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5 Lessons from a Freelance Dance Videographer

Michelina Risbeck (BFA 16) is making a name for themself as a videographer in New York City, specializing in filming dance, performances, circus, burlesque, and motion-based artists. After trying many different concentrations and career paths, Michelina is now excelling in freelance work.

They have worked with Nel Shelby Productions, Ballet Hispánico, Steps on Broadway, The Cabaret Burlesque, House of Yes, and more. Their specialty is gimbaling, where they film using a Sony A7C Camera and DJI Ronin-SC Gimbal to create dynamic b‑roll footage. They also offer video editing services like sizzle reels, promotional videos, and dance films.

Michelina is reflecting on their journey, with some solid advice for anyone pursuing a life as a creative. Learn 5 things this Stamps alum has learned along the way. 

1. Capture something you’re interested in.

I’m someone who likes a lot of things, but once I found what I loved and couldn’t imagine ever leaving it, I knew that filming dance and motion-based artists was the path for me,” Michelina said. 

After years of exploration, Michelina found themself coming back to not only dance, but body-in-motion as the core of their line of work. It’s only fitting for a dancer themself. Michelina danced with the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Team for two years, and practiced salsa and bachata while in New Orleans.

Now, Michelina says that their love for bodies in motion is what makes their professional work come naturally. 

When I create a promo video from filming a live show, I’m immersed in the energy each performer exudes into the crowd, and then I cut specific clips side-by-side to create a visual overview of the highlights from the show,” Michelina said. Each show has its own vibe, and to both film the puzzle pieces’ and edit or make the puzzle’ is a joy that keeps me coming back for more.”

2. Develop a skillset that can be used for a business.

Michelina sometimes gets asked why they didn’t pursue a career in dance. They’ve learned to capture dance using videography, after making an important realization. 

There’s a difference between doing something you love for your own personal enjoyment and doing something you love within the parameters of an industry, company, or career path,” Michelina said. 

Michelina has also learned how to approach their art from a business lens in order to stay afloat. After shifting to a business mindset, Michelina is now able to provide high-quality and professional film and video editing services. 

I realized that it doesn’t always matter how skilled you are at your craft – if people can’t find you or pay for your work, you won’t be able to make a living as a full-time artist on your own,” Michelina said.

Michelina has had to navigate every aspect of a business as a freelancer: from videography, editing, social media management, scheduling, and more. They recommend that Stamps students take a business and marketing course to understand how to sell and market work.

Michelina also says to weigh working for a company or working for yourself and see which fits your mindset.

Someone who needs a strong routine and likes applying their skills towards someone else’s vision might do quite well working for a company,” Michelina said. Some who need personal and creative freedom to be in charge of their own time and vision might do quite well working for themselves.”

Jennifer Metsker lectures in a classroom with students at tables.
Lecturer IV & Writing Coordinator Jennifer Metsker teaches writing at Stamps.

3. Use your Stamps resources.

One of the biggest lessons I learned at Stamps, besides exploration, is using your resources,” Michelina said. While in college, I was overloaded with opportunity after opportunity once I knew where to look and pursued with action.” 

Michelina says to look for emails that often come from Career Development Coordinator John Luther.

Those emails were filled with opportunities such as gig requests, upcoming gallery submissions, competition opportunities, art events, and more,” Michelina said. That was a great start for me to connect with other departments looking for graphic design or videography work, or receiving awards for photography work in competitions.” 

Looking into local events, such as the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, also helped Michelina network as a Stamps student. 

Michelina says that understanding how to find and use resources is an essential skill for artists. Looking at Indeed job opportunities, finding people that would recommend your work, joining relevant Facebook groups, and knowing how to search online properly is crucial for Michelina post-college. 

Resources and skills that Michelina learned in their Stamps courses are also a huge part of their creative journey. Michelina says that Lecturer IV & Writing Coordinator Jennifer Metskers writing course, Making a Statement,” was important and profound.” 

In addition to teaching students about aspects about writing artists’ statements and grants, the course offered Michelina clarity for their passions. The course gave Michelina the space to discover that they gravitated towards artists who created using their bodies, providing the core element that pointed them towards screendance filmmaking and ultimately filming dancers full-time. 

Not only did Jennifer show me a different approach to writing that I enjoyed, but she helped me realize what art styles, subject matters, and concepts I gravitated towards,” Michelina said. This is your sign to take the writing course. You will dig deep into the who, what, and why of artists/​work you gravitate towards, how to write an artist statement, how to write for an artist grant, learn common themes about your artistic self, and ultimately provide you with the tools and lessons required to move forward in your creative journey.”

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Infographic panels for M|Dining for the University of Michigan’s Green Initiative by Michelina Risbeck during their time at Stamps.

4. Explore different fields within Stamps.

Michelina feels confident in their career path — partly because they were able to explore different fields at Stamps. These fields, while not a chosen career, are still helpful today.

When Michelina first started as a freshman in 2012, they concentrated on graphic design. They realized that while graphic design wouldn’t be their career, it still had value, especially for someone in freelance work.

The biggest upside is I learned a valuable set of skills that I still use to this day for my own business work,” Michelina said. 

Michelina often dug deeper into classes they enjoyed at Stamps, which led to pursuing professional experiences. 

A wearable art class led to a sewing class, which led to an internship at the Wellfleet Harbour Actor’s Theater as a production intern. Graphic design courses led to an internship at University Unions. Photojournalism courses led to entering photography competitions.

I entered my freshman year of college without a solid, concrete plan of what artistic career I wanted, but I chose Stamps for two main reasons,” Michelina said. It is great for the exploration of different art fields and the development of art skills, and if I decided to pursue a different career path, the University of Michigan has other strong departments.” 

While Michelina remained in the arts, they say that the many options at Stamps helped clarify their current career. 

Devonix Casa Luna 1 jpg
Michelina as Devonix, a drag persona that was voted Top Five Best Drag King Drag Newcomer for Flame Magazine 2020. Photo by Luna Rei.

5. Remember that your journey can have twists and turns.

Michelina recalls that it took them four years in college and six years after that to be certain that they wanted to film dance for a living. 

But they say that they’d do it all over again. 

Michelina has worked as a warehouse box picker, a quality inspector, a Mardi Gras props painter, a server, a business owner, and even a well-known drag king in New Orleans.

Michelina was also met with financial struggles post-graduation while developing their business and videography skills. They had to move back home to save money before moving to New Orleans for their career.

I fell into a deep depression. I was starting to think I wasn’t ever going to align my artistic passion with financial success,” Michelina said. Looking back, in the beginning, I was a mess with my first attempted business. I made many mistakes, but I learned from them, and that is key.”

In an unpredictable journey, Michelina found comfort in their family, professors, and fellow Stamps alums. 

Michelina’s Stamps peer, Andrew Fuller, helped remind Michelina of their persistence. 

Andrew said this: Your best quality, besides your honesty, is your passion and drive to chase what you love to do. Don’t lose that ever. Most people don’t have that in them. That’s why you’re you.’” Michelina said.

Michelina says that their mom is their ultimate supporter.” Michelina recounts their mom supporting their pivots from music to art concentrations in high school while searching for various art opportunities to help support their career.

There are so many parents who don’t approve of pursuing a creative industry, and I feel so grateful that my mom supported me,” Michelina said. I feel so grateful for everything she has done so I could create my own creative career path.”

Michelina also formed a strong connection with Nel Shelby of Nel Shelby Productions, who was a pivotal reason for their move to New York.

We formed a strong connection at Jacob’s Pillow with our work ethic and dedication to our passion for filming dance,” Michelina said. After learning about her company, I knew in my gut that I had to move here. She’s a large reason why I took a chance on New York, and I’ve filmed incredible dance companies in iconic locations and am eternally grateful to her and everyone on the team for their knowledge, support, and friendship.”

After learning from their past business endeavors, Michelina is thriving in filming dance in New York City.

Looking back at everything that led me to where I’m at in my life, I’d do this journey all over again. I would explore, pivot, try, fail, explore, pivot, and try again. And again. And again. Each pivot point gave me skills and artistic insights into my work, as well as personal life lessons along the way,” Michelina said.

To stay updated with Michelina and their current work, check out their Instagram: @michelinaartist, and YouTube Channel: @michelinaartist.