Highlight

The lighting on stage draws the audience’s attention to all of the action on stage. Dance pieces frequently feature large casts, and with so many people moving around, lighting can help viewers focus on important details. You can layer a wash light for the entire stage with more prominent lighting accents to ensure that the entire stage is visible while emotional moments command attention.

Solos and duets are dance pieces in which only one or two people are on stage at the same time. Lighting can accentuate this intimacy by highlighting one area of the stage while leaving the rest dark.

Another way to set the scene is to use ambient light, especially if the performance is more subtle than showy. Backlighting can also be used to create a silhouette or halo effect, especially when combined with choreography that emphasises the moving body’s ability to create unique shapes and angles.

Communicate with the choreographers when creating a lighting concept for a dance performance. The people who created the dance pieces you’re illuminating will frequently have specific visions for how their work should appear on stage. Understanding the motivations behind each section of movement will help you decide what to emphasise so that you can create designs that best reflect their desires.

Begin collaborating with the choreographers as early as possible in the production process, so you can take your time deciding on the best placement of lighting equipment for the entire performance. Designing a lighting plot allows you to combine multiple lighting schemes into a single fixed equipment setup that can accommodate a variety of colours, textures, and intensities. Inquire with choreographers and artistic directors about any specific lighting requirements, such as highlighting a specific section of the stage at a critical point in the performance.

Understand When to Highlight

Dance lighting communicates important information to dancers and audiences, such as when to pay attention and what to look for. Depending on the type of performance and the resources available, you may choose to darken the stage after each section of a performance and re-illuminate it with a different scheme once the dancers return to the stage. Alternatively, for a more seamless transition between scenes in the same story, cross-fade by bringing in new lighting while gradually dimming the previous lighting.

Light helps viewers see what’s going on, while darkness helps to conceal unnecessary details. To mask dancer entrances and exits that could distract from the main events on stage, illuminate one area of the stage while leaving others dark. Lighting also conceals the stage’s ordinary floor, walls, and curtains, allowing audiences to focus on the dancers and immerse themselves in an atmospheric experience.

Paying attention to the dance pieces themselves will help you become acquainted with the pacing, timing, and dynamic shifts of the choreography. Just as dancers take cues from one another’s movements, you can study their work to determine when they might benefit from changes in lighting or spotlights at specific points. If the dance pieces you’re illuminating have music, you can use musical cues to tell you when to move on to the next step in your lighting scheme.

Set the Tone

Dance is a creative and expressive medium. Even dance pieces that lack a clear story or plot strive to convey emotions to their audiences. Many factors can contribute to the mood of a piece, including the dancers’ body language, movements, interactions, and facial expressions, as well as the music they dance to.

Lighting can also help audiences understand the intentions of a piece. Dim lights can make the stage appear dark and depressing, whereas bright lights can create a more cheerful atmosphere. Warm glows elicit comfort, whereas cold, stark lights can create a harsh, even clinical atmosphere.

Changing the lighting from scene to scene is an effective way to convey mood shifts. If one dance piece is upbeat and the next is depressing, different lighting concepts can reveal this to the audience even before the dancing begins. Lighting changes can also heighten dramatic tension or indicate when a main character is on stage in full-story performances.

Consider Lighting for Various Dance Styles

Dance as an art form encompasses a variety of styles, each with unique characteristics, inspirations, and focuses that make them enthralling. You can highlight this diversity by learning what’s important to each genre and designing lighting schemes that reflect those artistic goals. Here are some of the various dance styles that you might see on stage.

  1. Classical ballet-  is one of the oldest types of dance performed on stage, with striking lines and ethereal movements. Many ballets tell complete stories, complete with characters and plots. Ballet dancers’ athleticism and facial expressions are beautifully illuminated by downlighting or side lighting.
  2. Modern: –  Modern dance is distinguished by its freedom of movement, which departs from ballet’s traditional lines and lightness to investigate shape and gravity. By creating complex layers of shadow and light or moving the lights with the dancers to enhance their choreography, stage lighting can accentuate modern dancers’ movements and artistic intentions. Side lighting, as a popular lighting choice for many dance styles, can highlight the intricate forms of modern dance while adding dimensionality to the stage.
  3. Jazz-  dance is dramatic and virtuosic, combining grand, sweeping movements with isolations in which dancers move individual body parts in subtle, captivating angles. Jazz pieces, like ballet, may tell a story, so while side lighting can highlight their bodies, downlights and floodlights can illuminate the entire stage, allowing audiences to see every detail of full-scale performances.
  4. Hip-hop-  is characterised by quick, precise movements and focuses on freestyle exploration. Side lighting is ideal for illuminating hip-hop dancers’ complex bodily isolations while also producing exciting shadow and dimension effects.

As dance styles and choreography evolve, genres are increasingly combining or rejecting traditional classifications to create new ways of moving and performing. Contemporary ballet, for example, combines many traditional ballet steps with the weighted, free movements of styles such as modern. Postmodern dance challenges various traditions and necessitates lighting concepts that are as forward-thinking as the movements themselves. Choreographers who mix styles or break new ground may want their lighting concepts to reflect the distinct stories they’re telling.

Consider the Background.

In the absence of spoken words, dance performances that tell a story frequently include backdrops or props that help audiences understand what’s going on. If you’re creating a lighting concept for a performance that includes these extra features, make sure the audience can see these contextual elements clearly.

When a stage has a white backdrop curtain, lights can be used to make the backdrop itself. If the dance piece depicts a scene on a sunny day, use a blue backdrop streaked with white to represent clouds to transport audiences there. If the performance is part of a winter concert, the image can be completed by projecting snowflakes in the background.


Many dance pieces will be more abstract and will lack many indications of setting, leaving you and the choreographer to decide what kind of backdrop to create.

Choose the Colors You Want to Use

Dance and colour have a long history together. Concert dancers have long used colours in their costumes and performance settings to help convey specific emotions and reinforce or subvert storytelling tropes as practitioners of a largely nonverbal art form.

When deciding what colour lights to use for a dance performance, get to know the dancers and their costumes so you can choose colours that complement their skin tones and clothing rather than washing them out. Also, work with the choreographers and costume designers to come up with a unified visual approach.

Colors have various meanings depending on how they commonly make people feel. The following are some of the most popular colour interpretations for use in dance lighting concepts.

  • Red elicits strong emotions such as rage or passion.
  • Blue can make viewers feel happy or sad.
  • Green: Reflects the natural world.
  • Yellow: Promotes energy and happiness.
  • Purple: This colour represents royalty and can also be associated with sadness.
  • White: Symbolizes purity or the absence of strong emotions.

Color temperature, which is the level of white light saturation, can also be used to emphasise what your colour choices represent for the specific piece you’re lighting. Lower colour temperatures have less white, making them appear warm and soft, whereas higher colour temperatures have more white, making them appear cold and clear.


Lighting should be practised in rehearsals.

Tech rehearsals are a collaboration between the cast and crew of a dance performance in which everyone performs trial runs of the choreography and stage technology to help ensure a smooth performance on opening night. This is your opportunity to put your lighting plan into action and finalise your plans based on how everything looks on stage.

Remember that in many cases, tech rehearsals are the first time dance casts practise on the actual performance stage. Other rehearsal areas may be larger or smaller than the stage area, or they may use a different type of floor. Dancers may still be figuring out how to fill this new space and safely execute their movements with more or less friction than they’re used to during the first few runs of each piece.

Dancers can benefit from stage lighting during this transitional period by knowing when to enter and exit the stage and where to position themselves on stage.

Allow time for dancers to adjust to the lighting concepts you’ve created for them because lighting for dance studios and lighting for performance spaces often differ. Be aware that once you see the lighting in action, you may need to change your initial lighting plan. Make a note of any changes so that your crew has a guide to follow during performances.

You’ll also need to work with the sound and stage crew to determine the order of events during tech rehearsals. Will a curtain swing open? If so, will it start before or after the music? Will the music begin before or after the lights go up? Rehearsals are your chance to collaborate with everyone at once and develop a solid plan of action.


As the dance performance approaches, ensure that your lighting technicians have everything they need to stay on schedule. Between shows, evaluate how your lighting plans worked out, and remember to set everything up correctly so that the performance can be restarted from the beginning.

Even with extensive planning, technical difficulties may arise. The sensory experiences provided by modern theatres are dependent on the proper operation of technology such as soundboards, speakers, and, of course, a variety of lights and their controls.

If a mishap disrupts your carefully planned lighting scheme, do everything you can to fix it right away. Then, after the performance, devote more time to determining what went wrong and how you can fix or work around the problem.

Dance performances rely on a large number of hardworking individuals, all of whom are aiming for a successful run. Part of the magic of live performance is your ability to collaborate with others and adapt to real-time events.


Lighting a dance performance entails much more than simply allowing the audience to see. Dance lighting is a close collaboration of colour, emotion, and movement. When you create a lighting concept, you contribute to the art that is being performed onstage.

We at Rudri Pictures understand that each performance is unique. That’s why we collaborate with you in collaborative design consultations to create a one-of-a-kind lighting concept tailored to your specific requirements. We think creatively to design and implement all the best technology, unifying audio, visual, and lighting systems for coherent performances of all kinds, from small auditoriums to large theatres.

Contact us today if you have any questions about performance lighting design or would like to learn more about our service offerings.

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