The Light Fantastic – Formal dancing in Second Life

Formal dancing! It’s a unique and irreplaceable part of Second Life, the essential social lubricant, the WD-40 of love and romance in the virtual world. Where would we be without dancing? Probably mostly mateless  and without any way to reach out to the opposite sex. We’d be reduced to standing around in some big field or parking lot, milling around, trying to meet one another. And when we wanted to be alone with someone or get to know them better, we’d have to sneak off down some deserted alley or empty street while our friends all hurled catcalls at us or mocked us with rude farting noises made using their hands and lips. Fourth grade all over again!

Formal dancing! We’re not talking about those individual dances you buy that look so cool in the showroom but are utterly embarrassing when you actually use  them in public with people watching you. We’re talking about holding someone in your arms and tripping the light fantastic, the first intimacy, yielding to the call of Terpsichore’s lyre. We’re talking about ballrooms and tuxedos and formal gowns, graciousness and gallantry and the doofuses who think it makes them cool to wear sneakers with their tux.

Formal dancing is one of the great civilizing forces in Second Life, imparting a level of maturity, grace, and decorum on avatars who may have none of those things in their usual Second Life. Or at least you’d hope so. This is where you come to see and be seen in all your grown-up glory. This is the only time in SL where you can hold a stranger against your and pretend to be intimate without having married or paid her for the privilege. The mood is formal and restrained, romantic, tense, intimate and sexual. I don’t have any statistics, but I doubt there are many relationships that didn’t include a good dose of dancing in their development.

The dances themselves are truly amazing: graceful and expressive and just plain beautiful to watch. They’re animation raised to an art, and they’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. Back when I was still dork-walking around and blundering into things, I could turn into a preening peacock or stalking leopard by the magic of these formal dances. An Avatar never looks so good as when they’re dancing, which is a pretty remarkable claim to be able to make, but true nonetheless. Gowns never look so ethereal and men never look so distinguished as when they’re doing a Bits and Bob’s #2 or #7. The better dances each tell a little dramatic vignette of male-female desire and relationship, with every limb, every elbow, every hand and every  finger contributing its subtle message. You can read the dancer’s feelings in the curve of the spine, the angle of the head, the length of stride. They are truly human movement turned into meaning.

But with all this beauty and grace, why is it that all dances are backwards? In the normal way of dancing, the man holds the woman’s right hand in his left, saving the right hand for gently guiding her as he leads. In all the dances in SL, the hands are reversed. An entire generation of SLers is going to grow up backwards.

I feel bad for the men who choose to randomize their mix of dances when they take the floor.  As I’ve said before, a frantic jitterbug to a song like Etta James’ “At Last” or a stately waltz  to Sir Mixalot’s “I Like Big Butts” is just not what dancing’s about. And he’s not just showing his tin ear, but his inability to express emotion with his body, which is, after all, the essence of sex. He’s a bad lover for sure. Probably a pose-ball jockey.

Dancing’s been called a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, and while that’s certainly true of some of them, that hardly covers the entire genre. Some of them are dismally unerotic and non-sensual, and I tend to stay away from those. There are people who dance just for the dubious kick of seeing themselves in a kind of coordinated aerobics workout with their partner, but I’m not one of them. Dancing’s about saying something about how you feel toward your partner, not roosting up a sweat. Dancing is holding a woman and moving to the music. If you want to jump around, go find a trampoline.

There’s a number of dance animation manufacturers that supply most of the cubs and theur dances each have their own identifiable characteristic. Bits and Bob’s makes the popular numbered series—Dance 1, Dance 2, up to Dance 14, I believe—you see in many places. Sweet Animations manufactures the much more erotic Sweet Slow series, from Sweet Slow 1 to Sweet Slow7. Use them with caution. Then there’s the manufacturer of all those dances with individualized names: Love Fight, Evergreen, Jailhouse, 2night and Every Night…  There dances are very nice, but for my money they’re all very similar and the randomness of their names make them very difficult to use.

Anyone who’s read any of our bed reviews knows how we deplore non-descriptive names for animations. Manufacturer #3’s dances are similar enough and named so non-descriptively that you never so know what you’re getting into. Choosing a dance is not so much a choice as a shot in the dark, and it rarely works out. “Together,” which sounds like a lovely slow and  intimate dance, is actually two people jumping around like apes in a mirror. “FallinLove” which likewise sounds tender and intimate is a little drama of a woman sexually arousing a man by rubbing her ass against him and then walking away. Their stories are marvelous. Searching blindly for them isn’t.

Both Sweet Slow and Bits and Bob’s dances at least have some order and avoid misleading names. Sweet Slow’s dances generally increase in sexual heat as you go up from 3 to 7. 1 and 2 buck this pattern, and Sweet Slow 1 should be avoided unless you’re dancing with your main squeeze, because the woman gleefully jumps on the man and wraps her legs around him in a very unladylike baboon clutch, and SS 2 is a back-to-front glide that includes some very suspicious male hand action, which he obscures by gallanty kissing her free hand. Up above 4 you’re into some amazingly hot hip grinding of the kind that should probably be done next to a bed or only among drunken friends.

Every lounge lizard (and many lounge lizardesses) knows the Bits and Bob’s sequence, or at least the meaning of the dances. Seducers play the dances like a Hammond Organ, each with his own strategic sequence. Starting at B&B 7, the dances generally get more intimate as you go down and less intimate as you go up. B&B #5 is the exception, an insipid swinging of arms that no over the age of 6 would ever be caught dead doing in public. B&B 7 is the perfect first dance though, or almost. The cautious minuet is marred by a sudden ass-lift, but in the context of the dance it seems innocent enough and we’ve only heard one woman complain. And she was noob several times over..

B&B 3 is intimate but innocent close dancing, just standing there holding each other and swaying, and occasionally burying your head in your partner’s neck. B&B 2 is a very sexy little spin with face-caressing by the woman with a subsequent semi- swoon (“Oh! Your face just feels so handsome!”). B&B 4 is the infamous full-press seduction which most women are probably very familiar with. The woman leans weakly against the man’s chest as he caresses her arms and leers over her shoulder like the bad little devil in the old cartoons, kissing her neck and whispering in her ear all the deliciously wicked things he’s going to do to her. When 4 is successful, it’s usually the couple’s last vertical dance of the evening.

Going up from B&B 7, the dances get more involved and less intimate, with more lifts, twirls, and dips. Number eight is puzzling: a semi lift or pretend lift of the woman that evolves into a back dip in which the man lewdly caresses the inside of her leg from ankle to groin. The context makes the leg-grope seem strangely unerotic, but a lot of women take offense at it. I’d take offense too if a woman did that to me, or at least check to make sure my wallet was still there.

I don’t even bother with the dances past 10, because by that time you’re getting up into fandango-land. But #13 deserves mention because it involves this sappy back-to-back hand-holding but that will utterly drain the evening’s eroticism by turning you and your partner into Donnie and Marie Osmond. Good old Lucky 13.

Dances have a language that it’s not difficult to decipher once you realize that all those movements are trying to tell you something. A man lifting a woman is exalting her, lifting her higher than she usually is. An embrace expresses longing. A spin away is an attempt to break free. A spin in the man’s arms is the dizziness of love. A dip is symbolic of surrender and trust. Etcetera. Every movement tells a story. It behooves us to be able to understand them.

I can only imagine what it’s like to be a woman asked to dance by a handsome man, and be led out onto the dance floor only to burst into some high-kicking, arm-pumping buck-and-wing as soon as the pose balls hit. I’ve seen the poor creatures in their Utopia and Mohna Lisa gowns forced into a frenetic Charleston or jitterbug or some other studiously ugly dance, and my heart goes out to them.

But then, not everyone is into the sexual and seductive subtext of dancing. Not everyone notices it, and among those who notice it, not everyone cares. There are those who treat dancing as a purely social or athletic activity. And the jumping around can be fun, as long as you don’t look like a jerk.

But being sexual and seductive doesn’t mean that dancing necessarily has to lead to sex. All male-female interactions have a sexual component, no matter how deeply it’s repressed. That doesn’t mean all male-female interactions are sexual. And we’ve ignored the primary function of dancing in SL: to get to know someone and talk to them one on one, and decide whether you want to keep dancing with them or not.\

Update: Having just posted this not two hours ago, I went to a ballroom to check on some of my comments and there met a girl to dance with. We ended up in a Puerto Rican Salsa ballroom La Boniquita that suddenly brought back to me how much plain fucking fun SL dancing can be. The music is hot, the dances are just fantastic (once you get past the usual ones,) the moves are incredible, sexy, and a joy to watch, and I know where I’;m going to be cutting my rugs from now on. Salsa was all the rage a few years ago, but you’ve got to see this!


About Aiden Swain

Editor/Publisher, Humm Magazine: Journal of Cybersexuality


  1. aeriellemorganne

    I was just laughing with a friend last night about the various dances, especially the ass-lift 🙂

    I am among those who mostly do not pay attention to the physics of the dance, only the conversation that takes place, but am aften reminded that there IS a context and that my partner *might* be showing me that he has put some thought into the choice of dances.

    Some difficulty comes in, for me at least, when I have to ascertain when it may be necessary for ME, the generally passive female, to take charge of the dance choices. This may happen when my partner chooses consistently erotic ones, such as when the female seductively rubs her ass against the man’s groin, and my partner says things like MMMMMMMMMM BABY, U turn me on. Then I go to your basic # 7, etc., until I can determine whether or not to simply say good night and poof out, my Mohna Lisa gown glittering off into nothingness.

    Thank you again for a great post, Aiden!

  2. The link to the salsa club took me underwater… can you update?

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