Wireless choreography


At our new favourite Indian buffet (Cafe Bombay) they run Bollywood videos on big screens all the time. In Bollywood, as you probably know, everybody is dancing all the time, in wonderful synchronization, like Broadway but far more. I've never been to an Indian dance club to see if people try to do that in real life, but I suspect they want to.

I started musing about a future where brain implants let you give a computer control of your limbs so you could participate in such types of dance, but I realized we might be able to do something much sooner.

Envision either a special suit or a set of cuffs placed around various parts of the arms and legs. The cuffs would be able to send stimuli to the skin, possibly by vibrating or a mild electric current, or even the poke of a small actuator.

With these cuffs, we would develop a language of dance that people could learn. Dancers have long used Dance notation to record dances and communicate them, and more sophisticated sytems are used to have computerized figures dance. (Motion capture is also used to record dances, and often to try to distill them to some form of encoding.) In this case, an association would be made between stimuli and moves. If you feel the poke on one part of your left wrist, move you left arm in a certain way, a different set of pokes commands a different move. There would no doubt have to be chords (multiple stimulators on the same cuff) to signal more complex moves.

Next, people would have to train so that they develop an intuitive response, so that as soon as they feel a stimulus, they make the move. People with even modest dance skill of course learn to make moves as they are told them or as they see them, without having to consciously think about it a great deal. The finest dancers, as we have seen, can watch a choreographer dance and duplicate the moves with great grace due to their refined skill.

I imagine people might learn this language with something like a video game. We've already seen the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) where people learn to make simple foot moves by seeing arrows on the screen. A more advanced game would send you a stimulus and test how quickly you make the move.

The result would be to become a sort of automaton. As the system fed you a dance, you would dance it. And more to the point, if it fed a room full of people a dance, they would all dance the same dance, in superb synchronization (at least for those of lower skill.) Even without the music though normally this would all be coordinated with that. Dance partners could even be fed complimentary moves. Indeed, very complex choreographies could be devised combined with interesting music to be done at dance clubs in moves that would go way beyond techno. I can see even simple moves, getting people to raise and move hands in patterns and syncs being very interesting, and more to the point, fun to participate in.

In addition, this could be a method to train people in new and interesting dances. Once one danced a dance under remote control several times one would presumably then be able to do it without the cuffs, and perhaps more naturally. Just like learning a piece of music with the sheet music and eventually being able to take the music away.

I suspect the younger people were when they started this, the better they would be at it.

It could also have application in the professional arena, to bring a new member of a troupe up to speed, or for a dance to be communicated quickly. Even modest dancers might be able to perform a complex dance immediately. It could also possibly become a companion to Karaoke.

There are other means besides cuffs to communicate moves to people of course, including spoken commands into earphones (probably cheapest and easiest to put on) and visual commands (like DDR) into an eyeglass heads-up-display once they become cheap. The earphone approach might be good for initial experiments. One advantage of cuffs is the cuffs could contain accelerometers which track how the limb moved, and thus can confirm that the move was done correctly. This would be good in video game training mode. In fact, the cuffs could even provide feedback for the correct move, offering a stimulus if the move is off in time or position.

There have been some "use people as robots" experiments before, but let's face it, dance is more fun. And an actual Bollywood movie could come to life.


Flash mobs could "spontaneously" break into song and dance like an MGM musical.

There was a recent Jackie Chan movie with this theme.

Anyway, I'll wager you've never had any significant dance
lessons or studied martial arts.

Your idea fails to appreciate the enormous complexity,
variation, and nuances possible with regard to movement of the
human body. Consider all the possible degrees of freedom and
range of motion in the arm: shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger
joints; the leg: hip, knee, ankle, toes; add the waist and
neck; and no doubt there's more I've missed. In addition,
there's more to dancing than just the raw movement -- there
are underlying principles, both practical and artistic, that
drive the expressive nature of the art. Dancing is NOT just
going through the motions.

You admit your system would require training in order to
develop the correct response to the stimuli, however the
"language" you envision would be have to be so complicated in
order to cover the full range of possible movements, that
learning it would negate any advantage over being taught by
traditional methods. Indeed, we are naturally "wired" to
learn by imitation, which is why that is a more effective
means to teach dance moves than your proposed simuli. All
you are proposing is substituting one skill for another --
i.e., replacing dancing ability with responding to pokes --
and that new skill can in no way adequately replace the old

It's possible that for a smaller subset of movements, your
system might make possible a limited kind of sychronized dance
for unskilled groups. But there's no way it could be used to
for complex dances or to train professionals. Watch some of
the ballroom dance programs on PBS -- the level of expression
and complexity required makes it out of the question.

When used with ordinary people, this would present a far more limited range of dance than is accomplished by a skilled dancer. But as you've seen people have fun just doing the 4 steps and minor combinations of DDR. Skilled dancers can read dance notations and reproduce a complex dance (in their own style) and of course they can watch their leader/choreographer do a set of moves and reproduce a complex dance. Square dancers reproduce moves called out as words by the caller. We clearly have the ability to engage in dance based on both visual and auditory commands.

The trick here is to make the command structure invisible and silent, with the eyes left free to enjoy the environment. The human brain is actually very flexible. There are blind people who have mapped cameras to a 2000 pixel "display" mapped onto stomach nerves and been able to get a sense of vision, we can actually receive quite complex stimuli via touch if we train for it.

However, for most people, I imagine a limited number of moves, probably more for the arms than the legs. As noted, the cuffs, unlike speech or vision, can actually tell with accelerometers if you did the right move, and how accurately, which has interesting potential.

I am not a dance or martial arts expert, no, though I have danced on stage (badly) and even choreographed a bit of comedy dance, and while taken merely a semester of a martial art, I know how many moves there are and how complex some forms are. Nonetheless, we do communicate how to do this to people with speech and vision, and my thought is to consider other ways to communicate it. Real ability at this would only come through practice, thus the idea of a DDR style video game. I suspect with cheap accelerometer input devices on video games (such as the Wiimote) we'll soon see more complex dance games on the market in any event.

wii fit using the balance board controls seems to have a dance-inducing effect on this human:


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