Interview with a Dancer #1 – Nancy Toocool

One of the things I wanted to do on this blog was to involve the people who are active in dance in SL.  I will be interviewing dancers, troupe leaders, equipment makers, etc. and posting the interviews here.  I hope it will be a great way to share knowledge about dancing in SL.  To get the ball rolling, I asked Nancy Toocool, a burlesque dancer with MJ’s Burlesque Review, to be the guinea pig, and she graciously consented.  Without further ado, Interview with a Dancer #1:

Nancy Toocool profile-february-2014-final






SL Name: Nancy Toocool
Rez Day: November 28th 2009
Location: Finland


What led you to/How did you start dancing in SL?
NT:  As so many of us in SL, for the first year or two I kept searching for my place in this vast virtual world – something that would define me somehow, something (other than ‘alcoholic’, haha) I could fill the sentence “Hi, I’m Nancy, and I’m a […]” with. I have a RL degree in graphic design and media, so becoming a SL photographer was a natural step for me, but it can be a lonely job, and not always different enough from what I do in RL. I also tried modelling, but I found it impossible to express myself as a model. So, finally, sometime around late 2011, when I started to be more active in SL again, I happened to stumble across a few dance joints, mainly burlesque/cabaret ones. I had tried the “lean against the pole for tips” life before, but had never thought (exotic) dancing or burlesque could be so, so much more than that. I have always loved music, history, arts, theatre, and literature, so it seemed I had finally found a way to combine all that. Then I applied to pretty much every club I could find, and was lucky to be accepted to dance at MJ’s Burlesque Review, where I learnt the basics of what I understand as SL show dancing/cabaret/dance theatre/burlesque.

How long have you been dancing?
NT:  Excluding the “hop on a pose ball and watch yourself move” type of dancing, I have been dancing for a bit over two years. The first show in which I danced solo in a self-made number was in early 2012.

Where do you dance?
NT:  At MJ’s Burlesque Review. And sometimes in the shower too (but remember, kids, it can be dangerous with that slippery, wet floor and all).

How much time, on average, do you spend in SL each week?
NT:  A lot. If I’m not too busy in RL, I’d say it’s around 50 hours a week.

Of that time, how much (%) is spent working on dances/performances?
NT:  On the average, I would say maybe around 50%. Some weeks working with performances can be all I do in SL, but then I can go on weeks without doing anything concrete dancing-wise. That being said, I doubt a day goes by without me at least planning the next number in my head even though I’d just spend my time sitting on my hands. I think we, or at least I personally, need that downtime to recover from the last show (hah!) and let your thoughts simmer.

How long does it take you to create a set (start to finish)?
NT:  It depends on how a complex my idea is and whether I have to spend hours and hours trying to find just the right script or headdress or whatever it is I need. The fastest I have done a whole number is probably in two days, which would mean around 10 hours of active work. The most demanding numbers have probably taken close to 100 hours until I’m satisfied with the result.

Name your ‘go-to’ store for dance animations.
NT:  I’m a big fan of MyANIMATION. I think most of my dances are from there. The quality is great, and I like the style of dances they make. As of recently, I’ve found Abranimations again. They have really upped their game and the dances are very inexpensive. Henmations and A&M used to be among my favourites too.

Name your ‘go-to’ store for non-dance anims.
NT:  Hmm… For walking animations, I usually go to Tuty’s. They have a nice array of different kinds of walks, and the prices are ridiculously low. I have used Vista for walks, crouches, and such, too. But usually I just go to the store that carries the specific animation I need (if I can find one).

What dance HUD do you primarily use?
NT:  I started with the basic dance hud from Vista Animations, but soon switched to Barre, when I started to create actual specifically timed dance routines. So far I haven’t used any other dance huds.

Do you use a movement system?
NT:  I do. I used to move myself manually, which can be hazardous in lag… so I was very happy to learn about Spot On when they released it last year. I also use different scripts for moving props.

Do you use other huds?  What are they?
NT:  Yes. I’m the crazy hud lady. The most huds I have had during one number has been 10. In addition to the dance and emote huds, I use (depending on the dance number, of course) emitters (such as fog), fader huds, stage light huds… and once I even used a Japanese ninja hud to disappear in thick, black smoke at the end of the routine.

Do you build your own sets or work with a scripter/builder?
NT:  I build as much as I can myself. I’ve never used a builder. Of course, I don’t build all the components in the set myself but rather combine, texture, and/or modify the things I can find. Same goes with scripts: I have done only a couple of scripts from the scratch myself, but edited tons existing scripts to serve my purposes.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about dancing?
NT:  On a more general basis, I’d say it’s been “stay true to your original idea, even if at first it seems impossible to execute”. I think that’s the greatest asset a dancer can have: a creative mind and the persistence and determination to make the ideas come true. I’ve gotten tons of great, practical advices too, but I don’t know if there’s point in listing them here.

Do you emote?  Why or why not?
NT:  I do emote. Well, it’s the standard at MJ’s Burlesque Review, but I would do it otherwise too. My dance numbers are often very story-driven and theatrical, so emotes really help me tell my story. Even with my more general dance numbers, the not-so-theatrical ones, I emote, because it increases the level of presence, it brings the dancer closer to the audience (at least to those who read the emotes) and hopefully helps them experience the vision I want to convey a bit more intensely.

Where do you find your music?
NT:  I am a “music-a-holic”. I love everything from jazz and swing to soul, contemporary pop, rock, metal and electro. I listen to music all the time, so when I come across a song that I feel would make a good dance number, I write it down into my “little black book”. At the moment that book has around 60 songs I have thought of doing at some point. A few times, when we’ve done a show with a clear theme (such as “80s heavy rock” a few years ago), I’ve had to do some searching. Wikipedia and YouTube have proved to be great sources for that.

Do you make your own mixes?  If yes, where do you find your music and sound effects?
NT:  For most of my numbers, I have edited the music myself, usually mixing together two or three songs and adding some sound effects where necessary. I’ve found all of the sound effects (such as walking sounds, gun shots, and car sounds) through YouTube.

What are your preferences when it comes to dance performances?  – Large/small sets; particles/none; effects/none; faders/none; emotes/none; movers/none; lighting/none?  Explain.
NT:  I have to say it really depends on the idea: Some ideas require more effects and moving around than others, and there’s not really a right answer here. I know many know me as the dancer who uses a lot of “tricks”, but my personal guideline has always been that the idea and story determines what you do on stage or put into your set. I mean, if for example a moving backdrop does not add anything to the story or the mood you’re trying to create, why do it? That relates also to what I find to be the main downside of effects and such: They can distract the audience from the actual dance, and I dare to claim they are more likely to do so if they’re irrelevant to the idea, mere effects for the sake of having effects.

What’s your favorite store for costuming?
NT:  When I started my “burlesque career”, I used to shop a lot at stores like Vita’s Boudoir, Blacklace, Dirty Princess, and Mon Cheri. All great shops for traditional burlesque style clothing, corsets and such. Since I now do mostly those story-driven dance numbers that aren’t necessarily so “burlesque” in the strictest sense of the term, I usually just shop on the Marketplace, where I can search for whatever specific garment it is I need.

Do you ever consider how an audience member’s computer setup might affect their enjoyment of your performance?  (ie. – particles, effects, lag, etc.)  Why or why not?
NT:  Yes, I think it’s very important that the performers do their utmost to ensure a smooth show. All the little things that we do to improve the experience for the audience adds up and hopefully makes it more pleasant of an experience for all. Of course the performers don’t have control over everything. What I do in terms of making the show run more smoothly, is that I for example use a texture loader thingy, of which purpose is to load all the textures of my set for the audience, so that when the curtains open, they see them rezzed. That’s why I try to avoid particle effects that use textures I don’t have in my inventory and which I therefore cannot put into the texture loader. I also “preheat my hud” so that the audience sees the dance smoothly, and remove all possible scripts from my set and outfit. Using mesh clothing has been an issue, especially back when I started, since everyone did not have a mesh-enabled viewer then, and still mesh tends to act unexpectedly rezzing-wise, but I’ve found myself using more and more mesh and so far it seems to have worked well.

Do you have a blog/SL group/website/flickr/facebook/other account you’d like to share?
NT:  Yes, the key of my group is secondlife:///app/group/63495676-50e5-821f-665f-2c9b6e04853e/about
I also have a Flickr page for my photos:
Although I’m not very active in social media, I have a Facebook account and am always happy to connect with like-minded people there: I can occasionally be found ranting in Twitter, too:

What’s the best comment/compliment you’ve ever received about your dancing?
NT:  Most rewarding for me is when someone after a show tells me how strongly they felt about my number and I can tell they really understood my idea. That’s when I know my vision reached them and somehow touched them on an emotional level.

What’s the one thing you’d like to see in SL related to dancing? (Something that isn’t currently possible.)
NT:  I’ve been fantasizing about being able to use for example only the latter half of a dance animation, starting the animation from the middle.

What is the most helpful piece of advice you would give to someone new to dancing in SL?
NT:  Make sure it is something you really have the time, energy, and lindens to do. You cannot be a good SL show dancer if your only motivation is getting lindens, since you most likely end up spending at least twice as much for animations, props, costumes etc. than what you get in tips. If you do think it is something you want to do, then go for it and don’t hold back. The world is full of conventions and unwritten rules, but those are made to be broken. Dare to take risks and think out of the box. It is you and your creativity we want to see, not an adaptation of a burlesque cliché that’s already been done to death.

Where is your favorite spot to spend time in SL if you are not dancing?
NT:  I’m an explorer, I love finding imaginative, well-made sims and just roam around, maybe taking some photos as I go. HuMaNoiD is one of my favourite sims. It’s so beautiful, like a step inside someone’s mind. On that note, I also like to “explore” different minds, which is why I often find myself meeting new people in SL jazz clubs, such as Frank’s, or those lounges that are on the more racy side, such as Chamber Society.

Any other thoughts/ideas/comments you’d like to share?
NT:  I just wish more people would take the step to start doing dance shows in SL. I meet many people who are highly interested in doing it, but for some reason are too afraid or impatient to actually pursue a “career” as a SL dancer.


And there you have it, folks, the first Interview with a Dancer!  Many thanks to Nancy for her time and effort.  :))