Monday, December 31, 2018

The Sirens Call - A Beginning for the New Dancer, Post 8 - Beginning to Choreograph

A series of posts sharing my own beliefs, methods, and suggestions for the new dancer.  As with anything I say or teach - QUESTION EVERYTHING!  There are many different approaches and methods to dance.  From all you learn, all you experience, strive to create your own methods, ideas, and knowledge.  Unique and in your own voice.

Disclaimer:  The author of this article wishes to point out, in case it was not already embarrassingly, ridiculously obvious, that the opinions expressed belong solely to the author and they do not represent in any way those of Dance Queens, Dance Queens members, any affiliations, friends, non-friends, the guy in the 3rd row, or management.  If you must...EvaHarley bio

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the wonderful, crazy, consuming and thrilling adventure called dance here in Second Life!  Perhaps you've been bitten by the bug or wonder what all the hullabaloo is about?  Step-by-step I will share what I know of creating a dance performance and self-expression.  The stage is your canvas, the dancers your paint.  What story will you tell through your creation?

Previous posts:

Post 1 - An Introduction to Dance
Post 2 - Observation, Learning Style, and Inspiration
Post 3 - What is this Choreo Thing and Choosing Music
Post 4 - Animations
Post 5 - Basic Skills Needed Before Working with an Animation HUD
Post 6 - Animation HUDs!  It's time to move it, move it
Post 7 - Learning Your HUD, Animations and Caching

As we explore the process of creating your own dance performance, you will find that I follow a certain flow and focus heavily on building a strong foundation.  I love tools, gadgets, particles, and anything else that gives that extra bit of oomph which enhances my dance.  In time, these will also be introduced in this blog series.  I believe strongly that choreography is the core element in creating a dance - the animations chosen, how they are linked together, and those infinitesimal changes, transitions, pauses, and poses that express the music.  Amazing choreography can be performed in front of nothing more than a black screen and still draw the audience in and take their breath away.

If you've been following along, you should now have a piece of music selected, own a number of animations that fit the music you chose that are from a variety of stores and dance packs, and be comfortable using your Dance Animation HUD.

In this post, we will be focusing on beginning to create choreography.

Creating Your Own Choreography

Now is the time we jump in and start creating!  Ready to jump down the rabbit hole?  Beware - there is no turning back!  <insert maniacal laugh here>  Once the ability to express yourself through dance here in SL is in your soul, there's no escape...

Key component #1 - Mix Up Your Animations

I am going to be blunt here.  Anyone can buy a single pack of animations (like Abranimations Ballet pack), play them in a different order and call it choreography.  Abranimations designed the animations, the movement, and created a pack of animations that would flow well from one animation to the next, even when played out of order.  Technically, there is nothing unique about this,  the challenge and self expression minimal.  It looks good, but the choreography was created by Abranimations.   This is like mixing up the tracks of a Rolling Stones album and calling it your own mix.  It's still just the Rolling Stones album.

Introduce animations from different animation packs, different stores, different styles to create your choreography.   This is unique, your own mix, and something no one could recreate this unless they purposely copied you.  This is the challenge, the self-expression, and what transforms a dance into something that is yours alone.

I always encourage questioning everything.  As you follow this series, take from it what you will, what connects with you.  Every choreographer has their own style and methods, which is just as it should be.  Mixing up your animations is one of the few things I am adamant that every choreographer should do.

Key component #2 - Listen to Your Music, Feel It, What Do You Want to Express?

Starting to choreograph a new dance can feel a bit overwhelming, whether a new choreographer or a seasoned one.  It's like looking at a blank canvas, wondering where to begin, and hoping that your vision comes through.  This is one of those times you have to just jump in, do your best, and enjoy the process.  That's why we do this right?

Before you start selecting your animations for this particular piece of music, listen to it.  Feel it.  Visualize thoughts, feelings, ideas in your head.  Will your dance be high energy with bold moves?  Soft?  Funny?  For your first dance keep it simple.  Choreograph one set of animations.  You can dance it alone or perhaps with a couple others, but focus on one set of animations for all of you, one sequence.  Build your foundation and expand on it later.  You will never regret learning to walk with style and artistry before running a triathlon.

Dream.  Feel.  Listen to the music again and again.  Make notes.  Scribble.  Doodle.  What do you see?  This process is invaluable, helping to guide your overall vision.  It also helps you get into that "creative space" where the rest of the world disappears for a while.  Just you, movement, and the music. 

Key component #3 - Choose Animations that you MIGHT use in your final dance.  No Limits.

A finished dance is generally around 15-30 animations (including poses).  As you begin to choreograph for a new dance, you should select a much larger number of animations to work with.  Think of yourself as that artist with a blank canvas.  You want to have plenty of colors to choose from to create your painting.  You are brainstorming, coming up with ideas and possibilities.  Be open to bold animation choices that you think might work.  Don't over-think or be too discriminating at this point!  You will find out as you create if the animation will fit or not - and very often you may be surprised!  At this stage, I usually pick about 100 animations to play with - and often several from the same dance packs so I can see which ones are just right.

This is my general process:

  • Consider all of your animations.  You may have chosen a high energy rap song, but you may be surprised that a contemporary or ballet movement fits perfectly in part of the song.  This also adds interest.
  • As you listen to the music (I set mine on a loop), play each of your animations.  I generally only need about 10-15 seconds of the animation to feel if it fits.  Listen to the beat of the music, watch the flow of the animation.  I work on "feel" more than anything.  Does the animation seem to fit with the movements, if there is hand clapping or repetitive moves, does it fit the beat of the song?  Your music has a tempo, beats. ** ****  Four notes usually, 4 upbeats, 4 downbeats.  Fast animations, slow animations - they can all work but should generally follow the rhythm of the music.  Watch videos on contemporary dance.  See how their movements mesh with contemporary, upbeat music.  Watch a variety of youtube dance videos!  They are wonderful inspiration.
  • Choose a variety of "big move" and "subtle move" animations.  I define a big move as an animation that is more dramatic - moves you across the floor, dramatic spins, large hand and/or feet movements.  Naturally draws attention.  Subtle moves to me are ones that don't pull as much attention, perhaps a subtle shuffle, a step, a gradual single spin or soft moves.  You will want both for your dance.
  • As you test your animations and listen to the music - make a quick decision.  If it feels like the animation may work with the music, write the animation name down - select it, put a copy into a folder.  However you organize, sort, and select your animations.

Kevin Bacon demonstrates tempo and beats so much better than I could!  Let's hear it for the boy!

Do this now.  Narrow down the animations to work with for your dance.  Put a copy of these animations into a fresh copy of your animation HUD and name it "Choreo - Dance name" or something similar.  You now have a manageable number of animations to create a dance with.  Your next step will be freestyling these animations to the music and creating a flow of animations - a sequence!


Have you ever been to a wine tasting and noticed they generally have crackers or something similar they encourage you to eat between tastings?  If you taste wine, after wine, after wine, not only will you get tipsy but you won't be able to appreciate each wine individually - they begin to blend together.  Selecting animations for a dance can be exactly the same!  Take breaks periodically, plan short blocks of time to select your animations.  When you feel yourself starting to rush through just to get the selection done - it's time to STOP for a while!  When all the animations seem to be the same - TAKE A BREAK!  Enjoy the selection process.  You are creating a piece of art.  Most painters don't create a painting in one session, it evolves over time.  They let their creativity breathe, let it speak to them.  Don't rush this process, enjoy the ride.

For women especially, animations can appear differently depending on our costume.  Try it!  Wear an "innocent" floaty dress, then wear a very skimpy sexy leather number with spikes.  I bet the same exact animations will feel different to you!  When selecting animations for a dance, I try to wear the costume for the dance or something similar to what I want my costume to be.  It's hard to choreograph a classic ballet dance wearing a leather thong and pasties.  (Unless that's my planned costume!)  For me, what I wear helps me get into that mindset - like an actor diving into their character.

Next post we're going to be digging deep into transitions, movement changes, making an impact, hits, tempo changes, and expression through your choice of animations - with examples.  Be prepared!

Dance like there's no tomorrow!
~ Eva Harley