Back to Blog

The Inside Scoop on the Routines of Dance Central Spotlight

One of the things we are most excited about with Dance Central Spotlight is the sheer number of routines players will have to dance to for all their favorite songs. In fact, our whole approach to authoring has been updated to enhance the quality and quantity of dance routines, while also enabling us to get routines out more quickly than ever before.

I recently sat down with several members of the Dance Central Spotlight team involved with routine authoring to get the inside scoop on what choreography is like in Dance Central Spotlight. Read on to see what Lead Designer Alli Thresher, Designers Frenchy Hernandez and Marissa Flabouris, and Associate Designer Matthew DiPierro to say about making dances for the game!

What’s Changed?

Advancements in our technology and improved tools have made it easier and faster than ever before for authors to take routines from brain to game. “We’re able to look at move sets we’ve used before and come up with combinations we’d be using in real life, and take those and put them in the game without having to get motion capture for everything,” Alli explained when I asked her what had changed. “Part of the inspiration for this was watching the choreographers [for previous games] come into motion capture, because it got very competitive. They’d be in the mirror like ‘what was that 8 count you did? Yeah, I’m going to put that in my song but I’m going to do it this way instead.’”

Lead Designer Alli Thresher Lead Designer Alli Thresher

The old method of having to capture every single routine from scratch, even routines that relied heavily on dance moves we’d already motion captured multiple times, meant every routine took several months and a huge team of people to create. Fine-tuning this process means some really awesome things for the franchise: we can now make more routines in less time without having to rush or cut quality to do so, and we’ll be able to release songs as downloadable content while they’re still on the charts!

enter image description here

Building a Movement Vocabulary

“One of the things you want to give new dancers is a move vocabulary,” Alli explained. “It’s like your meat and potatoes of what it takes to build a dance routine. You may give them 5 steps and then there are an infinite number of combinations you can make out of that. You can take that beyond class, or in this case beyond the game, and apply it to real life.”

This concept of a “move vocabulary” was echoed by each author I spoke with. A core component of learning to dance, after all, is learning moves, not simply repeating what is being seen on the screen, and Dance Central Spotlight aims to help players really internalize moves in a way that lets them go out into the world and express themselves even beyond the playspace of the game.

“It’ll be really great, especially for newcomers to the game, because it’ll allow them to build a move vocabulary. It’s a gigantic vocabulary, so they might not get all the moves, but at least in every song there will be a couple of moves they’re comfortable with, so they might be able to jump in a bit quicker and just get dancing,” Matthew explained, adding, “I don’t think I’ve reused a move yet in the 5 or 6 songs that I’ve authored already. There are just so many moves I haven’t even looked at yet. We have a great opportunity to be creative and make new and exciting routines.”

Associate Designer Matthew DiPierro Associate Designer Matthew DiPierro

Alli summarized the idea of the move library: “There’s always been a move vocabulary in the Dance Central games. Step Side and Clap, Torch, Hook It, the Blazer, Blazer Arms. We’ve been training people Step Center, they see it and know what it means. A Frezzy looks like this, a Row, or a Douglas, or a Dean. We’ve been building your movement catalogue all along, and now we’re going to extend that. If you’ve been around for a while, we’re really going to challenge that. There are [a ton of] moves at this point. It’s a very large vocabulary.”

Collaboration Station

Perhaps the biggest shift in authoring these days is the level of collaboration and fine-tuning that goes into each and every routine. “It’s been far more collaborative this time around than it’s ever been,” Alli notes.

One benefit of this is that authors are able to utilize moves in their routines that might not be in their typical style, and to learn and build on sequences they’ve admired before.

“It’s like a way of reinventing myself,” Frenchy told me when I asked if her authoring style has changed. Fans of the franchise may remember Frenchy from her work as a choreographer on the previous three games as well. “Sometimes my body doesn’t do what a Marcos or AJ or Ricardo would,” she said, rattling off some of the choreographers that have helped create the movement foundation for Dance Central. “The things that I loved that they did and I couldn’t do, now I can use it.”

Designer Frenchy Hernandez Designer Frenchy Hernandez

New voices and styles now get to impact the choreography for Dance Central Spotlight, and routines are now reviewed and refined by the whole team to maximize the fun of each song. Marissa outlined the process to me: “We finish [authoring a routine] and then we have a review with the other authors. Someone might be like ‘oh, I don’t like that transition, why don’t you try this one?’ We’ll review all the routines, and at that point it goes to QA [Quality Assurance] for their feedback.”

Unlike in the old days where once a move was motion captured it was too late to go back to make any changes, routines can now be refined until they are exactly what we want.

Designer Marissa Flabouris Designer Marissa Flabouris

Welcome New Dancers!

The concept of the move vocabulary is certainly not new, especially to any dancers that have spent their time on the lower difficulty levels in previous Dance Central games. On lower difficulty levels, more repetition of moves helps dancers develop recognition for moves and muscle memory which, over time, enables them to progress on to more difficult routines.

“Most people who play our games never move past Easy and that’s fine, that’s great,” Alli told me. “There’s a lot more creative freedom this time around but we have more stringent standards. Creatively we can make routines that are way tougher than we’ve ever done before, but we also have been making these games for so long that we are very aware of the different audiences we serve, and making routines that cater to each of those.”

Matthew spent his college years as part of the Tufts Dance Collective, a group that welcomes anyone who wants to dance regardless of skill level or experience. When asked about accessibility for new dancers, Matthew chatted about the importance of maintaining fun in dance, even when working on a routine that needs to be accessible to everyone. “When I’m looking at the Pro Routines to pare it down to the lower difficulties, I try to find the most fun moves. A lot of time the simpler moves will also be the most fun moves, so it’s ensuring those are the ones that get carried on, as opposed to only the easiest moves.” He also emphasized the importance of keeping the spirit of the dance intact. “If it’s a more House routine, try to get the easy moves that incorporate House elements.”

Matthew Working Matthew working on secrets!

And Welcome Back, Old Friends

When I asked what we have in store for fans of the series that have been around since the beginning, all authors had similar responses. As Matthew put it, “I think they’ll be surprised at how challenging stringing moves together in different ways can be. You can create a really challenging routine that still flows together really well.”

“It’s so hard. It’s so hard!” Frenchy told me, laughing as she explained some of the crazy things she had been authoring into routines. “I sometimes have to bring myself down, but our fans love that. They want that and so we have to do it, for those people that have been practicing and dancing it more than I have!”

The clearest way we’re able to provide routines that are challenging for advanced dancers is with the Alternate Pro routines, where accessibility rules are relaxed and authors are allowed to really push the boundaries.

“The Alternate Pros are like okay, you’ve been with this franchise for a while, you got Gold Stars on ‘OMG.’ These are for you. These are crazy banana pants. There are no restrictions on them. These are the types of routines people would be taking to showcases,” Alli explained.

Dancing! Marissa and Matthew dancing through some choreography

Speaking of Alternate Routines…

While players will still see the familiar four difficulty levels of a core routine they can practice and work their way up through, each song also includes an alternate Easy difficulty routine, an alternate Pro difficulty routine, and two specially authored Fitness routines. That’s a lot of ways to dance every song!

“I feel like I have to think outside of the box,” Frenchy explained when asked about authoring Alternate Routines. “I really believe that I’m a dancer or choreographer that makes moments, so I still come at it with the same approach. I listen to it, I look at music videos to see what the artist’s theme was. If it’s something sexy, I feel like you should have those sexy moments and feel really good. The great thing [with the Alternate Routines] is that I can give you, here’s what you thought, and now I’m also going to give you something different.”

Alli explained the thinking behind so many routines, “It’s a way to let every section of our audience play the game the way they want to play it. What better way to do that than to let you pick how you dance?”

So Many routines!

Authoring so many routines includes some interesting challenges that authors face when having to create multiple unique routines for the same song. Typically it means choosing to pursue a style that is completely different from the core routine. In-game, these Alternate Routines all have names to help users anticipate their theme, like “Goofy,” “Masculine,” and so on. Previously released downloadable songs are also getting new Alternate Routines, which is a fun opportunity for current authors to create totally different takes on old songs than the routines we all already know and love.

“I love it. I think it’s fun because there are so many ways to describe a routine,” Marissa explained to me. “If I decide I’m going to make a ‘Diva’ routine, that’s fun to me, to start from that [challenge] and see where it goes.”

Though we’ll get more into Fitness in a few months, authors were quick to explain that Fitness routines are the most challenging to author. “I want Fitness to be accessible to people,” Frenchy told me. “It’s not that hard but when you do the motions with repetition, it’s a workout. I want you to be mad at me!”

Spirit Characters & Songs

Even with the collaboration and ability for authors to expand beyond their personal style, many authors still find ways to bring their own personality into the routines they author, either by pursuing songs they’re drawn to, incorporating a bit of their personal flair, or even just keeping their spirit character in mind. That’s right, spirit character!

“We try to pick songs that we’re interested in, because we all like different types of music,” Matthew told me about the process by which songs are handed out to authors once they’ve been licensed. “I tend to like injecting a bit of humor into my songs. I tend to gravitate towards the goofier, retro songs.”

“I might have made very masculine versions of some of our more girly former songs…” Alli hinted.

enter image description here

And interestingly enough, when I asked each if they had a spirit character, one particular dancer they identified with most or choreographed as, each had a different answer!

Marissa: “I like Emilia. I think I’ve always liked her because she’s just this tough chick.” Matthew: “In life I’d say I’m more of a Glitch. He’d be my spirit character.” Frenchy: “I’m a Taye person. Taye is my homie. And Mo is my boyfriend. I just always think about them all the time.” Alli: “Boomy. Boomy is in charge.”

All were quick to mention various legacy DLC songs that they’ve loved and would be thrilled to get to author Alternate Routines for. Favorites mentioned included “Commander” by Kelly Rowland ft. David Guetta, “Conceited (There’s Something About Remy)” by Remy Ma, “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz, and “Sexy And I Know It” by LMFAO. Fans who previously purchased downloadable content for the Dance Central games will get to re-download those songs in Dance Central Spotlight as we make them available – we have to do all that new authoring! Soon you’ll get to dance to completely new routines for your old favorites!

enter image description here

Get Ready To Dance

At the end of the day, the Dance Central Spotlight focus remains on the power of dance, and helping players find joy and expression through getting up and moving! With more routines than ever before, we hope to give players the choice to dance how they want, to the songs they want, and hopefully to develop dance skills they can take even beyond the game. We can’t wait to show off more of the awesome routines you’ll get a chance to learn in Dance Central Spotlight throughout the next few months, and to give you more in-depth looks at more new features!

As Frenchy put it, “Dance changes lives. Everybody can dance. We can all dance. It’s just how you dance.” So shine those dancing shoes and stretch, because there’s a lot of dancing to be done starting in September!

enter image description here