Monday, January 7, 2013

Using Static Poses in a Dance Sequence

Using Static Poses in a Dance Sequence 130107
Written by: Tivi Darkfold (Tiviyah Resident)

Greetings Dancers!  I've been slacking... cause I was supposed to write this a long time ago.  Like waaaaaaaay back when we did the Dance Queens survey and some of you said you wanted to see an article or a series of articles written on the use of static poses in dance sequences.  I like to do this... I used to do it more often than I do now, but at the time the survey took place, I was really into it, and so I hopped up and down with my hand in the air in Nottoo's box and volunteered to write it, to take a bit of pressure off of her, if she wished.  She, for some reason, agreed to let my crazy self write for you all.  :-)  So let's hope you can understand this, and if you can't, poke me and I'll try to explain better.  I just happen to write how I talk.

I think the key to understanding the place that static poses have in a dance sequence is very similar to understanding the role that silence place in a piece of music.  A lot of times, silence is used to start the piece... that air of anticipation where everyone's on the edge of their seat before the first note is place; to end the piece... that brief moment after the piece has finished where the audience doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, or give a standing ovation; and strategically in the middle of the piece to add accent to the phrase played just before it.  Static poses in dance sequences work much the same way.

I love love LOVE using static poses to start a dance.  First of all, it prevents you from having a sloppy start because you have NO idea where your AO is going to have placed you by the time your music starts.  A static pose gives you more control over the beginning of the dance, as you know exactly how every bit of your avatar is positioned before you hit that first animation.  Also, you can say a LOT to an audience about the static pose you choose... even before they hear a beat of your music or see even a flinch of your fingertips, you can set the mood.  If I started a dance on my knees, folded forward over my body, with my head down and my hair falling around my face, do you think I'd be doing a happy dance?  No... I would expect something sad... heavy... maybe even dark... that would start from the ground, and perhaps stay there if you found enough animations that work that way.  :-)  You are in complete control of what your audience is thinking before you even start the dance.  Your beginning position can communicate volumes.

My favorite example of using a static pose to end a piece is actually an exhibition dance I did in Gor.  Now, this dance was very personal to me... I was letting go of some VERY angry feelings that I had towards a group of individuals who participated in bullying a good friend of mine.   That friend eventually committed suicide... and I had been harboring so much anger and hatred for these people that I finally just had to dance it.  I organized a competition in her memory, based around an idea that she had always fully supported, and due to low registration (6 dancers registered to compete, as opposed to a 'normal' 10), I opened the competition with an exhibition dance.  The emotes spoke to my pain and my anger, and just how much I missed Kimmie... but she was always right there in the pit with me, telling me, "Shh, Tivi.  I'm right here."  And the very end of the dance, I ended in a static pose that was sort of an "on all fours" position, except my head was up, staring straight ahead, and one arm was reached outward, and the last words I said were, "That doesn't mean I won't always miss you."  The silence that fell over the crowd after that dance ended I think speaks to the power that static poses can play at the end of your dance.  It's one thing to emote something about striking an ending pose before leaving the stage/sands/set/what have you... it's a completely different level of choreography to be able to SHOW them that pause... that last display of whatever you're trying to show them.  And when done well, you can bring an entire audience to whatever emotion you're trying to invoke in them... all at the same time.  You are in complete control when you dance... and everything you do helps you hold onto that control, down to your very last pose.

Now, the trickier place to use silence in a piece of music, or in this case static poses in an animated dance sequence... is to put it in the middle of the piece/sequence.  If a silence is too long in a piece, people will begin clapping, thinking it's over, and suddenly you've got a good 90 seconds of awkwardness because they're clapping, you've started playing again, but they can't hear you because they're too busy clapping.  This goes the same for using static poses in a dance.  If you pause too long, especially if the music pauses too long with you, people may very well think you're done.  It's definitely a risk to take if you're not emoting with your dance, as there's really no way for people to know otherwise.  At least if there are emotes involved and people are actually reading them, then you can write something along the lines of, "A brief pause as the musicians cease their playing before a rough call from the back commands them forth, and the dancer begins again."  Then they can at least read, "Oh, she's gonna keep dancing," and they're warned ahead of time.  :-D
One example of using static poses in the middle of a sequence, and probably one of the easiest and most obvious examples I can think of off the top of my head, is a sequence I did to "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago.  If you're familiar with the song, some of you just had a light-bulb moment.  :-P  For those that aren't familiar, I'll throw a youtube link into the end of this entry and you can see it.  :-)  As each girl tells her story, there's that build up... and then the punchline of just why it wasn't her fault.  When she hits that punchline, to emphasize the words, the music stops.  I did the same thing in my sequence.  I had a specific animation that depicted each story, and I found a static pose that went roughly with the situation being described.  As soon as that climax hit and the music stopped, I paused in that pose until they started singing, "He had it coming" again.  I never actually got to perform that sequence live, unfortunately, but I performed it for a few friends while I was writing it, and I think the poses got their point across.

With the development of technology in SL, with mocap animators continuing to come up with more and more amazing dances, the need for static poses seems to be dying... and those dancers who still like to use them seem to be viewed as "sub-par".  "Oh, she only used a pose like that because she doesn't have an animation for it." or  "Oh, your choreography was awesome!  Too bad the lag made you pause like that."  I've heard dancers get that comment for the deliberate use of static poses, and all you can really do is facepalm because people don't get it.

I implore you... if you get nothing else out of what I've said today, please get this:
Dance, just like music, is an art form.  There is great value for properly-placed white space in a piece of art.. there is great value for properly-placed silence in a gorgeous piece of music.. and there is great value for properly-placed static poses in an animated dance sequence.  Maybe it's not the lag... maybe they meant for it to be that way in order to hit you over the head with the brick of emotion.  :-)  Look deeper when you see a dancer using poses, or you just might miss something. 

Peace, Love, and Dance
Tivi Darkfold (Tiviyah Resident)

Youtube Link for Cell Block Tango:


Thank you Tiviayah for the helpful article :-))

As I read it, I thought about ways that Dance Makers could help dancers and extend their business. Why not make static poses that match every time that the avatar is at the centerpoint of a sequence facing forward, then sell variations of the same dance starting at the centerpoints.

For example, let's say a dance starts at the centerpoint facing forward at 0.00 seconds. At 10.03 seconds the dancer crosses the centerpoint facing forward. The dance loops at 28.00 seconds. Right now all we can buy is the dance that runs 28 seconds. BUT, think about a dance set that contains four parts:
  1. The original dance with loop time of 28 seconds
  2. A static pose with a 0.3 second ease-in time that matches the initial position of the original dance at 0.00 seconds.
  3. The original dance dance with loop time 28 seconds but beginning at the position found at 10.03 seconds.
  4. A static pose with a 0.3 second ease-in time that matches the position of the original dance at 10.03 seconds.
The extended set of dances would give dancers more capability in choreography. Since the Dance Makers already have the dances made, they can easily make the extended set at a pretty low cost and make a nice profit on the additional income from selling an extended set.

As I thought more about this, I realized that Dance Makers could make super-extended sets of dances. By this I mean, make a static pose anywhere in the sequence that seems to be appropriate regardless of the x,y position relative to the centerpoint, and make a variation of the dance that starts at that point. All this could be done with existing .bvh files (.bvh files are the animation files outside SL).

Let's say a dance is called 'Nottoo' and the Dance Maker divides it into  three parts. The looped dances can be called 'Nottoo' and 'NottooV1' and 'NottooV2.' In the properties can be not only the loop time, which is 28 seconds in the example, but also the starting point and orientation relative to the avatar's position, for example, 28.0, x1.3, y-0.8, 120°. So, in this example there are six parts to the super extended set:
  1. The original dance, Nottoo, with loop time of 28 seconds and a description line reading 28, x0.0, y0.0, 0°
  2. A static pose with a 0.3 second ease-in time that matches the initial position of the original dance at 0.00 seconds with a desciption line reading x0.0, y0.0, 0°
  3. The original dance dance with loop time 28 seconds but beginning at the position found at 10.03 seconds (NottooV1) and a description reading 28, x0.0, y0.0, 0°
  4. A static pose with a 0.3 second ease-in time that matches the position of the original dance at 10.03 seconds  with a description line reading x0.0, y0.0, 0°
  5. The original dance dance with loop time 28 seconds but beginning at the position found at 18.56 seconds (NottooV2) and a description reading 28.0, x1.3, y-0.8, 120°
  6. A static pose with a 0.3 second ease-in time that matches the position of the original dance at 18.56 seconds with a descition line reading x1.3, y-0.8, 120°
All of this can be made with little additional effort. Club dancers might buy only the original dance, say for 250L, but dancers like those of us in DANCE QUEENS would buy an extended set for maybe 400L.

I could even imagine adding coordinates information to the DANCE QUEENS database so you could find switching points that are good away from the centerpoint.


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