Dance Costumes and Sensors

Exploring DIY textile Sensors for Dance Costumes
Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, HCI Group, summer term 2016.

In summer term 2016, I initiated for the first time an interdisciplinary student project that explores interactive costumes for dance. The main goal was to implement textile-based sensors into dance suits and to develop meaningful interaction concepts based on choreographic work. For this, I established contact to a local theatre that also has a troupe of professional ballet dancers. Unfortunately, their production cycles and workflows did not to allow for a collaboration with our students - their organizational planning was already made a season before, they produce much quicker, and they have strongly scheduled rehearsals. Therefore, I ended up in making contact with Claudia Kupsch who is the director and one of the dance teachers of the theatre house's kids and youth ballet. This was a good blow, Claudia was totally open-minded from the very first phone call we had. She invited us to visit a few rehersals where she also arranged conversations between our students and her dance students. We were mainly in touch with the older dance classes (the girls were between 14 and 18 years old) who perform classical ballet as well as modern dance styles. We could observe them during the rehearsals, could get a deeper understanding of ballet and modern dance, and we got permission to video-record the choreographic work for further analysis. This enabled us to develop interactive concepts that are close to the choreograpic practices of this ballet troupe.

Eight students of Computer Science & Media, Human-Computer Interaction, Media Art & Design, and Product Design worked collaborative during the classes. They conceptualized, developed, crafted, and tested three interactive dance costumes inbetween four months. Two of the dance suits have embedded textile based sensors and actuate a dancer's motions through light or sound, another costume has an integrated ready-made sensor and actuates the motion of other dancers through light. Although the concepts have been developed closely with the kids and youth ballet, the final tests have been made with other semi-professional dancers in order to explore how useful they could be beyond the choreographies of that dance troupe. My part was mainly introducing the students into costume crafting, into textile electronics and how to create them with do-it-yourseld techniques. I thought students of all participating disciplines in sewing and made them aware of the specific requirements costumes for dance applications have. I further guided and supported their project work in terms of HCI evaluation methods and user testing.
Project website _

Participating students _ Marie Bornemann, Theresa Elstner, Lynn Hoff, Aline Martinez Santos, Evelyn Reuß, René Runow, Hauke Sandhaus, and Franziska Spiller

Collaborators _ Kids and Youth Ballet Theater&Philharmonie Thüringen with director Claudia Kupsch

Supervision _ Eva Hornecker and Michaela Honauer
  • Aline Martinez, Michaela Honauer, Hauke Sandhaus and Eva Hornecker. 2017. Smart Textiles in the Performing Arts. In Textiles, Identity and Innovation. Proceedings of the 1st International Textile Design Conference (D_TEX 2017). Francis & Taylor, Lisbon, Portugal, 8 pages.

In this project the focus was to craft textile-integrated sensors that are stable enough to last the purposes of dance costumes.

Movement-to-Light Costume close-up final design
Concepts of the Interactive Costumes
Sonification Costume _ Sonification is the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data. This costume is designed to sonify dance movements. Its apperance has been inspired by examples of haute couture that experiment with wool. A major goal was to integrate the electronics invisibly, to make all possible components out of textile materials (e.g. conductor paths are all made out of conductive thread), and to design textile hardware components aesthetically pleasant. The whole suit is hand-knitted from wool and integrates stretch sensors on wrists, ellbows, and knees. The team did an in-depth research on knitted stretch sensors and figured out aligned circular knitted shapes that cover the whole joint deliver best measurements for dance suits. The sensed motion data are sent wirelessly over OSC to an external processing unit that smoothes the raw values and can then be forwarded with MIDI to any software or hardware synthesizer and influence the pitch, volume, and tone of related sonification sounds. Creators: Aline Martinez Santos and Hauke Sandhaus.

Movement-to-Light Costume _ This costume tries to enhance a dancer's motions by the flow of light on the body. Self-made textile sensors are integrated to measure pressure (two textile push buttons on the knees) and stretch (five textile stretch sensor on the ellbows, armpits, and lower back) from the dance movements. The stretch sensors are made from resistive fabric that changes resistance when stretched. The pressure sensor are made from conductive fabric seperated by perforated foam - if the sensor is pressed the two layers of fabric touch and close the circuit. Addressable RGB LEDs are activated based on the changing resistance for both sensor types. The LEDs are spread over the whole costume in a floral-inspires pattern, so that specific dance poses light up different body parts. Everything is integrated into a whole body suit with almost invisible technical parts. Creators: Evelyn Reuß, Marie Bornemann, and Lynn Hoff.

Lightification Costume _ The design of this costume is inspired by the aesthetics of the spine and nerve tracts. It is basically a cape with hood and contains an ultrasonic sensors attached in the back. If a person comes closer and closer, more and more LEDs light up around the dancers chest and head - this symbolically shows the dancers emotional response to proximity. This cotume has been developed a little uncoupled from the project's major aims (textile-integrated sensors) due to a concept based on proximity and distances between two dance partners, and further, it has been applied for hip-hop dance styles due to the expertise of one team members in that area. Creators: Franziska Spiller, René Runow, and Theresa Elstner.
Lightification Costume final design (photo by Tim Vischer and Hauke Sandhaus)
Lightification Costume close-up showing integrated distance sensor
The closer one approaches the Lightification Costume the more lights show off - on the left very close and on the right farer away (photo by Tim Vischer and Hauke Sandhaus)