Technology is changing the training experience. It’s making it more engaging and is enabling experts to communicate with people around the world. DanceEast, a dance organisation, have embraced volumetric video to be able to offer remote training. Hear their journey and how BT has supported with their big ambitions.
At DanceEast, our mission is to bring the best possible dance training to everyone. We’re a small cohort, but we have big ambitions, which is why each week at our studio, we host over 50 classes and courses in a range of different styles, for all ages and abilities.
We’re particularly proud of our work with under-served communities, such as children, the elderly and the vulnerable. But we always want to do more. The challenge we face in Suffolk is that our community is rural and dispersed. Not everyone can easily reach our studio for classes, and our small team has only a limited capacity to travel to other locations. These limitations, of course, became even clearer to us during lockdown, when we were forced to pause our studio classes.
We’ve had ambitions to launch a digital learning programme for some time. But we didn’t know where to start or what technologies to use, as our organisation was a relatively low-tech affair. And we lacked the digital skills to develop the programme ourselves.
So, we reached out to BT, initially only wanting to improve our fixed broadband connectivity. We were also intrigued about the possibilities of 5G. Though we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, we knew that improving our connectivity would be critical to whatever came next.
And then BT made us a very exciting offer. What if instead of seeing a dance instructor on the screen, our students could have the instructor virtually join them in their home, school, or community space?
This is the idea behind what is called ‘volumetric video’. Instead of one camera, multiple cameras are used to capture a performer from every angle, and then some clever augmented reality technology can make it feel as though you’re in the same room together.
We immediately started to see how this could transform how we teach dance. When someone is dancing, every part of their body is moving, and every detail is important to the routine. This is hard to see in flat, two-dimensional video. But recording it in 3D makes sure the whole performance is captured.
It was an exciting prospect. We knew that if it worked, we’d be able to overcome the geographical boundaries that are limiting our ambition – and we’d have a great new tool for delivering on our inclusive mission.
To make it happen, we had to get the right technology in place. So, BT connected us with a company called Condense Reality.
They specialise in 3D (or ‘volumetric’) video and taught us how it can be viewed using a virtual or augmented reality headset. And this can work both pre-recorded and with the performer being captured live – like in a video call.
We worked together to transform one of our studios at the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich into a ‘green screen’ space. With cameras placed to cover every angle, we can now capture dancers and instructors as they perform in the centre of the room.
The other important part was connectivity. This was only possible with BT’s 5G Edge-XR technology. This uses 5G, the only technology capable of handling the large amounts of data required, and builds on it by using low-latency edge computing to process the complex graphics data remotely. This means that our students can participate without needing a supercomputer in their home – just a pair of augmented reality glasses.
Now we have a successful proof-of-concept, we’re starting to see how technologies like AR and VR could be a huge breakthrough for the arts industry. The lessons we have run so far in VR and AR have been a brilliant way of engaging young people with dance.
We’re really pleased with how the trial has gone. It has given us real inspiration when we think about the directions in which we could take DanceEast as we continue to evolve our digital programme.
It has also shown us the value of partnerships. Using this incredible technology has only been possible because we’ve worked closely with BT and Condense Reality. They have specialist knowledge and technical capabilities that we could never match in-house, and working with them has meant we can pursue digital transformation, while remaining focused on our core mission of teaching dance to as wide a range of people as possible.
Now that we’ve proven the promise of the technology, our ambition is to grow our digital programme even more. Can we use 5G to reach further into our under-served communities? Can we extend our programme to schools across Suffolk? And can we expand beyond the physical limitations of our existing building? Now that we can teach classes remotely, these goals all seem possible.
Having now experienced the power of VR and AR first-hand, I can easily imagine how the new technologies, powered by 5G, are going to transform other industries too. Imagine test-driving a new car without having to visit a dealership, trying on new clothes from the comfort of your own home, or having a skilled tradesperson talk you through a repair, as if they were in the room with you.
I think our experience is also instructive for other small organisations. If you have the confidence to attempt big ideas, with the right partners you can transform your organisation. It was only by working with BT that we were able to try such a breakthrough technology.
It’s a real lesson in being open to experimentation. We all know that the world is changing and, as we’ve experienced, there are big technological opportunities that are now within the reach of organisations of any size – even small ones like ours.