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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So You Think You Can Choreograph? ~ Shon Charisma Reporting

One of the first things I did on the grid when I finally decided to stay was dance ... badly. I had my couple of free, not that great dances, and I ran to clubs to get my groove on.

Two years later, as a founding member of Unity Productions, I find myself buying dance animations like they are going out of style and spending a great deal of time choreographing for performances.

I often chuckle when I hear stories from friends about people that come to them, asking what animations they use or what hud they use as if that's all that is required to choreograph well. I've been asked it a couple of times myself, and when I go on to explain to them how important it is to listen to the music and get the movements down in them, inside them, and go to various stores and try all animations to find the ones that fit whatever song they want to dance to; I can literally feel their real life eyes widening, looking at me like I'm crazy.

And perhaps I am because choreographing in Second Life is more than just clicking buttons and looking cute.

And perhaps I'm not because others in-world see the work, commitment, and dedication it takes to dance, and more than dance--choreograph well in Second Life.

I talked to four people on the grid that make dancing look so easy (and I guess this is why people think it is easy): Dance Queens Founder Nottoo Wise, Dazzlers CEO Pyper Dollinger, Unity Productions Founder and Director Pet Karu, and A&M MOCAP Assistant/Support and Gorean dancer Ra'a Shenzhou (SL Name, Tiviyah Resident), and I asked them three questions:

  1. There are those that believe buying animations and a hud make a choreographer in-world. What are characteristics do you think are needed, beyond anims and hud, for a person to become skilled in choreographing, dancing?
  2. Where does your passion for dancing in-world come from?
  3. Would you call dancing, choreographing an art form in-world? If so, why?

Let's see what these talented, moving and grooving ladies have to say, shall we?

There are those that believe buying animations and a hud make a choreographer in-world. What are characteristics do you think are needed, beyond anims and hud, for a person to become skilled in choreographing, dancing?

Nottoo Wise - Since early 2007, Nottoo has spent many hours in Second Life, dancing and thinking about dancing, and as she says, "It has given me great pleasure."

Here are two blog posts about choreography: Freestyle Choreography and Sequenced Choreography.

The characteristics needed are:

  1. Willingness to spend time learning and doing choreography ... it takes time to learn
  2. Attention to detail
  3. Willingness to express yourself through dance

Pyper Dollinger - Pyper has been a dancer in RL since the age of 3 and danced hard and strong for 25 wonderful years.

There is so much more to choreography in SL than just buying dances and having a hud. It takes the creativity of making a feeling or story come to life in a song, the team that works together to create that vision and the sets and costumes that top it off. I don't believe in using pose balls in our dances so that it looks as real as possible. We use many props and different movements to create something that wows the audience. It is the true thought or feeling of each song put into a dance in SL. It actually is much harder in RL because we don't have exact control of each movement, but the many hours spent at animation stores to get just the right dance to match the song is what is so much fun. You can just slap on a hud and dance or have multiple dancers with you, but to put your heart and soul into a song or theme is what makes true dance in SL.

Pet Karu - Unity Productions is a faith-based organization that, among other things, performs biblical musicals and stories.

Oh Dear God, while anyone can purchase animations, it's another thing for you to captivate your audience through your movements. I feel that the selection of a movement will bring them into "my world." Some just dance. I breath and provide breathe for my audience. I can make them inhale or exhale through my expression or even uniqueness.

Tiviyah Resident - A new member of Unity Productions, Tiviyah is also a beta-tester for the Barre Dance HUD and organizes "fusion" dance competitions to bring together dancers of Gorean and non-Gorean styles

Part of it is just a gift, I'm convinced. But otherwise, you need to be a patient person... because you're going to be listening to the same songs over and over trying to get it right. And you need to be attentive to detail. Otherwise, a background in music or dancing is nice so that you can feel the songs you're choreographing, but you can still pull off choreographing without that background as long as you're attentive to detail, patient, and have a little bit of technical knowledge to run your hud.


Where does your passion for dancing in-world come from?

Nottoo Wise

Nottoo offers a poignant, revealing expression of why she loves dancing on the Dance Queens site, but a few lines that seem the epitome of her passion were: "... you have to dance your heart. You have to put your passion into it, learn from others and set out to WOW the audience."

Pyper Dollinger

My passion for dance started when I was three years old. I danced for 28 years in real life and ranged from ballet to modern to lyrical to hip-hop. I love dance, I love music, and I love to tell my stories through that. I wanted to start a team that allowed anyone to be a part of whether they had dance experience or not. Some of the dancers have disabilities that don't allow them to dance in RL and some that just didn't get the opportunity -- why not let them do it here? I began as a dancer with Ballet Pixelle and wanted to branch out to create dance throughout the grid and not be theatre based in one spot. DAZZLERS Inc. has performed for Miss Virtual World, Color Couture, fashion shows, sim openings, birthdays, weddings ... you name it, we have been there. My passion comes from having such an amazing group of people that are with me in this beautiful adventure of dance and Second Life.

Pet Karu

I have always danced! I was the kid that the family called into the living room while we gathered to dance for the grown up. It's only natural that I would be dancing in SL. I find that dance or dancing expresses my mood. What I feel inside comes through the movements even in SL.

Tiviyah Resident

My passion comes from the fact that I suffer from a little of bit Alexithymia. In other words, it's really hard for me to express emotional responses in the proper way. Either my expression tends to be inapproprirate in the form of outbursts... or I just bottle everything up and DON'T express them. But all of that changes when I dance. Through dance, I can communicate some of the deepest emotions that I would NEVER be able to communicate in ANY other fashion. Where spoken word fails, there is always dance.

Would you call dancing, choreographing an art form in-world? If so, why?

Nottoo: Of course it is. Dancing is the expression of your feelings from the music. If this isn't an art form, nothing is.

Pyper: I DO call dancing, choreography an art form in-world because I believe it takes creativity, love, and a passion for dance to really bring the audience in and transport them to a world that the choreographer creates.

Pet: I would definitely call dancing or choreographing - in world an art form. We are able to combine a sequence which evokes all manners of emotions. Such is art.

Tiviyah: Yes. Dancing, in world and in RL, is nothing short of an art form. Sure, you don't need all the physical technique and stamina in-world that you need in RL, but there's something about putting together the right movements with the right song that express the piece of your World that you're trying to show to others that takes talent and skill. And it takes someone that appreciates art to appreciate dance. When you can do these things well, you can captivate an audience of people for the 5-10 minutes you have their attention. When the last movement hits, and the last note of your song plays, and everyone sits there dumbfounded for a moment because you drew them so far into your world they don't know whether to applaud, cry, or go after the jerk that made you feel that way in the first place... THAT is when you've succeeded in dance. And THAT is art.

As you can tell from the dancing divas above, there are many of us that take dancing and choreographing pretty seriously here on the grid. I can't, in words, say how happy I am when I have a piece that is so in sync with the song it's as if it was always meant to be performed that way.

Choreographing is one of the few things in Second Life that I do and always enjoy from the tedious hours of listening to music and picking through animations and writing an animation's name wrong on my notecard and having to redo it (OK, that part is NOT fun - lol) to showing the finished piece and having people love it.

This Sunday, July 29, 2012, at 12:00 p.m. SLT, Unity Productions will be performing a soaking worship at the Duche de Coeur. About a week or two ago, we presented the song list to the group, and I picked (though the silence that ensued when waiting to see who would snatch it up makes me think I was chosen to do it- LOL) Donnie McClurkin's "Language Medley." The song is a little over seven minutes long and a bit complex with its fast and slow pacing, intricate rhythms, and spots where McClurkin talks.

What did I do after receiving my song?

Well, before it was given to me, I had been listening to all of the songs a lot to get them into my head. Once "Languages" was given to me, I spent about two days listening to it ad nauseam, almost to the point of being sick of it. I spent the first night going through all my dances (definitely not a lot by some dancers' standards, about 700), then went through all my animations (can't even tell you how many) and created a list of possible animations for the song. Needless to say, this took a long time.

Then, I listened to the song for about an hour on repeat as I played through the animations, trying to visualize which ones might go well with the song. Once I knew my first two moves to the song, I began listening to the song again, and slowly piecing one animation at a time into the sequence until I had a master list for the dance. While I plugged in dances, I also made sure to time length of the anims in use so that I could create a freestyle and a sequenced list. FYI, in case you don't know, Nottoo's Dance Queens site has so much useful information in regards to dance and dancing in SL, so definitely check it out.

My freestyle list is just a notecard with the animations in order of how they will be used. In performance, I'm listening very closely to the music. It sounds corny to say perhaps, but my real life body connects with the music and with my SL self so that I click on the animations exactly when they need to be clicked.

This is part of my freestyle choreography notecard.

My sequenced list is designed with animation names and the length of time I will use each dance; it creates a macro so that when I click the name of the notecard in my hud, it plays through all the anims seamlessly. Well, as seamlessly as Second Life will allow.

This is part of my sequenced choreography notecard.

It took about three hours of listening and testing after all of the above to get the dance for my song to a place where I could say, "Not bad." Still, as no artist is ever satisfied with her work, I am still tweaking timing for seamless move from anim to anim.

Here's a clip of the first couple of minutes of my dance shot last week after I pulled together my notecards and tried them out a few times.

Even after two+ years of dancing in-world, I still, in a lot of ways, consider myself a newbie. There are so many people on the grid doing amazing things, and when I have more time, it's my goal to learn more and better my craft.

If you're a dancer in-world and do choreography, why do you love it? How much work do you put into the process of developing a dance to perform? If you're someone that wants to get into dance, into choreography, what questions do you have?


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