Dance is transformation. Motion. Passion. And no other Elysium dancer embodies this better than Babypea von Phoenix. She is a mentor, a monster, a servant, a director and a den mother. Excellent at all these things and confined to no one thing, she is a true artist. Like the best of artists, she is kind, even when she’s commanding Hell’s legions or conducting twisted experiments. She was kind enough to open her heart to us in this Elysium Interview.
What and who inspire the ideas for your dances?
Originally, I was inspired by my other half. I made all my dances solely for him, and as long as he was pleased by them I was happy. I am inspired by music; hearing a song that excites and captivates me. I can’t sing or play any instruments, so dance is how I express my love of music. I am also, at times, inspired by a picture or texture that I will see, something that captures my imagination and holds my attention. I often create dances that start with textures. Every now and then, I find a costume that is so outrageous, I think, “I must create a dance for this.” That is what happened with “Cover Girl.” I saw Mona in this sea shell costume and cracked up laughing. I said, “We must dance in this!” So that entire dance was inspired by a silly, fun outrageous costume. We were sea shells and were all legs! It was so much fun! I love Ru Paul. But that dance happened because of Mona.
I will share one of my best creation secrets. Really, it is no secret; I have written about this in a “Lost Your Muse” article that I participated in. When I have a song I want to make a dance for, I go to Google and type in key words that relate to that song. I then peruse Google Images, seeing many fabulous pictures and textures that give me ideas for sets. I have advised other people to try this. It is a great way to get off the beaten path and create dances that are not predictable. It certainly gives you fresh ideas and inspires you to try approaching dance creation from a completely different angle. This is one of my best ways of getting unstuck on creating a dance that I am struggling with.
What first inspired you to pursue dance in Second Life and what was your very first dance?
It was my other half that inspired me to start dancing in SL! He is my everything… Husband, Best Friend, Master, Lover, Confidante. He loved Gorean dance so much and was so impressed by it, that I decided to make a dance for him to please him and make him happy. He has been a huge help to me, especially with Gorean dance. Anytime I would be stuck with a dance and having trouble with it, I would go talk about it with him, and he would help me sort it out. He has done nothing but encourage me in mainstream dance as well, and anytime I get frustrated and talk about giving it up, he is the person who encourages me to stay with it. He really is the wind beneath my wings. I would not be a dancer were it not for him.
My very first dance was a Gorean chain dance called Eternal Connection. My first mainstream dance was Stray Cat Strut followed immediately by Puttin’ On the Ritz. I still love all of them. My dances are like my children or chapters in my Book of Dance Journeys.
Your dances are the most surreal in their artistry. What influences inspire the bizarre visions you create?
I love metaphor, mystery and surprises, which is why I love art. I think when a person looks at art, they will draw their own interpretation of it based on their own experiences and value systems. I love Impressionism because it leaves so much up to the viewer’s interpretation. A hundred people can look at one work of art and each see something different in it. That is because the viewer puts a piece of their own experience, their own soul into the viewing. A connection is thereby formed between the artist and the viewer. It is a human bond. And the viewer becomes a part of the art as they contribute their own interpretation to the shared experience. It is a shared journey of sorts. I know people don’t always ‘get’ my dances. But they don’t have to get my interpretation, I would rather they fill in the blanks with their own. This allows them to be a part of the creation experience. I don’t need them to understand me or see me through my creations, what I want is for them to see a piece of their own selves, or something they relate to in some way. I simply want to make them feel something, and when that happens, it is very satisfying. Only then does one of my dances feel finished.
When I am creating a dance, I often approach it metaphorically, and I decide to not tell the audience or show them everything directly. I did “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and people either loved or hated that dance. It all came down to the chicken. People who ‘got’ the chicken loved the dance. People who did not ‘get’ the chicken hated it. The chicken was symbolic of the futility of our justice system. So you see, I bypass the realistic at times and go for the metaphoric, thereby leaving room for viewer interpretation. Not always, of course. I would die of exhaustion if every dance I created was some meaningful artistic expression. I also do ‘fast food’ dances which are just plain fun; just me having a good time. I do love comedy as well as metaphor, and I love to have silly fun with some of my dances. It all just depends on the song. It is always about the song and what images they inspire in my head. My sense of humor does come out to play on stage.
What’s your typical work routine and what part of preparing your sets and dances challenges you most?
There are four primary elements of a dance: the song, the costume, the set, and the choreography. I usually start with the song, then build the set. If I am starting with the costume, I then try to find a song to suit it. Every now and then, I build a set cause it just feels good, then again I try to find a song to suit it. Usually, I prefer to have the set built before starting the choreography. Once I have the set, I can make informed decisions on mover work, where to start, where to move to, where to finish. I can then create the choreography, and adjust the timing on the movers so that I am not scooting when moving. As a rule, costuming comes last in my dances, unless it is a dance that is starting with an inspirational costume. I enjoy costuming the least, partially because I hate to shop. No one in the world hates shopping more than I – in both lives. That is why I don’t like Christmas – all the shopping. I enjoy building sets the most because I love to decorate and create environments. Choreography can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it is very challenging to find animations that work with the music. The hardest part of dance creation for me is always picking that first animation to start a dance. It usually takes me as long to pick that first animation as it does to pick all the ones that follow. I go through dozens of animations, trying one after another, just to find the right one to begin a dance. It can be like finding a needle in a haystack. But once found, it is usually clear sailing for the rest of the choreography. Once I have my song, set, and choreography, I decide on costuming and then, I look the set over, watch the dance, and think if it is feasible to add in special effects or particles. These are the pretty bows on the package, so I save them for last.
I have started and finished dances in one day, even elaborate ones like “Rewired” which, yes, I started and finished in the same day. And I have had dances that took 140 hours to create. It just depends on the dance, and on what effects I want to use. Some give me trouble. Sometimes I want to do things that aren’t possible, so I spend a lot of time experimenting to find a way to do what I want to do. Sometimes elements of a dance will give me fits, and sorting them out can be very time-consuming. Costume hunting is massively time consuming. And boring, waiting for things to rez or loading page after page on MarketPlace. I also, at times, have had dances take over and go places I had not intended. They do seem to take on a life and mind of their own – a spirit, of sorts. This is sometimes great, because I finish up with something that surprises even me. But sometimes the surprise is not a good one, as I have, on occasion, finished up with a dance I did not like.
How do you overcome the personal doubts and distractions that challenge all artists?
Every now and then I feel that pressure creeping in – that nothing is good enough and how am I going to make this or that dance spectacular because every dance has to be more than just a dance, right? It has to be spectacular so that people are entertained. That is when I am flinching and feeling I do not want to work on dances. I don’t like that pressure. It is not fun. So, then I go and read Elysium’s charter, and remember why I wanted to start Elysium: so that I could have a place to dance where I could do anything I wanted. Yes, dance should be entertaining, and many of us delude ourselves into thinking that we are so incredibly entertaining that other people could not possibly get bored from watching one of our dances. Yes, I have to keep the entertainment factor in mind. However! If I am not having fun, there is no reason for me to be doing this. So, I read the charter and remember why I am doing this above all: fun and friendship. I often say, dance is how I socialize with kindred spirits. Not every dance I make is going to be spectacular. Sometimes they will be cute or funny or bizarre. There is room for all. When I am balancing the ‘fun and friendship’ aspect of dance with the pressure of having to produce something that will entertain others, it is a lot easier for me to create free from the personal doubts.
As for distractions! They are a serious problem for me. I often get hammered in IMs. Because of this, it can take me five hours to get one hour of work finished. I actually started dancing on an alt, because she has few friends, gets few IMs, and I get more done on her in one hour than I do in five hours on Babypea. I haven’t worked out how to get around all the distractions on Babypea. At least my other half understands and does his best to give me space and let me work when I need to work. I am blessed that he is so supportive of my dancing.
One thing that is a really bad bad thing to do, and will destroy a dancer’s spirit, is comparing yourself to others. If you do that, you will be miserable. You will either feel inferior and never good enough or you will feel superior and be looking down your nose at other dancers, rather than enjoying and appreciating the pieces of their souls they are sharing with you. So, my advice to anyone who dances and doesn’t want to feel miserable and encumbered with self-doubt is to never compare your dances to those of other creative souls. If you are comparing, you are self-doubting and that is something you might want to think about. Maybe ask yourself why, and what can you do to concern yourself with feeling satisfied with what you create.
What does being a part of Elysium give you, as a dancer and choreographer?
Chest pains, knots in my stomach, and PTSD! Being an Owner sucks in some ways. People can be so hypersensitive, taking offense very easily, and it is stressful trying to balance everything. Trying to make everyone happy when everyone wants different and often opposing things – it is futile. And frustrating. I wish I could make everyone happy all of the time, but it is just not possible. But overall, I think Elysium is lucky. Most of our people are good-natured and benevolent souls, and most of them are a joy to work with. Most of them make Management’s job pretty easy, and they make dance fun. They make me smile and laugh. Fortunately, most of the difficult ones (the divas, which come in both female and male form) leave sooner or later, and usually when they do, I find myself exhaling in relief. I think I am lucky cause so many who have stayed make me feel so happy when I am dancing with them. They make up for the occasional bad eggs, and I am very grateful to them.
As a dancer and choreographer, what Elysium gives me is a place where I can dance anything I want. I have creative freedom there. We have few rules, so there is plenty of room for me to try different things. I love variety, love to experiment, and love to have new dance adventures. That’s why I wanted to start Elysium. I wanted a place where I could dance anything, from burlesque to gospel, hip hop to ballet, jazz and tap to country and even comedy. I also love having a stage that is large enough to accommodate big acts or I can box it down for smaller acts. I can fit almost anything there. Another thing I get from Elysium is a chance to meet a lot of dancers from other troupes, through our guest performances. I really enjoy meeting them and seeing what they do. I also enjoy promoting them, because they are part of our extended dance family. It makes me feel happy to welcome dancers from all over Second Life to our stage.
What principles do you live your life by and how does that assist your creative powers and imagination?
I have a very strong work ethic, I am a hard worker in both lives. When I commit to something I will go to the outer limits to fulfill my commitment. Yes, real life comes first, but if I commit to something in Second Life, I consider that as important as a real life commitment. I am very well organized and like to stay on top of my work load by finishing things ahead of schedule. So, I start early and am very dedicated. I am also a bit OCD, so a bit of a perfectionist but not to the point of being impossible to live with. This all helps me to take my dancing seriously and to really focus on it with passion.
The human element is important to me, and peoples’ feelings mean more to me than ‘things’ so I try to be encouraging of others. I don’t lie and am not insincere, but I don’t go tearing apart things other people create. I try to keep in mind, a dance is a piece of a person’s soul, they are sharing it with me, and I should be appreciative of their gift. I’m not one to sit and look for everything that is wrong. This helps me to be humble so that hopefully I don’t embarrass myself by letting my ego get out of hand. It helps me to consider ways that my dancing could improve.
I tend to look on the bright side, and prefer to bask in positive energy. I am often reminding myself I am among friends, and that helps me relax so that I can function as a creator. I have my share of haters, and I consider them extended fans.
My sense of humor above all sustains me. My gratitude for what I have keeps me bubbly and happy. And then there is bliss. Joseph Campbell said, “If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that you never even knew were there.” So, I try to keep that in mind as well. Follow your bliss. Have fun with it. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy – I love Ms. Frizzle. She so rocks!
What are your goals as an artist? Tell us what’s coming next for your fans!
Not much. I am very tired and want to take a year or two off. I have a lot going on in RL and want to be more focused on it. For my dancing, I want to spend more time on simpler, intimate dances. I am sick to death of scene changes, and am shying away from them to a point. I am growing weary of gimmicks and trickery. I just really feel like I want to focus more on choreography and less on flash. I know you can have both, of course, but sometimes I think the flash distracts from the choreography. I am moody so I suppose what I do with my dances will depend on my mood.
The magic of those moods commands the emotions of the audience, every week at the Elysium Cabaret. Horror, joy, sorrow and the sublime – all these powers of human experience are woven into the elegant forms of Babypea’s art. And they inhabit the genius of each Elysian, as you’ll discover in our continuing series of Elysium Interviews.
Photo courtesy of Babypea von Phoenix.