Saturday, September 5, 2009

Giving new (hawt!) meaning to virtual dancing

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

When fine jeweler Random Calliope wrote to say that he was onto something really novel that would transform the way couples dance in Second Life®, I hardly knew what to expect. Standard procedure has required that each partner hop on a set of pose balls (traditionally pink for her and blue for him). More often than not, each set has enabled them to dance one kind of dance, such as salsa, tango, or the waltz. Some time ago, people began packing several dance animations into one gizmo that when touched, offered a HUD from which couples could choose between salsa, tango or the waltz, for example. Typically, the avatars begin to dance while their typists become engrossed in conversation, with an occasional glance at the whirling dancers.

Random was right. Through avid collection and study, his friend Ashen Coalcliff has organized the best couples dances in Second Life in a new way that enables us to communicate with our partner through dance, while we are dancing. I'd call it "active" virtual dancing. The gist of it is in the naming of the dances, or rather the mood and tempo of the dances.

In the accompanying notecard, Ashen explains it this way:

The first part of the name refers to the tempo (speed of the rhythm) which is expressed as:

S - Slow
MS - Medium Slow
M - Medium
MF - Medium Fast
F - Fast

In order to discover the tempo of the song you are listening to, just start tapping your toe. Most songs are Medium tempo. Once you have a feel for what "medium" means all the other tempo speeds reveal themselves. Simple enough.

The second part is choosing the mood of the song, or what you want to communicate to your partner. Is it a sexy song or a fun, fun song? Or is it a fun song and you just want to be sexy? You can choose that, too. As long as you choose your tempo correctly you will choose right.

Dance is interpretation. There is no wrong way. But finally you have control of the dances and you will never again have to remember the name of a dance or accidentally grind up against that new dance partner you want to impress.

Most of the best ideas are the simplest ones, aren't they? I shared Ashen's SyncDancer with machinimator and Second Life veteran Osprey Therian and wondered out loud if others would find it as innovative as I did and if there was a way to demonstrate it via machinima. To my delight, Osprey's reply was "yes," and "yes." Then Straylight/Botanical creator of the wonderful trees Kriss Lehmann agreed to be my dance partner, we donned outfits by his Real and Second Life partner Shai Delacroix (Casa del Shai) and this is what happened...

Many, many thanks to Elizabeth Tinsley who represented Ashen and the SyncDancer during the production, helping out in numerous ways

I think that's some of Osprey's best work, don't you?

I've never met Ashen but we exchanged emails.

To what do you attribute your fascination with virtual dancing and how many animations do you have?!

Ashen: My friend Random Calliope is the first dance collector I ever knew. He had all the couples dances dating back to when Second Life started. They were not good at all by today's standards but at that time they were fascinating. Singles dances actually moved my avatar so I became hooked on them, but I didn't know back then what quality was. When Sine Wave brought motion capture (mocap) dances to SL, I was giddy just like everybody else. I already had hundreds of the "other" dances and had become frustrated at some vendors' dishonest duplication of them.

I have 987 singles mocap dances, and another 300 or so that aren't, and they are often duplicates from various vendors that they sell by other names. They are mostly free uploads that someone has turned into a business and the quality is nowhere near motion capture. There has been a kind of renaissance in motion capture dance this last year. When Henmations came along, they set the bar higher than Sine Wave had. Then Studio 4D came behind them and pushed it even higher.

I don't know how many couple's dances I have. I have all the motion capture and Bits & Bobs ones. I include Bits & Bobs in there because they are of similar quality to motion capture, although Craig Altman masterfully puts them together frame by frame in Poser.

Who made most of the dance animations now available in your SyncDancer?

Ashen: It is a toss-up between 3FX and Henmations. They are different styles, but together they have set the standard to beat in motion capture couples dances.

Empowering a couple with the ability to communicate their moods with each other through dance is certainly an innovation in SL.

Ashen: I think this is what everyone wants to do on the dance floor anyway. Dance is communication like any other art.

Will it be available in a chimera or something that one of the dancers might wear?

Ashen: That has been a dream of mine for a long time. There just is no dance HUD in SL that can handle what I have all the information for. I am told that it would be a significant challenge even for the best known scripters, and I am not even a novice scripter. All I've done with the SyncDancer Couple's Dance configuration is apply what I know about SL dance to the popular Intan Eksotics product.

What's next for Ashen Coalcliff and the SyncDancer?

Ashen: I really want to see the day when everything I know about singles dancing will be at everybody's fingertips. I want people to experience that next level that dancing gives us and feel the music with SL.


The SyncDancer is pricey, to say the least, but if you like to dance with a partner in Second Life, I can't imagine being without it. There are four versions: Platinum, Gold, Silver, and the Light Fantastic.

Ashen: I couldn't bring myself to put dances in these dance balls that did not meet the highest of standards. There are only 58 dances in all of SL that meet the high standards I demand. The Platinum SyncDancer Ball contains all 58 of those.

The average couple's dance in SL costs L$500, and with 58 dances, plus the dance ball, plus the singles dances that play when you're waiting for your partner to join you, just one of these Platinum balls is a commitment in Linden Dollars (L$39,900). That said, it was important to create something that anyone can own, not just the biggest clubs. So the Bronze version (L$9,900) with 15 dances was created, giving the owners something that will match any song, but without the intensity of the more expensive and expansive collections.

You can try out the SyncDancer and order your own copy by teleporting directly from here. Each SyncDancer is handmade as the dances need to be purchased on your behalf or, alternatively, your own dances can be loaded and customized.


Shava said...

I just ordered one for Tuna Oddfellow and me to use at the Odd Ball! This is fabulous!

I've honestly not bought any couple dances because I'd rather cycle my chim than most of the ways we've had to couple dance.

This is coming soon to an Odd Ball near you! :)

Lauren said...

This is a wonderful leap forward not just in dance but communication through motion. And are wearing exactly the right outfit for the YouTube dance

Delinda said...

I love it! I must get it.

Fricker Fraker said...

This looks like a lot of fun! It is dancing that I remember most when I think of memorable times with my baby. :) mmmm

Dale Innis said...

I am little confused about exactly what this does. Is it just a normal couple-dance device, filled with very good dances that have been renamed to reflect mood and tempo? Or is there something more to it than that? (Not that that would be anything to sneeze at! I'm just unclear.)

Bettina Tizzy said...

@Shava Oh, that is awesome. The Odd Ball will be even more fun for couples with this, especially with all the unusual avatars. I will have one at Chakryn soon, as well.

Agree! And it was fun to impersonate one of my favorite film personas for a moment.

@Delinda and @Fricker Fraker - This takes a lot of the guess work out, plus all the research to find the best dances.

@Dale, you are exactly right in your assumption. The best dances (in her opinion and how am I to argue with someone who owns every single couples dance on the grid) have been reorganized so that they may be used more intuitively. Each dancer can change the mood or tempo at anytime, so it is a vastly improved way to communicate with your partner while dancing through movement.

janicole said...

That is what you call communication by motion! It is awesome! It is going to be worth if you get it!
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