Introduction to Dance and Choreography

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Harleyquin Learning Center
Introduction to Dance and Choreography
Tutor:  Eva Harley (EvaHarley Resident)
Last updated: 11/20/2018

Workshop Summary:

This workshop was created for anyone new or interested in becoming a choreographer and current choreographers interested in reinforcing their foundation in dance.  The workshop will be presented in a comfortable discussion type format – interaction is encouraged!

During this workshop I’ll be introducing what I believe are the key aspects of dance and offer suggestions for building a strong foundation.  Components of dance, what is choreography, starting tools, considerations, and bringing your vision to life will also be discussed.

One of the most difficult things about dance is getting started and enjoying the adventure!  It is much too easy to let doubt or fear creep in, to feel overwhelmed, or lost.  With a focus on foundation and following your passion to create, we’ll discuss ideas for making the most of this creative opportunity.

Workshop Flow:

  1. Demonstration of solo choreography, purely using an animation HUD.
  2. Why do you want to dance?
  3. Types of performances
  4. Prepare for the pitfalls
  5. Components of Dance and Considerations
    1. Choosing Your Music, Your Vision, Choreography
    2. Choosing Animations
    3. A HUD Designed for Choreography
    4. Set Creation
    5. Costumes
    6. Movement and Mover Systems
  6. Tips for getting started and things to remember

Workshop Notes:

Welcome to An Introduction to Dance and Choreography in Second Life!  During this workshop I’ll be introducing what I believe are the key aspects of dance and offer suggestions for building a strong foundation.  One of the most difficult things about dance is getting started and enjoying the adventure!  It is much too easy to let doubt or fear creep in, but I’m going to do my best to help you start out on the right foot!

As you begin this most incredible journey, take advantage of the resources available to you!  There are help groups, online videos, articles, and blog posts, various workshops available within the dance community, and others who make take you under their wing.  Don’t forget performances!  Visit as many venues and performances as you can over time.  What appeals to you most?  Style of dance, expression, etc.  Slow and steady!   If you try to learn too much at one time, it often leads to stress, and actually learning less than if you focus!  Don’t be afraid to learn from others.  Just remember to take from it what makes sense to you and question everything.  A broad range of learning and exposure can be a wonderful thing!  This is your creativity process, always be true to yourself in the end.

So, you’re interested in dance.  Maybe you’ve gotten your feet wet, maybe you’ve even performed but want to bulk up your foundation – anything you haven’t done yet or considered.  First question to ask yourself is:

What is Dance in SL?

Dance in SL the overall experience created by connecting music, movement, and environment together.  It is an expression of creativity and feeling.

  • music:  the music chosen for a dance.  Could be simply wind blowing, a top 40 hit, or a lyrical classic symphony.  Possibly no sound at all.
  • movement:  movement is expressed through animations played in a series, and can be further enhanced by the use of mover systems to add additional turns and movements across the stage.
  • environment:  environment is created by the costumes worn, the stage that surrounds the dancers, any props, lighting and effects used.

The creator may use many different tools to explore and to create in their own way.  Some love building sets, or putting together choreography.  Maybe they use audacity to create custom music files, or put together unique costumes.  Others enjoy working with Photoshop to create textures and pictures for their sets.  Others like the challenge of scripting and creating special effects.  Opportunities for growth and vision are almost endless.

There are no hard and fast rules, there are different opinions on everything, and very few absolutes.

Why Do You Want to Dance?

Many excellent reasons:
form of self expression
to tell a story
to entertain
explore creativity
experience the feelings of performing

Very un-excellent reasons:
For applause
To rake in the lindens
peer pressure (well-meaning or not!)

Types of Dance in SL:

Freestyling – on your own or with friends, go to a club or turn on the music at your sim and just dance!  Wearing your animation hud, flick through those animations and create your own unique dance on the fly.  Nothing saved, just enjoy the music and the movement.  An excellent way to get to know your animations and help find your own style!

Small Performances – generally a solo, may be performed on a small stage, pit stage, or platform.  In most “small performances”, the focus is you, your choreography, and the music.  Generally few if any moves using a mover system.  These can be a lot of fun, less overwhelming than a big full stage production, and can provide a very “intimate” and close experience for you and the audience.  Think of this like a jazz singer performing in a jazz club compared to a full arena concert.  Generally one song with a variety of performances by different choreographers.  There is generally not a director overseeing and managing creative choices and development.  Examples:  TerpsiCorps Pit Shows, Inanna, potentially Club Image except for themed productions.

Performance Art – A different type of expression through dance.  May be more subjective, encourages the viewer to feel, think, challenges their understanding and pre-conceived notions about what dance is.  Often combined with an art creation/art piece.  May be purposely inflammatory, often strives for a reaction.

Full Stage Performance – for this I mean a full stage set, generally at a larger venue.  May be a solo dance or have many dancers.  A full stage performance is generally one song, on a large stage, with a variety of performances by different choreographers.  There is generally not a director overseeing and managing creative choices and development.  Examples:  Phoenix, Moonshadow, Elysium Cabaret.

Full Show Productions –  a full show production is generally a themed or cohesive show that is planned and structured to express a story and/or a full experience.  There will generally be some type of continuity to tie everything together – the set design, the story, the style.  There is generally a director involved who will oversee all aspects of the production and the creation of it.  Examples:  Monarchs, Spirit Light Dance Company, and Club Image Productions such as Tarot.

and everything in between!

Pitfalls of Dance

It can become very addicting.  When you create something that feels amazing, when you perform on stage, it is very possible to get that adrenaline rush…want more!

Slow and steady wins the race.  Keep your focus, don’t overpack yourself with dates and responsibilities, and remember to enjoy other things once in a while.  Adrenaline is a real thing – but so is burn out.

You will ALWAYS want more animations!  Have a plan and choose your animations wisely.

Be prepared to budget.  Most dancers create for the love and passion of dance, an opportunity to express their creativity.  Tips received help support our creativity, but I’m not sure I know a single dancer who “breaks even”, and even less chance of “turning a profit” just from dancing.  Costumes, animations, sets, tools all add up.  Budget, choose wisely, build slowly, and look at all your resources.

Determine what you need most in the way of tools and start from there.  It is entirely possible to create and perform a great dance with just your animation HUD and a basic set!  Almost everyone feels that overwhelming compulsion to buy all the tools at once, that excitement at creating the amazing stuff you’ve seen – but stop…and wait.  Learn to walk before you run.  Focus on learning one tool at a time until you are proficient with it, comfortable with it, then add on the next.  By focusing on one tool, it’s easier to keep focus, keep going even when you hit a bump/a challenge, something more difficult.  If you focus on multiple tools at the same time – you have a quick out, changing your focus to something easier but without the dramatic gains and knowledge you would have learned by overcoming the “tough stuff”.

Explore your inventory!  You may already have great textures, costumes, and set props just waiting to be used in your inventory.

Components of Dance

Why are you creating this specific dance?  Is it for a challenge, for a theme?  Were you inspired by something you saw?  An emotion you’re feeling?  Amazing creations can be born from the depth of our emotions – love, anger, sadness, happiness, pain…

Look deep into the why and it will help you build your vision.


Music – Considerations:

When choosing music:

– Listen to the music 5 times, 10 times, 20 times.

Why did you choose the song? Does it move you?  Present a challenge?  Are you creating it for yourself, or to perform for others?

Will it capture the audience attention?  Transitions during the music – rises and falls, changes in beat, dramatic pauses, lend interest and the ability to capture audience attention.  If a song is very monotone, steady, or screaming throughout, it generally doesn’t have the same impact and possibilities for a great performance.

Will the audience be able to relate to it in some way?  You are not limited to only dancing to the top 40 hits, but your audience should be able to form some type of connection to the performance – through the lyrics, the emotions, a familiar melody style.  They may be very put off by a disconcerting and jarring musical selection.  Consider your audience and the venue (if you know it) when selecting a piece of music if you are planning to perform it.

Do YOU have a connection to the music?  Are you inspired, do you “feel” it?  My experience has been that if I picked a song purely to meet a theme requirement and have no real connection to it, my performance will reflect this.

Are you ready to listen to this music 100, 300, 500 times?  You will be as you bring your dance to life.  Pick something that moves you and inspires you, that you probably won’t start hating before you even bring it to the stage…

Your Vision

Your vision for the dance will evolve as you create, and sometimes may even take a dramatic u-turn, but a vision is important and will generally save you lots of lindens before you go further.

Close your eyes, listen to the music.  What do you see?  What do you feel?  Don’t discount anything, see it, imagine it.  What is the emotion?  Do you feel the movements, see the dancers in your head?  The set?  The Story?

Your vision for the dance, especially this initial vision is like a quick sketch before you pull out the paints.  Will you paint with  oils?  Watercolors?  Chalk?  Pencil or even with pieces of broken glass?  This gives you a starting point to build on.


I am a strong believer in the power of choreography, the animations you choose to use in your dance and how you link them together to evoke an experience, an emotion from within yourself and the audience.  Everything else supports and enhances the choreography and music, but doesn’t supersede it.

To me, there is magic in a dance that can stand alone with just the choreography.  If your effects fail, the set doesn’t rez, and the dancers are all naked because their clothes didn’t rez, will the audience still feel the performance simply with music and choreography?  Yes – it may not have the “wow” factor, it may not be as dramatic, but could your choreography stand alone even if everything else failed?

This will be a constant endeavor, one that will stretch your skills, build them, and can be deeply fulfilling.  When your audience can forget where they are, and just experience and enjoy your performance – that is magic, and choreography is a strong part of that.


Animations are hands down the most expensive part of dance.  Expect to pay between 100L – 349L per animation.  You can build up your animation inventory slowly and don’t have to break the bank by purchasing wisely.

By choosing a piece of music first, you  have a genre of music to start with first.  Hold yourself back from buying every animation you like without a piece of music in mind at this stage!  You will most likely buy animations you probably won’t use for a long time (or ever) this way.

Don’t limit yourself to one genre of animations. Picking a hip hop song doesn’t mean you can only use hip hop animations – it’s the variety and mixing it up that really makes your choreography stand out!  Keep an open mind!

I highly recommend making Abranimation dance packs the backbone of your dance inventory to start.  The animations are excellent, link nicely with other animations, the packs are discounted compared to purchasing individual animations, plus most packs include mirror dances in addition to the original dances.

Go to other dance stores.  Don’t just limit your choreography to a single dance pack from a single creator.  It is by mixing up animations that you create choreography that is unique and your own.

Listen to your music as you test out the animations.  Find ones that really speak to you, that you will use.  Buy a few at a time, and with each dance, buy a few more to keep your animation inventory fresh and growing.

ALWAYS BUY COPY VERSION ANIMATIONS.  Transfer versions are slightly cheaper, but the flexibility of using the animation in multiple dances, multiple HUDs, and not worrying about accidentally deleting it is more than worth buying copy.

Don’t forget poses!  Generally, every dance performance should begin and end with a pose.  They are also wonderful to use within the dance – to add a dramatic pause, to help transition from one animation to another, and more!


Using the right tool is integral to getting a great start in dance!

An animation HUD is a tool you add your animations to and wear on your screen.  It will display the loaded animations on one or more pages and to activate an animation, you simply click the animation name.  This also allows you to change animations – play an animation, change to another, and so on to create a unique and cohesive dance for your music.

I recommend looking for an animation HUD designed for choreography with the ability to record/play sequences.  A sequence is a series of animation, and when recorded you can easily play the sequence of animations during your performance.

There are the top two used in SL dance:

Spot On Smooth Dancer –

Barre Dance HUD –

Your animation HUD is your core tool from which you will build.  Become familiar with it, focus on creating strong choreography with smooth transitions, and you will build from here.

I do not recommend using the Spot On Performance Director for choreography.  It does not have the choreography features of the Smooth Dancer and serves as the “conductor” of the performance more than a creation tool.  The Performance Director is generally introduced later as your dance experience evolves.

KEY #4 IN STARTING – Keep Your Set Simple!

When you are first starting out, your focus should be in learning how to choreograph, how to create a performance.  You may or may not perform the first dance you create, or it will evolve as you do from the starting steps to a performance that you feel ready and proud of to show.  Keep it simple, start will an empty box and go from there!

There are many considerations when designing a set:  the size of the dance area, the props you use, effects, fades, changes, etc.

The set should enhance the dance performance, help express the vision.  It should not hinder the dancers or overpower the choreography.  While you may be inclined to start with set fades and amazing props, in the beginning, keep your sets relatively simple.  Focus on building your choreography skills first.  Any props you do use should have a purpose, “earn their right to be there”.

Two scenarios I often see which generally detract from the dance:

The dance area is too big.  If you are using a standard dance template – such as Elysium, you will notice that the stage area is HUGE.  If you are dancing by yourself, you can be dwarfed and lost within the set.  To draw the audience attention in to you, “block off” most of the set so that there is a smaller “box” for the dance area, and for the audience to focus on.  Use flat prims to cover the top and sides of the box, creating a “stage within a stage”.

The set is too full/too busy.  If there is too much “stuff” in the set, or everything is whirling and spinning and changing, the audience may be distracted and unable to focus on the performance.  The goal is to provide a cohesive experience where the choreography, set, movement, and costume all fit together to become “one”, where the audience can experience it as a whole instead of saying – “hey, that’s a cool whirlygig…oh…they’re dancing?”

KEY #5 IN STARTING – Your Costume

Once again, keep it simple.  At this stage, don’t focus on costume changes or adding hats and props during the dance.  A single costume that really helps express your vision.

For women, I do find that costumes can really change the look and feel of an animation.  There is a big difference in animations when wearing a flowy dress compared to a barely there burlesque outfit.  I recommend finding a costume that fits the vision of your dance and wear it as you choose animations and practice your choreography.  Even if it’s not the “final” costume, something similar to your ideal costume will help you see what the animations will look like within your dance.

When shopping for animations, wearing skin tight clothing that doesn’t obscure the body is a great idea. This let’s you see how the animation looks and moves. Watch the shoulders, the legs, the arms for unnatural extensions/movement

Costumes can add significant impact to a dance, like texture to a painting.  At times, the costume almost becomes part of the choreography itself as it flows, moves, and different angles are visible.

KEY #6 IN STARTING – Movement and Mover Systems

In a nutshell, don’t.

When you first begin creating a dance, focus on the animations.  Many animations will move you around the dance floor without needing to use a mover system.

Once you build some familiarity with choreography and you are comfortable with your animation HUD, then add a mover tool to your arsenal.

Many dances don’t need a significant number of moves, often 4 or 5 are more than enough – sometimes you don’t need any at all.  Keep it simple to start, and build up and use as you need to.

There are several mover systems available.  Spot On Choreography Designer may be the most well known.  It’s extremely flexible but does have a bit of a learning curve.  There is the sZI system, used by select venues such as Club Image, and the MetaHarper system.  The DPC (Dance Pad Controller) system available from Klark Harvy is an additional alternative, quick to learn and may be a good place to begin.


So, you’ve picked a song.  You have an animation HUD and animations, you know how to load it.  You have a  surround (set, box, etc.) to dance in, and you have a costume.


DON’T compare yourself to others.  You are unique, you are learning, and you will develop your own strengths and style.
DO NOT rush to perform on the stage.  It isn’t a race.  The best creations are the ones you enjoy – you know the old age: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  Have fun!
DO believe in yourself and have fun!  Isn’t that the main purpose?
LEARN ALL YOU CAN!  Take as many workshops as possible, question everything, use what makes sense to you!  Everyone has their own ways of doing things, beliefs, opinions.  What’s important is that you take from it what will help you find your “dance voice”.
GO TO SHOWS.  Observe.  What do you see?  What is your reaction?  How did you feel about the performance?  Do you remember it three days later?  Watching, what worked and what didn’t work?  Did anything inspire you?  Inspiration is a wonderful thing!  Copying a dancer, same song/same costume/same skin/same set, not so much.  Make whatever you do yours!  You are unique.  When putting all the pieces together, your performance will be too.
DON’T LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU.  Intentionally or unintentionally.  Sure, you may have an idea that may not work down the road, but there is always learning in the process!  Many times I’ve gone in one direction with a creation, wasn’t happy with it, and changed it up.
DON’T FOLLOW ANYONE BLINDLY.  This is your creation, never forget that.  Always have an open mind and make your own choices.

Learn how to use that animation HUD, begin freestyling your dance, choose your animations and create some choreography!  The rest will follow!