Interview with Dancemaker app designer Henry Holmes

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

We sat down with Henry Holmes, a wonderful performer and designer who merged their passions to create an amazing free tool that help kickstart your time in the studio. If you enjoy our January NACHMO Prompts, you should definitely try out the Dancemaker app!

What inspired you to build the DanceMaker app?

The 92Y Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) has for a couple decades been improving their reach and efficacy by expanding programming and branching onto new platforms like the web. As a natural extension of DEL’s mission and vision — that every child should have an opportunity to dance in school — they approached me about developing a mobile application. We sat down and asked: What do teachers need to help them teach and plan movement classes more efficiently and effectively? How can we serve their needs? The project sprung from that initiative.

Who was your initial audience for the app?

Our essential user is a teacher in the NYC public school system who is looking to use a robust and well-designed pedagogical model to give their students an opportunity to get in their own bodies and experience classroom materials in another way. One of the core principles of this project is that by creating an app that’s free and easily available, we’re giving the educational community a resource to either expand their own concept of how dance is taught if they already have experience, or to get over the fear of uncertainty if they haven’t taught dance before. It allows for experimentation and helps it to happen in a thoughtful and critical way.

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

What do you hope people will use the app for?

One of the most exciting notes of feedback I’ve received is from a dancer who had been a Broadway performer. They sent an email expressing gratitude that they had found this tool to be an effective way to expand their own passion. The value of the DEL approach to movement really does have a lot in common with basic models for creativity and exploration. Anyone can pick up this app. It’s written in words people understand and you can start paying attention to those words and your body as you interpret them. It creates a tension between what you expect and what you can ask of yourself, which is fertile ground for creative learning.

At NACHMO we're all about removing roadblocks for creativity and creation. How do you see the DanceMaker app helping with this?

I would love for this application to become part of a choreographer’s toolkit, to be something that you can do with family and friends or to be a point of conversation around daily practice and composition. The ideas that this app is designed around are already present in a lot of our practices, and I think it’s part of a broader movement to reinforce those practices with community wisdom, experts’ insights, and thoughtful software.

Software is really good at doing certain things, including those relevant to dancers, dance teachers, choreographers, performers. Dance teaching artists deserve technology that meets us in our creative process, in the classroom and in the studio, to focus on the work we do and how to do it even better.

How did you get interested in dance and technology?

From an early age I was interested in information technology and computers. I’m also a lifelong performer and dancer. I had the luck of studying dance and technology in parallel at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I started to think a lot about the human body’s relationship to digital interfaces, more so from a humanities perspective than a robotics or computational perspective. During that process I planted some seeds for an approach to design (in this case mobile application designs) that puts at the center of the process emphasizing questions of body and mind. So this project was a natural extension of that perspective and turned out to be a great fit.


How do you feel about technical literacy and how it affects the dance industry’s adoption of new tech?

I sense a stigma around using technology because we think of it as something that distracts and impedes healthy somatic practice. And that thought process comes from a reasonable place because most of the software we use isn’t designed by or for people who practice dance or movement in general. There is a lack of trust in digital things. For me, rather than writing off digital things, I believe we have to build new tools from a healthier perspective that can show us as a community what we’re capable of doing with these systems and how we can play a role in shaping the future of these interfaces.

Are there any interesting apps or tech that you would recommend for dance enthusiasts? Any blogs, instagrams, twitter feeds, etc. to follow?

A shout-out to Barry Blumenfeld, my direct advisor on the DEL project who writes a technology column for Dance Teacher magazine on all sorts of topics. I also encourage dance enthusiasts to seek out technical expertise everywhere—read about augmented reality, website design and artificial intelligence, learn about digital privacy and human computer interaction, find ways to apply your knowledge of the body to the digital things being designed today and tomorrow—it all matters, and there’s plenty of accessible information if you go looking for it.

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

Photo Credit: Larson M Harley

Any new projects dance or tech on the horizon that you are involved in or excited about?

Dance-wise I’ll be performing with Jessica Lewis Arts at University Settlement’s Speyer Hall, May 18-20. Come by! As far as tech goes, work continues on Dancemaker (free for iOS and Android), I’m working on the National Parks Service app, an Iñupiat dictionary, and a dating app called SmileBack.

Check out DEL, the Dancemaker app, and more of Henry via the links below!

Dance maker app