Music, Movement, Message, and the Kitchen Sink

During this workshop we look at some of the key elements in creating a dance. We’ll be touch on each of those elements briefly and in the coming weeks there will be separate workshops for each to go into detail.

So what is dance in SL? Well, it’s basically a bunch of things brought together to create an experience for you and the audience.

Next questions: 1. What pieces and 2. Why?

We’ll come back to the first question, but the 2nd question – it’s different for everyone! Why does an artist paint? What type of paint? What colors, what brushes, what kind of canvas, do they slap other things on there too like glitter and paper cups? What are they painting? What feelings or message is the artist expressing through his painting?

Dance in SL is exactly the same. The stage is your blank canvas, the dancers your paint, and everything else comes together to create your piece of art.

Before we get started, I believe that when we create a dance we share a piece of ourselves. That people can feel the emotion you pour into your dance as you create. That as you perform, the audience can feel your energy. You will find I often mention “energy”, “message”, and “connection” – not everyone approaches dance in the same way. This is mine.

Music – when choosing music, I first recommend choosing a song you can listen to 100 times or more! If it makes your ears bleed after the 3rd play, it’s probably not the music for you. Other things to consider:

1 – do you connect with the song? feel it? connecting to a song can make the difference between a flat performance and a powerful one. If you’re given a song to choreograph – find a way to connect to it.

2 – song length: 3-4 minutes is a happy place. Many dance venues want songs less than 6 minutes. Why?

3 – can you keep the audience focused during your dance? This is where changes in the music keep the audience’s attention. A five minute monotone tune can quickly have your audience drifting over to marketplace. Can you choreograph it? Yes – but it is definitely more challenging.

Message –

What does the song make you feel? When you create a dance, you are creating an expression of something. This can be a very powerful message or feeling, or it can simply be fun, playful, or sexy. My dances usually have some sort of background story or feeling I’m inspired to express.

Thinking about why you’re creating the dance, your vision, will help as you choose costumes, create your set, pick your animations and build your dance.

Movement – Animations (Choreography) – Dance choreography in SL is playing a sequence of animations to create a dance – like a RL dance routine. Good news? Our bodies can twist, turn, float, all without pulling a muscle. Bad news? For the most part, we’re limited to the movements of animations available in SL.

– Always always always buy copy animations

– Look for smooth expressive animations. Generally you want to avoid club dances. You always want to avoid the old jerky animations – unless you’re creating some ancient robot dance where it looks really cool.

– Shop for dances while listening to your music. I have many animations in my inventory I bought because they were wonderful – and still haven’t used them…

– Make sure to mix up your animations – different packs, different creators. If 3/4 of your dance is the animations from a single dance pack, where is your expression? Make it your own, mix it up.

– Number of animations: a good mix might be 12-25. There are no rules, I often use more, you can always use less – just make the choreography unique, interesting, and your own.

Movement – From here… there (Movers/Dance Pads)

Most dance animations will “move” your avatar – but sometimes this just isn’t enough. This is where a mover system comes into play, it physically moves your avatar center from one place to another on the stage.

Turns can be quite effective – having dancers face each other for example. They can also make the animation look quite different when the audience sees it from a different angle.

To keep interest and really express yourself, you may want to have your dancers switch sides, move into formation, move closer to the audience to say “look at me”, leap tall buildings with a single bound.

Often less is more when it comes to movements, especially in your earlier dances. Have a reason to move – don’t just move to move “or because someone said I need 5 formations”. Don’t forget dance animations will naturally move the dancer on the stage. Too many mover movements can actually be distracting to the dance.


Costumes provide your dancer with color, with form, a moving picture within your picture. They contribute to the overall expression of your dance and are one of the key elements in your dance – whether a simple costume or detailed.

– I still like some flexi, but it can create lag and distract from the dance depending on how it moves. Imagine big flexy skirts flying over the dancers head as they dance. Nope.

– For female costumes, long skirts and dresses can be difficult. They can hide the dancers legs or stretch like rubberbands.

– Unless you want your dancers to blend in, their costumes should stand out from your set.

– It can look great if your dancers all wear the same costume or alternate colors, but it can also look great if they all wear something themed but different – like an apocalypse dance or dance off on the streets.

– Animations can look different depending on the costume! Try it – a demure knee length spring dress compared to leather hot pants, harness bra and thigh high boots. When working on choreography for a dance, I wear the dance costume or something similar to the costume I want to wear.

Stage – the stage is the backdrop for your dance and helps pull together the whole picture.

– The set should usually highlight the dancers. Don’t fill it with so much stuff that the dancers can’t even be seen.

– The stages used at many venues are huge and often swallow up solo dancers or small groups. Don’t be afraid to make a smaller dance space by putting walls up on the sides and top to focus the audience’s attention. You can also do with with props – mountains, huge statues, etc.

– Make sure your textures are good quality and not overstretched. If tree leaves on the floor texture are as big as your avatar – your texture is probably overstretched.

Lighting – there are two types of “lighting” in SL. The first are prims that look like lighting, like a stage beam. The other type is lighting which shines on the avatar, making them appear brighter and is lights up the set.

Prims that look like lighting but do not have “light” turned on in object properties are a stage prop. By using color, glow, and transparency they can look like lights but will not brighten your stage or dancers. These can be very dramatic when used in your dance and can sometimes be changed and controlled with a script just like any prim.

Each prim with “light” turned on in object properties is a light source. The general rule of thumb is to have no more than 6 lighting sources. Unless everyone in the audience has advanced lighting turned on, they can’t see more than 6 lighting sources at a time.

Face lights are a light source and will brighten up an avatar. Because they are generally a number of small invisible lighted balls positioned around your dancer, as they dance the lights can cast distracting shadows on the set. While still used by choreographers, the general recommendation is to light your stage instead of using facelights.

Lighting your set properly is important. Dance venues often have a default windlight – like midnight or midday. If you don’t light your set, the audience won’t be able to see your dance. If you overlight your set, it will be a glaring white sci-fi experience. Note: while venues often announce “for this next dance, please set your windlight to midnight”…know that many in the audience don’t.


Particles can be an amazing effect to enhance and punctuate your dance. There are many types of particles including hand/foot particles, particles that are worn by an avatar and activate when attached, and particles that use a hud and emitter that you place on your stage.

You can make your own or purchase them from creators who specialize in designing and creating particles.

Particles can be used as part of the set, like shooting fire, to accentuate a special move or section in the music, to provide cover during a costume change, for a big entrance or finish, and more.

Generally, when using particles for a dance, you don’t want particles to hide the dancers or distract from the choreography. How you use them, how many, and how few are your choice to make.

You should never feel “required” to use particles just to use them. This should be a conscious choice for the dance. Depending on the dance, particles can actually detract from it!

Other Special Effects

There are always new ideas and creativity! Common special effects include costume changes, set changes, fade in and fade out, rotating set props, changing colors/glow, and so many more. Don’t get lost in the effects when creating your dance. This is like adding sprinkles to your Sunday to give it that added “pow!”.

and then….the Tools to make it all work!

There are three main creators/dance systems I’m aware of in the dance world:

Spot On Tools

MetaHarpers System

Barre Animation HUD

Spot On Tools and MetaHarpers System both offer a full range of tools for creating choreography, moving your dancers, packing and rezzing your sets and more. Both systems have their benefits, and both have their own strong following.

Barre Animation HUD is currently the most popular HUD for large group dances – handling 50, 60, 70 and more dancers.

Recommendations: focus on choreography first, putting together your animations to create a dance. Depending on what system you choose, I would recommend:

Spot On Smooth Dancer

Spot On:


MetaHarpers MST Choreo HUD Director Edition


I would not recommend buying all the tools right away or learning them at the same time. I recommend starting with animation choreography, then movers, then a stage rezzer – building a strong foundation.