In addition to the tons of questions I have for dancers, I am also very interested in what it’s like to run a dance troupe/group in SL. It’s demanding enough trying to perform as a solo artist, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties that go along with running a successful troupe of dancers.
To satisfy my own curiosity (and hopefully yours), I am introducing a new series – Interview with a Troupe Leader. To kick off the series, I have interviewed a woman who runs a very successful burlesque club in SL. MJ’s Burlesque is an intimate, art-deco themed club, with a reputation for some of the best acts on the grid. Please welcome Imajica Wonder, owner of MJ’s Burlesque.
SL Name: Imajica Wonder
Display Name: Imajica Wonder
Rez Day: 12/21/2009
Name of troupe/group: MJ’s Burlesque Review
What led you to/How did you start dancing in SL?
MJ: I attended lots of shows, and it got me thinking about all of the things that I would like to attempt with dance in world. The challenge of doing Burlesque acts with limited dance moves was a motivator for me. I love Burlesque, both the classic style as well as modern, and did not see what I had in mind taking place anywhere so I thought why not give it a go?
How long have you been dancing?
MJ: The entire time I’ve been here, its dear to my heart. Doing performances, it has been over two years.
How much time, on average, do you spend in SL each week?
MJ: It varies, if I’m working on a show I stay up late and put in lots of time. If RL is keeping me busy, around 30 to 35 hours.
What made you decide to start a dance group?
MJ: As I stated above above, I like Burlesque, and did not see the style I wanted to perform at any of the clubs. In fact, most of them looked like the Burlesque film with Cher. That is not Burlesque, that is Hollywood selling tickets for a dance show reminiscent of music videos. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, it’s just not my cup of tea. I study old Burly dancers as well as new and I get so inspired by them. The thing is you can only take that style so far in SL, factors here are very different, and you don’t want to bore the audience to tears.
Do you have your own theatre/venue? If yes, what is the most difficult thing about owning a venue?
MJ: Yes, I own a venue. I can’t really say that I have ever found any of it difficult; demanding at times, yes. I think I would have to say getting started was the most difficult. I wanted to open a little Burlesque theatre so badly, but did not have the skill set to do the building and all the rest that goes along with it. In time I learned and with help from my sweetie I took the plunge. I was so naive in those early days. I love meeting people and making new friends, I thought the dance community was one big happy family. I learned quickly that was not the case. I wrote to the owners of every Burlesque venue I could find, a simple introduction that explained I was opening a place and that I was excited to be part of the Burlesque scene in SL. I waited and I waited, no response, not one person replied. I got a bit depressed but decided I was not going to let it upset me and moved on. On a side note, most of them have since closed.
What’s the hardest part of running a successful dance troupe?
MJ: I really can’t think of any one thing . . . ummmm . . . When I had a Mistress she was not thrilled with all the time I spent on performances. So I guess it can be hard on relationships. One thing that is very difficult is getting dancers. Many venues have dancers that have been with them for a long period and there are only so many to go around. On top of that, some have so many alts that they can do one person shows. More power to them, I struggle with one avi – it amazes me they can do it. I’m very happy to train new dancers but each time I have tried, it falls apart as soon as I explain they need to buy a hud, dances and all the other bits that go along with an act. People seem to lose interest very fast when I tell them we spend way more than we make in tips.
What kind of shows does your troupe do? (ie – variety shows, shows with a theme or storyline, etc.)
MJ: All of the above. I have had many people write me and say they find us avant garde. We experiment lots; we are always trying to push ourselves to new limits. One thing that I really like is that we all have a unique style. I find it so fun that when the curtain opens you will be transported into another world, completely different from the last. From an act that is dark and foreboding to an act that has people laughing. Speaking of opening curtains, when I go to shows I don’t peek, I want to be surprised when that curtain opens.
How much time, on average, do you spend on a new production/show?
MJ: Very hard to say, with RL we are always doing only so much and having to stop and start. It also depends on the performance. I have noticed that I don’t really have any set pattern as to how I do an act, and the other girls are the same. We start off with whatever moves us at the time. Some shows a song sparks me, others an outfit gets the ball rolling and other times I do the dance first or build a set. Most times emotes are the last thing I do.
Do you do multiple performances of the same show? If yes, explain the reasoning behind it.
MJ: We have only just recently started doing an encore performance of our shows. We skip a day and do it again, we never used to do that, we did all our acts once and it was done. We would do them from time to time if people request them. When we do road shows we now do acts that are the most requested. We did make all new ones for those shows as well in the past, but it just became so much work that we had to stop.
Does your troupe rehearse before a performance? If yes, how often?
MJ: Always, we rehearse on our own and the week of a show we do it like it’s show night. We rehearse together everyday before the performance. Our rehearsals can be tough; we look at every aspect of a performance. We look at emotes, dances, sets, costumes, you name it. We look out for each other, we are friends and want each other to look good. The closeness you develop is such a big part of this. I would never do a show without rehearsing, when I go to shows and see trees, buildings, and anything else you can think of sticking out of a curtain at a place that has a stage the size of a football pitch I know they didn’t rehearse or did not care.
How long does it take you to create a set (from start to finish)?
MJ: Once I have a clear idea of what I’m after it goes very fast, all the time is finding textures I like, or I have to make them and that increases the time. Finding props can be a chore as well at times. I’ll put it this way, if all goes well, anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. But things rarely go well.
Name your ‘go-to’ store for dance animations.
MJ: I don’t have one, I get dances from everywhere. Once I decide on a song, I’m off shopping and hit all the shops looking for what I feel works best. As all dancers know, it’s hit and miss. I have had times when things just fall together so fast, then I have others where everything is either too fast or too slow and I’m ready to scream. I will say this, I do favour dance shops that include the dance times, it saves so much time.
Name your ‘go-to’ store for non-dance animations.
MJ: Once again, whatever works at the time. If a place has a pose that gives me a smooth transition I’m happy, and that may not be at any specific shop.
What dance HUD do you primarily use? Why?
MJ: Dance HUDs are a touchy subject with many dancers. People get used to a certain HUD and want to scratch your eyes out if you disagree with them. I started out with the HUDDLES, it was tough getting my head around it, but in time I caught on. It was not what I expected a dance HUD to be. I thought they did much more. After mastering that baby and putting together some dances, I was a happy camper. That happiness did not last long; the Barre was released and I gave that a go. It was love at first dance and was much easier to learn as well as use. When I had issues and wrote the maker she was always quick to respond. I was in HUD heaven for a long time. Enter stage right, the Artiste . . . this is the HUD I’m currently using. I heard rumours about it for ages but that was about it. I met a person that said they had one once and it sounded like a very nice HUD, but I was told it was not for sale yet, so I did not pursue it any further. About six months later I was given one by the maker to use and report any issues or things I felt it lacked, so I guess that made me a sort of beta tester. I must admit I liked that I was involved in a small way. The only other time I was a beta tester was for a collar. I made some suggestions and was amazed they were added.
The reason I was so excited about this HUD was that I have a screen full of HUDs when I do an act, this would free me from that. It has the flexibility I have always wanted in a dance HUD. I’ll rephrase that, the Artiste is not a dance HUD, its a performance HUD. If a dancer wants a HUD to just do transitions there are many out there to choose from. This HUD is thinking outside the box. I had to completely rethink what I knew from previous HUDs. One thing that I really like is that I can make things as automated or as interactive as I want. I’m very much a hands-on girl, but I don’t see doing repetitious things as a great skill set. We are using computers, they are meant to free us from doing the same tasks over and over. Behind the scenes I wear many hats, MC, performer, and I also run the stream. So a HUD that was designed with performers in mind was a dream come true for me. I still get carried away when I talk about it; my friend Nancy is ready to drive a stake through my heart. The feature list goes on and on, I’ve not even scratched the surface of what it does, as we are all different and something that one dancer does all the time I may never use. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now. *Runs as she sees Nancy dashing at her with a pointy stick*
Do you use a movement system? Which one? Is there a reason you prefer one over the other?
MJ: I currently use the SpotOn, but not as much as I used to. I have had some difficulties with it and shy away now. If I’m doing a simple walk I will use it now and then. When I do complex things I always end up tearing my hair out. I build an entire routine and it’s perfect, after hours of tweaking and more tweaking. Next day I rehearse, my feet are in the ground, or the timing is now off. That sort of thing has kept it in my inventory. I must add that each time I had an issue, Rug from SpotOn would respond so fast she would leave skid marks on my platform. Very good costumer service from the SpotOn people.
Do you use other HUDs? What are they?
MJ: I only use the Artiste now. Oh wait, I did use another. It was one for singing.
Do you build your own sets or work with a scripter/builder? Do you have specific team members assigned to this task?
MJ: Everyone is expected to build their own sets at our place. We help each other all the time. Not in the building of the set, but more in locating items or textures or suggesting improvements. We have no scripter on staff. If we need a script to do something we try ourselves at first. If it’s beyond what we can do, we ask for outside help.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about dancing?
MJ: Never had one for dancing. The best advice I ever had for running a Burlesque theatre came from my four-legged friend. Everyone turned their backs on me and I gave up on any help or friends in the Burly community. When I was still building the theatre, I was taking a break and this gruff-looking dog walked in and was so sweet to me. He offered all sorts of advice and answered any question I had without feeling threatened. I built my club around much of his advice and we are still friends today. Thank you, Nai. 🙂
Do you emote? Why or why not?
MJ: Yes, to work at our club a dancer must emote. If a person does not want to read them fine, then watch the dance only. I find emotes in a Burlesque theatre are a must, it is the emotes that bridge intimacy into the act. We don’t have the smells or the physical closeness that we do in RL shows, so we have to find ways to fill that void. Emotes are that way. I was going to Geisha school in SL at one time, the emotes were like fine art. It would have not been as nice if it was just dancing.
What’s your favorite store for costuming?
MJ: I shop everywhere, just depends on the act.
What’s the most embarrassing or frustrating thing that has happened to you during a performance?
MJ: Having shows fall apart from lag, or the sim crashing. It’s so annoying after you worked so hard, and people were kind enough to come see you.
Do you ever consider how an audience member’s computer setup might affect their enjoyment of your performance? (ie – particles, effects, lag, etc.)
MJ: Yes, we try to do things in a way that all people are covered. Of course we can’t stop from doing everything. I do lots of things without fx for that reason, but try to mix it up.
What’s the best comment/compliment you’ve ever received about your dancing?
MJ: “I had such fun!” That makes it all worthwhile.
How long do you think a show should be in SL? Is there an ‘optimum’ max length?
MJ: Forty-five to sixty minutes. The attention span in SL is short, things happen faster here. I was at a show not long ago that was well over an hour. It got to the point that a person was telling jokes in the crowd and people found that more entertaining than the dancers. When I first started going to shows I would notice that after about an hour, (not counting bad shows) I would find myself looking around the theatre and not at the performers.
What’s the most helpful piece of advice you would give someone new to dancing in SL?
MJ: Ignore all the people with the petty crap in the dance community. There are some good people out there that don’t have nasty motives, look for them. Don’t waste your time getting involved in things that only drain you from working on your acts. There are no stars in SL. Some think they are, but remember they are most likely saying that as they curl their toes in those big fluffy slippers and pound away at that keyboard in mum’s basement.
Where is your favorite spot to spend time in SL if you are not dancing?
MJ: Adult sims, I’m very trashy.
What is one thing you’d like to see ‘arrive’ in SL dance? (Something that is not currently possible.)
MJ: I would love to be able to start a dance anywhere in its time frame.
Any other thoughts/comments/ideas you’d like to share?
MJ: If anyone has any sort of question regarding dance or setting up a club, by all means write me. I like making new friends.
And there you have it, folks, my first Interview with a Troupe Leader! Thank you so much to MJ for taking the time out of her busy schedule for the interview. As always, if you have questions you’d like to see asked, or someone you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know.