Why Watson Can’t Dance

Saturday 23 April 2011, 5:07 pm   /////  

Here’s the abstract from a presentation I gave yesterday, from my pedestrian stance as a non-dancer, at a high-energy workshop on dance technology:

Why Watson Can’t Dance: Attempts at On-Screen Dance in Popular Digital Media

Nick Montfort

Dance Technology and Circulations of the Social v2.0, MIT, April 21-23, 2011

Of all the ways that computing can connect to dance, one of the simplest but also most pervasive is seen in the animation of dancing bodies on screen. To inquire about how computers have done this sort of virtual dance over the decades, and how it relates to interactive games that require the player to dance, I begin by considering very simple digital media objects that represent dance. The first is a non-interactive BASIC program from the 1982 Commodore 64 User’s Guide: “Michael’s Dancing Mouse.” Comparing this to a dancing computer animation from the decade after — the dancing baby, which was one of the first viral animations or videos online — is instructive in considering the way digital media developed and whether or not the computing concept of dance developed. I then turn to focus on one game originally for the arcade and one home video game: Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and Harmonix’s Dance Central. In examining these systems, I try to articulate the model of dance that underlies them and to understand what aspects of dance are foregrounded and which are left aside. Finally, I consider how well the computer can dance (in this one narrow sense of displaying an animated dancing figure) and how this compares to the computer’s ability in other domains, including the other arts.

Some relevant videos:


  1. What, no dancing demon? 1979. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CCJFQ_bP0E

    Comment by Jason Scott — 2011-04-25 @ 1:48 am
  2. Good point, I should have discussed that one! It would have complicated the chronology nicely, nice it’s a more elaborate dance than the Dancing Baby (1996) not to mention Michael’s Dancing Mouse.

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2011-04-25 @ 2:00 pm
  3. I assume you know about labanotation: http://dance.osu.edu/3_research_gallery/laban_writer.html

    Comment by chuck aukema — 2011-04-25 @ 2:24 pm

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