Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Sirens Call - A Beginning for the New Dancer, Post 9 - Freestyling, Transitions, Tempo Changes, Hits and More!

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
Post 8 - Beginning to Choreograph

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 and have a number of animations from a variety of stores and dance packs loaded into a fresh choreography HUD.

Getting the Party Started - Freestyling

I've mentioned freestyling here and there.  What is it?  Freestyling is kicking on the music, slipping on your animation HUD(s), and selecting animations in the moment - just dance!  It's spontaneous - completely based on feel, rhythm, gut instinct, and knowledge of your animations.  No focus on animation names, no recording, no taking notes.  It's just dancing and going with it!  If an animation doesn't work, go to the next one!  If a transition is rough - that's ok, make a mental note and just dance!

Whyyyyy?   (I can hear you asking that now - btw)  Freestyling your chosen animations to your song gives you the opportunity to relax into the music, play with your animations, get a feel for how the animations flow and how they look as you really dance to the music.  This is your time to see the big picture, really feel and move to the music all the way through before you focus on the individual pieces.

Spend some time freestyling - at least 4 or 5 times all the way through.  As you do, you may find pieces starting to come together naturally - an animation that looks great for the chorus, or an animation that just fits the start of the music, even a couple animations that look great together.  The more often you freestyle as part of your creativity process or just for fun, the more natural it will become to find animations that "hit" the music and add interest.

Key Concepts to Consider When Putting Together Your Choreography

Once you've started to get a general feel for how your dance can flow, it's time to start choreography.  At this stage, you are ready to start selecting individual animations to play during specific parts of the music.  This will become your sequence.

Key Concept #1:  Hits

A hit is when your movement emphasizes a specific point in the music.  This could be a stomp when the bass drum kicks, pressing your hands to your heart when the song says "heartbeat", clapping your hands during clapping in the music, etc.  The audience can see the hits and feel the emphasis.

Key Concept #2:  Holds

Don't discount poses within your choreography!  A hold is when you hold a pose and don't move within the music.  This can be very powerful when there is a pause within the music, a change to instrumental, etc.  It gives the feeling of waiting, of anticipation.  Using a starting pose and ending pose is pretty much a standard for choreography.  A hold is using a pose within the dance, or holding your starting pose after the music starts.

Key Concept #3:  Transitions

A transition is the point of changing from one animation to another, switching from animation A to animation B.  You generally want a smooth transition, for the audience to see your choreography as seamless and flowing.  Transitions can be a challenge because we are pretty much limited to the animations available, but smooth transitions can be done!  Watch the performances of different choreographers.  Can you pick out when they transition?  See how they flow from one to the next.  My personal goal when it comes to transitions is for the audience not to notice, that the body flows naturally from one animation to the next.  More on transitions below.

Key Concept #4:  Tempo

Tempo is the number of beats per minute, basically the "speed" of the song.  A high energy song will have a high number of beats per minute (bpm), a slow song will have a lower number of bpm.  Beats are the pulse of the music.  Different styles of dance will generally have a different standard tempo.  Example:  notice that hip hop movements generally won't work for latin music, the tempo is different and the movements just don't hit at the right time.  (Note: this doesn't mean hip hop animations can't or shouldn't be used for latin music choreography, it just means you may have to dig a little deeper to hit gold)

Key Concept #5:  Changes

Within the music there can be various kinds of changes.  For the purpose of choreography and this post, we will focus on "speed' changes and musical changes.  An example of a speed change would be when the music is upbeat then changes to soft and melancholic for a brief time.  Many songs are stories within themselves, and this change may reflect struggle, sadness, introspection, etc.  In the reverse, the song could have a standard speed then BAM! you're hit with a high intensity, knock your socks off moment in the music.  Other types of changes include transitioning from singing to instrumental in part of the music, or the change in instruments for that section - such as an orchestra in the background in addition to the guitars and drums.  Consider these changes in music when you choreograph your dance.  You will generally want to use these to change your choreography also - transition to soft flowing movements, or hit the audience with sudden big and powerful moves, or add a hold (see key concept #2).  Using changes in your dance adds interest, it re-focuses the audience attention, adds excitement, and helps convey the emotion of your dance.

You're having flashbacks to your music theory class in high school now aren't you?  Wondering what you've got yourself into?  Don't worry!  Be aware of what these concepts are, listen to your music, study your animations.  Using these concepts will become natural considerations as you continue to choreograph.  You'll know it, you'll feel it.  These same concepts apply when you dance around your kitchen in the real world - you just do it!  See?  Not so scary.

The Next Step - Breaking Down the Music and Putting Together a Sequence

So, you have a choreo hud with animations you think might work well for your dance.  You've freestyled to the music to get a feel for it, you have an idea of the message you'd like to convey, and you're familiar with the key concepts above.  Now is the time to get to work - aka "playing".  Playing is always so much more fun and relaxed - and this should be fun right?

Every choreographer has their own method for creating choreography.  I will share mine to consider, adapt, and even toss out the window.  Do what works for you!

When I create choreography, I break the song down into sections.  Some may do this on paper, some do it in their heads, I prefer to do it using a music program such as TROFF or Audacity.  TROFF is a free Chrome extension that was designed for learning music and creating choreography.  It allows you to add markers to the song timeline (think of a Facebook timeline, same thing basically - get married, get a dog, go on vacation, those are markers).  For music, I mark when the chorus begins and ends, when there's an instrumental piece in the middle, maybe special sounds like big drums.  I also mark groups of phrases.

What is a musical phrase?  A musical phrase is a short section of the music that has a musical sense of its own.  It basically sounds like a sentence or thought is being completed.  It is usually 4 measures, 4 counts of eight beats.  Let's look at the song "Let it Be"

[Phrase group]
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

[Phrase group]
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

I've alternated the colors so that you can see the phrases.  Each phrase is like a sentence, a breath.  Two phrases together form a phrase group.  For more info on phrases, this is a great page:

Sounds a bit technical doesn't it?  It's not really.  I think most of us naturally feel and understand these sections of the music without thought.  The natural rhythm of the music.  I recommend creating your choreography in sections, generally a phrase group or two, the chorus, the instrumental piece, etc.  If I try to choreograph the entire song at once, I become overwhelmed.  To me, it's like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  If I try to solve the whole puzzle with a glance, after 10 minutes I give up and turn on the TV.  If I focus on putting together the border, I can solve it section by section.

My Flow:

  • Break the song down into sections - chorus, special changes, and phrase groups.
  • Notice any possible hits in the music - is there a cymbal, a distinct drumbeat, a special word?  keep these in mind as you test and select animations.
  • Use music playing software that allows you to repeat a section of the music.  TROFF and Audacity are two that I highly recommend and both are free.
  • Play the section of music, generally on repeat, and play the animations from your choreo HUD.  Watch and feel.  Does the animation fit that section of the music, convey what you want it to?  Does it have a special tip of the head that looks great and adds emphasis?  Does it feel right to you?
  • Don't forget the key concepts above!  Hits, Holds, Tempo, and Changes.
  • Have a notecard open, make a note of the animations that feel right for that section of music.  In that notecard, make a note of what section it's for.   I do this so I can remember when I go back.  (or I'm wondering "what was I thinking?????")   I usually have in my notecard:

    Times of Trouble
    animation A
    animation B
    animation C

    Hour of Darkness
    animation D
    animation E
    animation C
Remember, you are still narrowing down your animations for each section.  You won't be using this many animations in your final dance!  Depending on the animation and phrase groups, I may end up using animation B for both phrase groups - let it play.  I generally rough out my choreography first, then refine it.  First looking at it as individual sections then slowly piecing it together.

After you've narrowed down the animations, our next step is creating an "untimed" sequence - a list of animations in a specific order.  This is when you'll begin really refining the animations you use and how you transition.  Taking individual dance steps and making it into a single cohesive choreography piece.

Remember, every choreographer has their own method for creating choreography.  This is by far not the only way!  Learn all you can, follow the steps that work for you, observe many different choreographers, and develop your own methods.

Next post will focus completely on transitions and links.

Dance like there's no tomorrow!
~ Eva Harley