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Computerized Choreography


Software that lets you dabble without dancers

By Gina McGalliard

Studio owners everywhere can relate to a common struggle: how to remember and record choreography. But Dance Designer, an innovative new multimedia computer program, seeks to help document every aspect of the choreographic process.

softwareDance Designer was developed by Sean Glen, an entertainment producer and resident of Orange County in California. The idea for it was born a few years ago when Glen’s wife, Carri Burbank, was asked by the producer of The Fabulous Palm Spring Follies to re-create a dance she had choreographed four years earlier.

“She was saying, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this,’ ” says Glen, who is not a dancer but has worked with choreographers and dancers for years. “And being a producer, I said, ‘Why don’t you get the software?’ She said, ‘There isn’t anything like that.’ I said, ‘Well, I hire lighting designers; they’ve got software. Scenic designers have software. Composers have software. Everybody has software—how could that be?’ ”

Glen conducted an online search and found that while there was an abundance of software for the business end of running studios, there was nothing for the creative side of teaching. Seeing a niche, he created Dance Designer, which comes in basic and pro versions. His wife was his primary advisor, and the couple held several roundtable discussions with dance instructors, college professors, and choreographers from various areas of the dance industry, including industrials, television, and concert dance.

Licenses for the program, which runs on both Macs and PCs, are available at $240 for one year and $400 for two years for basic; for the pro version, those rates jump to $360 and $600, respectively. Tech support by phone or email is also provided free of charge by Curtis Anderson, former head of the sound department for live entertainment at Disneyland Resort and a former technical director at Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Although it includes technology such as audio and video editing, the program (with video tutorials) is designed for easy use by studio owners who might not be computer savvy.

Upon starting a piece, choreographers first import their music, be it from a CD or downloaded from iTunes. They then click on “add counts,” which allows them to set choreography to specific counts in the music and call the counts whatever they wish. They can also work in a nonlinear fashion, working on any section of the dance they choose. Next, they select a stage from several templates, or create their own to their performance venue’s specifications using the stage wizard, and then add the number of dancers in the piece, naming them if they wish.

Next comes one of the program’s most exciting elements: ChoreoMotion, which allows the user to animate the paths dancers travel in. Choreographers can see in real time, synchronized to music, where the dancers will go, and they can save studio time by working out traffic jams or other issues beforehand. All they have to do is drag and drop each computerized dancer and hit the playback button. Dancers can also be grouped, which is ideal for numbers in which not everyone does the same steps. And the Choreo Cards feature helps the user keep track of those dancers, storing their contact and personal information and even their costume sizes.

Also, choreographers can choose from ballet, jazz, tap, modern, hip-hop, lyrical, figure skating, and cheer palettes, which include specific terms for the genre to use in writing notes. For instance, the ballet palette includes French terminology, while the tap palette includes steps such as shuffles, riffs, and stomps. Palettes can be combined, and users can customize their own with original terminology. Tap dancers are in for a treat: The TAPlayer will play back rhythms of selected tap steps, and up to three counter-rhythms can be created.

If choreographers are hitting a creative block, the formations library has several options available. In the pro version, video can also be added and synchronized with the music; it can even be recorded directly into the program.

Another useful tool is avatars, which come in generic, hip-hop, or ballet styles. Avatars can be given colors, allowing the user to see how costume color schemes would work onstage.

Choreographers can see in real time, synchronized to music, where the dancers will go, and they can save studio time by working out traffic jams or other issues beforehand.

The reports feature enables studio owners to provide detailed information to others, such as tech notes for the lighting or scenic people, thus decreasing expensive rehearsal time.

Students can also benefit from Dance Designer: It allows teachers to write notes for students (on the entire dance, specific portions, or for specific dancers). For instance, if Suzy is in Group 1, all the notes written for Group 1 will self-populate to Suzy’s column in the program, which the teacher can then print out and give to her.

Dani Everts, a dance teacher at Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, has found the program especially helpful because she often has up to 45 students in one class. “I thought I was pretty organized, but then when I discovered this program, everything is within my laptop. My music, my notes, my formations—it’s all in one place,” she says.

Everts finds that her students are benefiting from her use of the program as well. “What’s really cool for the high school students is that they’re old enough to start doing their own choreography, so I’ve been sharing the program with them,” she says. “I think this is so valuable for them because technology is in their everyday life.”

“When you put it all together, what you basically have is a multimedia dance score,” Glen says. “And it gives [anyone who looks at the score] enough information to understand what the choreographer is trying to get across.”

Glen has further plans to keep improving the program. For example, he wants the avatars, which currently don’t move, to execute the choreography so teachers would have “a pre-visualization of what [the piece] might look like.” He would also like to add more palettes, such as ballroom, Polynesian, and belly dance.

“Everybody responds to different portions of it,” Glen says of his program, “but there seems to be something for [choreographers] at every level, whether you’re teaching a class of 5-year-olds or taking a Broadway show on tour.”  

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February 2010
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