Computer technology accompanies dance choreography

sealPurdue News

June 5, 2003

Computer Technology Accompanies Dance Choreography

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University professor is utilizing video game and motion picture technology to experiment with dance choreography.

Carol Cunningham, of the visual and performing arts department in the School of Liberal Arts, teamed with faculty and staff from the School of Technology to manipulate traditional dance into a multisensory performance.

"This is a new method of problem solving for me that inspires a world of choreographic possibilities," Cunningham said. "I wanted to see if I could find a way to choreograph an abstract figure, generated from a human body, to communicate emotions. I'm also interested in designing interesting spatial and rhythmic relationships between humans and computers."

Once a week, one of Cunningham's dance students straps on a motion capture suit that tracks movement from the dancer's head, arms, torso and legs. Several rods connect the body's joints, and potentiometers, which are volume knobs, measure the rotation at each joint. There are 43 points of rotation on the suit that allow the dancer free range of movement. The dancer's only limitation is not being able roll on the floor.

Cunningham directs the dancer through dance sequences that projects an image —a stickman, blob or mechanical human form — on a white screen. When the dancer moves, the computer-generated image follows. The director and dancer create modern dance choreography that conveys artistic expression in the image.

"At first the image was a stick figure," Cunningham said. "We've created forms in the shape of the human body as well as a simple blob. It is inspiring to see the dancer, the computer experts and I collaborate to see how we can manipulate the figure."

They have experimented with size, space and shape. Images can generate text to enhance the performance. The dancer also interacts with the abstract image that their movements have created.

"Motion capture is another tool for expression," Cunningham said. "The image may be on screen and generated by technology, but it's an extension of the body."

This is the first collaboration between the dance department and the School of Technology.

"This allows my computer graphic technology students to work with people outside of computer graphics who are not technically oriented, but in creative arts," said Scott Meador, an assistant professor in computer graphics technology who also has a background in theater design and technology, visual art and computer graphics. "Often, in the entertainment industry, such pairings are common, but technology students may not have access to such creative outlets as they do now with this collaboration."

The Purdue dance division offers courses in modern, ballet and jazz, as well as the choreography of dance movement; dance performance; and dance appreciation. A minor in dance is available, or students can select courses to fulfill a School of Liberal Arts curriculum requirement. Many students participate in dance as an elective in their education or take dance to enhance their performing skills if they are involved in related programs, such as theater or music.


Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Carol Cunningham, (765) 494-5993,

Scott Meador, (765) 496-6034,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Visual and Performing Arts
Computer Graphics Technology


Theresa Rose, a senior studying food science from Dyer, Ind., experiments with a motion capture suit while creating a dance sequence. Carol Cunningham, dance professor in the School of Liberal Arts, teamed with faculty and students from the School of Technology to integrate video game and motion picture technology into her dance choreography. The motion capture suit records the dancer's movement and projects an image onto a screen. The image can be manipulated in size, color and shape. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

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