Thursday, November 8, 2018

If you’re an arts world insider, you may have seen her work. If not, you'll appreciate how one woman's experience as a dancer gives her a “leg up” as an entrepreneur. Nel Shelby and her company, Nel Shelby Productions, have partnered with and filmed events for YoungArts, Jacob’s Pillow, and Vail Dance Festival; she has livestreamed the annual Table of Silence by Buglisi Dance; and she directed the documentary PS Dance!, which was nominated for a New York Emmy.

Nel Shelby only hires dancers.

Shelby grew up dancing and toured the world with Up With People at the age of 19. With a BFA in Dance and BS in Broadcast Video from Stephens College, she found her niche in the dance world after a video internship at Jacob's Pillow in 2001. By 2004, she started her own business and was hired as the festival's videographer.

As the owner of Nel Shelby Productions, she has a team of 8 women (“and a few good men”—one of which is her husband, Christopher Duggan). Everyone on her team is a dancer. She believes that her background in dance has helped her gain an edge in the field. Aside from having a sensitivity to filming dance and an ability to anticipate where dancers will be on stage, dance has taught her how to be a better entrepreneur. Between time management, self-care, ambition, and focus, her dance knowledge has opened and cultivated relationships with clients.

In many cases, her partnerships with organizations like Dance/NYC and Capacity Interactive developed organically. Their events catered to current and potential clients, so having a presence at Dance/NYC’s Symposium or Capacity Interactive’s Bootcamp made sense. By working with art organizations, she was able to increase brand awareness and gain new networks. With a creative business that relies on the vitality of the arts scene, Shelby has found opportunities that allow her to connect and uplift the field.

Oh, you’re a woman!

Speaking of uplifting the field, Shelby has also taken steps to empower her all-women team. While arts organizations have a majority staff who identify as women, the technical side remains male-dominated. She has walked into rooms where staff (including women) are shocked that the videographer is a woman (literally, someone once said to her “Oh, you’re a woman!”), and she has had men try to “adjust” her camera and giver her suggestions that they would likely never give to a man.

By supporting her staff of women, she is slowly breaking down perceptions of what it means to be a videographer in the field. Shelby has had to recognize the gender parities and navigate them in a way that allows her to savor the success—to not let preconceived notions and gender expectations hold her back.

Nel Shelby continues to find creative and full-circle ways to make things better: she helps companies better present themselves and their work in front of the camera and makes space for highly qualified videographers behind the camera.

Photo credit: Christopher Duggan