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Q&A with Dance Photographer Cobey Rouse

Posted by Lindsey on Jan 26, 2024

University of Minnesota Dance Team, College of St. Benedict Dance Team, and MN Mankato State Dance Team

University of Minnesota Dance Team | College of St. Benedict Dance Team | MN State Mankato Dance Team

About 18 months ago, we noticed a dance photographer pop up in our feed named Cobey Rouse, from Rouse Productions  Since then, we've slowly watched his connection in the dance community grow - from photographing high school dance teams in his Lakeville, Minnesota community to traveling to UDA nationals with some of the most talented collegiate dance teams.  

What's been even more fun to see is Cobey's approach to his photography and business.  We've never interacted with a more humble and giving photographer, and his mission - to promote the sport of dance - comes through in so much of his work!  It's clear he has a passion to elevate the sport, and this passion fuels his photography. 

We asked Minnesota local, to give us a little more insight into his passion for preserving these extraordinary moments, particularly when working with dancers.  Check out his answers and some of his work below! 


Chisago Lakes (7)

Chisago Lakes High School

1. How did you get started with photography? Why did you start your business?

At the end of my daughter’s freshman season for Lakeville North in 2016, I felt they needed something to inspire them heading into State so made a video from parent iPhone footage. In the offseason, she wrote a paper for class advocating for dance as a sport…and that’s when everything changed for me. I saw my unique approach to video and photography as a way to help shine a light on her team and the sport. After her graduation in 2020, I opened my services to other teams and now serve 13 high school dance teams on contract this season, have shot for 23 additional high school teams and four collegiate teams—University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota-Duluth, University of St. Thomas and Minnesota State-Mankato.

I have now added two contract photographers, Mikayla Jakubowsky and Sophia Hubert, and marketing strategist Jillian Cicero. They are all female small business owners and dancers who help Rouse Productions capture even more content, and in turn, I hope to help them generate more business for their own interests at the same time. It's a cool, unique business partnership.

2. What inspires you to photograph dancers/dance teams?

It all stems from a desire to promote the sport itself, and at the time before male athletes were allowed to join dance teams, it was a way to help celebrate female athletes as well. Dance is so artistic and beautiful, but also powerful and difficult, a perfect combination for an artist to capture, and the visual medium is a perfect way to quickly inform people outside of the dance world about how challenging and legitimate the sport of dance is.

In all of my work for dance, my goal is to emphasize athleticism and beauty, yet I also get a chance to dive into the emotional side that goes into the 95% of the season that people don't get to see during the routines on the floor. Over 3.5 million Tik Tok views of U of M and UMD Dance Teams in their visualization circles are a testament to the impact of that unique POV.

Dance has a culture like no other, from the amazing bonds between athletes who otherwise would not have met, to the competitive yet supportive relationships between opposing teams at every level. It is a sport truly rooted in love and passion for what they do and I love to be able to capture that.

Faribault (6)

Faribault High School

3. What makes your perspective on dance photography unique? 

Having been a ‘dance dad’ for now 18 years, I have a good perspective on the hours and determination it takes to compete in the sport, and I can also understand the choreography and anticipate skills/movements when shooting performances. I have been privy to all of the other aspects of the sport behind the scenes which truly show people what the sport is really all about. This has also never been about me and it never will be. I’m just behind the camera, it’s the incredible talent that I’m exposing people to that matters, hopefully in a way that can create change for the sport.

Also, when working with some of the best athletes in the Country on the collegiate level, some notably famous from Dance Moms, World of Dance, etc., I am one of their biggest advocates, not a starry-eyed fan. They are fierce athletes to me, not celebrities. This can apply to any of the dancers at every level I shoot. That difference allows them to be comfortable and to completely be themselves around me, and they in turn allow me to be in the mix of everything they experience during the season.

4. What is a highlight of your photography successes so far?

It’s not really about numbers for me personally. Millions of views are awesome for the visibility sport, but for me, it all comes down to two messages I have received from dancers in the past year:

University of Minnesota’s Aubree Leste: You are the best! Such a calming presence in quite possibly one of the bigger pressure moments of my life, and you gave us the gift of being able to get as close as possible to reliving those moments. Appreciated you being there and recognizing our team more than you know!

Eagan’s Zahra Mutyabule: "Cobey! I truly want to thank you for making this season so special. Every moment captured holds such an important place in my heart. Your ability to continue to show the passion and love this team has for each other is insane. Looking at your work leaves me with chills EVERY TIME. I couldn't have asked for a better season with you. Thank you for all you do." 

I didn’t choose dance as my priority to shoot for myself, I do it to celebrate and promote these athletes and the sport. These notes reinforce that I'm doing the right thing, and that is all the success I need.

5. What are your thoughts on dance as a sport?

In short, it is the ultimate team sport. Period. Since I established Rouse Productions in 2018, the mission has always been to help provide a platform to not only bring awareness to the sport but to also fight for equity and funding. I have never seen another athletic team moving cafeteria tables in order to find a space to practice, yet I see it happen to nearly every dance team I work with. It is also one of the few high school sports where the athletic directors don't trip over themselves to organize buses for students to attend State...yet the fans pack Target Center two days in a row. There's a disconnect there, and to me, it's about a lack of care to understand the sport and to make the same accommodations that are made for football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, etc.

After shooting for four of our collegiate teams, I’ve been exposed to the lack of resources, funding, medical support, scholarships and NIL opportunities for the sport at that level. I am going to do every little thing I can to continue to shine a light on the sport and advocate for the NCAA to finally sanction one of the most popular sports in the Country.


University of Minnesota Dance Team 

6. Why do you think competitive dance gets overlooked as a sport outside of the dance community? 

One, because it is traditionally a female sport which has presented barriers for the sport just like all others over the decades. I believe this is also slowly starting to change with the wave of momentum from college basketball, volleyball, and professional women’s hockey starting up. Exposing the world to the fact that these dancers are also world-class athletes will hopefully go a long way to help change the perception of dance. Too many people in power don’t care to take the time to understand the sport, but I think that is going to come to an end soon.

I think the greatest misconception is that because is also so beautiful, it can’t be fiercely competitive and technically challenging. Gymnastics and figure skating have made it happen, and I don’t see why that can’t be true for dance. Can you imagine the Dream On routine or the National champion routines by U of M (pom) and Minnesota State (pom and jazz), LSU’s hip hop or Ohio State’s jazz competing at the Olympics?

I sure can.

7. What is your favorite memory from UDA Nationals 2024?

Being moved to tears while shooting the University of Minnesota visualizing their Dream On jazz routine before their Nationals semifinal performance backstage.

@rouse_photos Chills even before they hit the floor. SO locked in for jazz semis. @uofmdanceteam #udanationals #minnesota #uofm #universityofminnesota #dance #uofmdanceteam ♬ original sound - Rouse_Photos
Rouse_Photos via TikTok

8. What are you most excited about for the future of dance? 

Momentum and potential change. But there’s a long way to go.

I’m optimistic that we will see substantial change in resources and support over the next couple of years on the collegiate level. The momentum is building and we now have millions of people exposed to the sport and they are starting to speak out, putting pressure on organizations like the NCAA. It’s proving that when the content is provided, teams can use it to bring more visibility to the sport and the cause. The fact that news outlets around the Country continue to reach out for footage means we‘re doing something right.

On the high school level in Minnesota, there is a LOT of work to do off the floor, specifically getting the Minnesota State High School League to view dance as a priority and to be willing to admit that it is the second most attended sport in the State and to support it as such. One point in particular that is keeping the playing field lopsided in favor of perennial powerhouses is judging and scoring bias and inconsistencies. The willingness to compete gets crushed when a team never feels it has a chance to break through the bias barrier, and that has to change.

The league also needs to realize that exposure for the sport helps the athletes AND the league and to stop trying to find ways to limit opportunities for teams to get content at MSHSL events. In fact, they have now ruled that teams can’t have photographers at State. Last year, the league photographer only shot finals, so six out of 12 teams at every level did not get any photos of their teams at State because they were done after prelims. THAT is a complete misunderstanding of the role of content in the sport, and does not help promote the sport or gain visibility at all. Imagine if UDA Nationals did not let anyone shoot photos or video of the U of M’s Dream On routine…the world would never know about that iconic performance.

9. What is one random or interesting thing about you that you'd like to share?

I'm also a musician, the singer and guitarist for local Minnesota band batteryboy.

10. Where can people connect with you? 


Cobey Rouse with University of Minnesota Dancer Maesi Caes

In recent months, Rouse Productions has also launched a series called Eight Counts - Stories from the Sport of Dance in Minnesota. This series will feature eight short stories, focusing on the awareness and appreciation for the sport of dance. Below you'll find Part 2:, which "takes a look at the various aspects of creating a winning culture in both high school and collegiate dance teams," featuring Amanda Gaines, Coach of the University of Minnesota Dance Team. We strongly encourage you to give it a watch! 





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Topics: High School, Cheer, Pom & Gameday, Dance, Jazz, Lyrical, & Contemporary, Planning Tips, College, Competition & Event Recaps

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