4 Tech Tools That Could Transform the Dance World

It’s 2017, and by now we’ve seen a digital revolution in most art forms: our paperbacks are pixilated; we download songs by the dozen; TV shows come in streaming segments of binge-watching awesomeness. But until very recently, dance has remained a kind of analog anomaly.

Today, however, digital cameras the size of an acorn fit inside a ballerina’s jeweled tiara, while specially-crafted lenses capture the tiniest of gestures; computerized pointe shoes record footsteps as data that can be shown on a computer and later used to customize movement; flying drones hover above the stage, capturing a pas de deux sequence from mid-air.

From a research project done by The Forsythe Company and Ohio State University using a Motion Bank prototype

On a practical level, these tools enable choreographers and dancers to polish steps, make better use of rehearsal time, share work remotely, reduce injury and preserve repertoire—but there are drawbacks, too.

Digitized Dance Notation

Digital choreography programs like Dance Designer allow choreographers to choose and connect pre-recorded stock movements. Or, you can create your own unique 3D steps with The Motion Bank, a data collection company that uses Microsoft Kinect and motion tracking technology to record dancers’ movements and generate an archived “movement library.”

The premiere of Dutch National Ballet's Night Fall, a virtual reality ballet. Photo by Michel Schnater.

But, these programs often only show how a step is done, not how to do it well. (One benefit of old school Labanotation is its symbols for movement quality.) And as with all dance notation systems, digital software is sometimes unable to accurately define dynamics and phrasing.

A New Kind of Camera

GoPros and drones can film hard-to-reach angles—and can create virtual reality experiences using 360-degree video technology. But though companies are hoping that access to high-quality dance footage will make audiences more excited about seeing live performances, it could have the opposite effect, making them content to stay home and watch from their computers.

E-traces

Footwear That Captures Your Every Step

What if a ballerina’s slippers could help capture her very movements? Motion-tracking “E-Traces” are slippers that feature a small electronic device attached to the bottom of a dancer’s shoe. The chip records a foot’s pressure and movement, allowing the dancer to effectively “draw” their movements in a pattern of data strokes that are then sent to a mobile app program for editing. Dancers can then use the app to interpret their movement, compare rehearsals and performances and make corrections. The only downside: The E-trace is visible against a pink shoe, which makes it obvious during performances.

The Ultimate FitBit

Another wearable helps prevent injury: Kitman Labs has devised the Athlete Optimization System, which tracks stats during and after workouts. It collects data on acceleration and deceleration, physiological factors (stress, mood, sleep), biomechanical response, muscle fatigue and methods of recovery so that dancers can monitor their regimen.

 

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What It Was Like When Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was in the Audience—or Backstage

The 27 years that Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent on the U.S. Supreme Court were 27 years that she spent as one of Washington, D.C.'s most ardent, elegant and erudite supporters of the performing arts. The justice, who died on September 18 of metastatic cancer, was also an avid cultural tourist, traveling to the Santa Fe and Glimmerglass operas nearly every summer, as well as occasionally returning to catch shows in her native New York City.

Ginsburg's opera fandom was well known, but her tastes were wide-ranging. Particularly in the last 10 years of her life, after Ginsburg lost her beloved husband, Marty, it was not unusual for the petite justice and her security detail to be spotted at theaters several nights a week. She saw everything, from classic musicals to serious new plays, plus performances that defied classification, like Martha Clarke's dance drama Chéri, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, which toured to the Kennedy Center in 2014.

To honor Ginsburg, Dance Magazine asked three dance artists whose performances the justice attended to recall what Ginsburg meant to them.

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