Cueing spotlights for dance


Hi all!
I have become involved with a dance company for which I have become their lead follow spot due to my prior experience in other shows and musicals. They have also placed me in charge of creating and calling almost all of the cues for the spot ops, as the person(s) in charge of calling the show and the other op’s may be changing throughout tech week and the actual shows.

Here is my problem:
In my other experiences I have had a script to follow the action (did I just do a pun?) on stage and quickly mark cues as I go along. As this is non-lyrical dance, the closest thing I get is an ordered list of the songs.

The question:
How do you all like to go about writing/recalling cues accurately in dance shows like this? I feel like there has to be an easier solution than trying to remember everything…

Any tips/wisdom/ideas/examples would be greatly appreciated!

The question:
How do you all like to go about writing/recalling cues accurately in dance shows like this? I feel like there has to be an easier solution than trying to remember everything…
Rather than a script with words, start with a list of the blocking.

Entrances, exits, major crosses should be no problem. Couple comes together, moves apart.

Here's one suggestion that may be a little too "out there" for some:
Take a beginning dance class of the style being presented. Yes, even as a lighting designer/ cue caller. Learn the terms dancers and choreographers use so you can speak their language. "Pick her up after the pas de bourreey but before the grand jete." Similarly, knowing musical terms can also be beneficial here.
How tight are your cues? Dance is often, "Spot One on the woman, Spot Two on the man, stay on 'em til they exit." Occasionally you get into lighting couples as a unit, or passing from one partner to another, or lighting a significant prop or set piece, but that's going ot be unique to that dance.

You'll want to note color, intensity, size and timing, but that's a given.

Depending on the style of dance, it might follow a verse/chorus structure that new spot ops may be more familiar with ("Spot Two, you fade out with the music at the end of the second chorus. You're out for the instrumental bridge, but then you're gonna bump back in at the beginning of verse three on the dance in the yellow dress. She'll be entering from downstage right.")

There might be a choreographic structure you can follow instead. ("All five dancers are gonna meet together in a clump at the center of the stage, it happens a lot in this dance. Each time, four of them are going to back away, leaving one dancer at center. Spot One, your job is to fade up on that dancer at center as the others are backing up. Make it slow and gentle, and the audience will love it.")
Try a visual cue sheet. Instead of underlined or highlighted scripts, draw stick figures in a box for the positions they'll be in, along with a short set of notes next to it describing the lead up. It might coordinate with other lighting cues, with the song, or with something else in the skate/dance that you can identify. Do the same for your pre-cue to know when to call standby.

For ice shows I'll often ask the choreographer or otherwise leader of the group to be on coms to call the major things that are happening in the show. No one knows it better than they do.
Thank you all for the great ideas so far!

Here is a little more context/clarification:
For this year’s annual production of the nutcracker we are likely going to have 2 spots, one run by myself, and the other a combination of students/parents/outside help to be determined on the first day of tech depending on who is available. The cues tend to be fairly simple, for example “spot 2 hit drosselmeier when he stops center stage until the end of his solo” with the understanding that unless the LD or i say something different, it’s a no color full body shot at full intensity.

That visual cue list is genius, especially as a tool for keeping all the operators on the same page. I would love either a blocking list or a score that I can follow to write cues to, I will reach out to them and see if I can get either in advance, as the problem I’m having is being able to remember where all the cues go accurately in each piece. The choreographer in charge usually will call the significant events, but the little ones are all me.

One idea I had was to use some sort of timecode clock run from the main playback computer, the two main issues being that they use iTunes (haven’t been able to talk them into qlab yet) and I’d have to figure out a wireless pathway for it that is more than semi-reliable.

Once again I do appreciate all of the great advice so far!
... the problem I’m having is being able to remember where all the cues go accurately in each piece.

I do a lot of lighting design for dance and my cue sheets typically have "warn" and "go" notes based on movement or music cues. Something like "Group arriving center 2nd time, go on beat". It doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't necessarily have to make sense to anyone but you if you're the one calling cues. It's just a memory trigger. My memory for exact choreography is garbage, but between understanding music and being familiar with a variety of dance styles, it gets easier to keep up. Recording a rehearsal and writing cues as you watch the video is a big help too.
Hello all!
Our production wrapped last Sunday, so I figured I’d give an update on what we tried, and what worked vs didn’t.
I was able to get my hands on some prior years archive footage, so about a week before tech, I was able to write out a preliminary cue sheet (screenshot below) with times noted in relation to the videos. When I was about halfway through the show this way, I was informed that a copy of the production book was located, containing all of the cues from the last time it was updated (2019), that was then used to finish my preliminary cueing. Once the choreographers saw the dancers in the space, I sat down with the lead choreographer (and first time show caller) to go over the many updates. The show was relatively smooth, with a few minor glitches as noted below.

What didn’t work:
Cue times:
Cues were getting changed frequently enough and there wasn’t time to sit down and time it all to the music, so we removed this

New SM:
Did a great job, but sometimes forgot to pass us notes/choreo updates until standby for the affected cue

Individual cue sheets:
With the variability in timing, we found it easier to both follow the main cue list

Editing the sheet live:
Time and location (pretty much in the audience, very short, busy rehearsals)

What worked:
Video prep:
Allowed me to be more up to speed by not having to write the sheet during dress rehearsal (no time, I was doubled as a stagehand for resetting between acts and such)

Sheet view:
Allowed for quicker editing, and live updated for the entire team so we all were running the same version

Go notes written by me (a non dancer)
The two of us in spots could understand what we were looking for at a glance without having to ask for clarification

New SM calling the blocking for the cue as they went:
This was awesome, as we knew where dancers were entering and exiting for certain as it happened

Thank you all for the wonderful advice!


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I’m not certain what you are asking here, but the document was created using google sheets (also my first time creating such for this process, feedback welcome)
The ‘operator’ and ‘target’ fields are fed from data on a separate spreadsheet using the drop-down function to enable quicker editing from a touchscreen.
While not as polished, through the magic of ‘filter’ and ‘arrayformula’ commands, I was able to create individual sheets for the stage manager ( cuts some of the technical info) and one for each operator (with only their cues) from the main list, but I didn’t get much past porting the data on those due to time restraints in this run. I think it worked quite well, but it definitely needs some refinement for the future.

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