I started dancing in mainstream Second Life about three years ago. I noticed a man in the audience every place that I danced, and pretty much at every show I attended. A quiet man, well-dressed and always respectful. I used to wonder who he was. Perhaps I should have just IMed him and asked, but I always feel a bit cautious about invading the personal space of people I don’t know with random prying questions. I was terribly curious about him just because, he was always there.
And then one day, my partner and I attended one of the variety shows hosted monthly by The Waterfront Theatre. Kittens ‘N’ Tigers took the stage… and there he was! It was him, Melvis Baum… dancing! How could I have not known that he was a dancer, too? It must have simply been timing, as I had attended Kittens ‘N’ Tigers shows many times. Perhaps it was because I had never seen him solo, as solo performers stand out to me more than groups of performers.
It was him, and he was dancing a solo. He was a dancer and a choreographer! He wore a puppet costume. Now, I have seen puppet dances before, there are some great avatars for such dances. But I had never seen one quite like his. He started, sitting on a table in a workshop. Then he stood up and started to dance, rough animations at first, as though he was struggling to become human. I watched as his dance took us through each phase of this struggle, from the awkward discovery of movement to the smooth flow of confidence building, to dancing with sheer joy at thinking he had finally succeeded… to animated rage and frustration with the futility of trying to become a real boy. And then seeing him finally give up, dancing in sorrow back to the table and accepting his lot in life.
This dance overwhelmed my partner and I. I was sitting at my keyboard with tears streaming down my face. My other half was equally moved by this astonishing dance, that conveyed such a gamut of feelings and emotions. And then my other half said what I was thinking, “We must ask him to guest at Elysium.” Quite simply, we both wanted to know more about Melvis Baum. Quite simply, even more than before, I was wondering, WHO is that man? How could I have not known he is a dancer? I became a fan of Melvis Baum, right then and there. And I am thrilled that he agreed to allow me to interview him, because I want to share Melvis Baum with the world.
From his home in Denmark, Melvis was participating in another virtual world called Red Light Center. People kept telling him about Second Life, saying it was so much better. So he joined SL seven years ago, and never looked back. However, four years ago he was getting bored of SL and was considering leaving it permanently, until one day he accepted a random TP and found himself at a venue owned by Shadow Tarber. He grabbed a front row seat and watched spell-bound as a vampire rose from a coffin and more vampires popped up from the floor, dancing right in front of him. He was so astounded that he looked up Shadow’s profile, finding and joining Dance Queens. And that changed his Second Life forever.
The following weekend, he attended an all-weekend variety show at Nottoo Wise’s place. There, he was captivated by the expression of human imagination. “That weekend was totally mind-blowing, to see all those creative people and what they were able to do… then shortly thereafter, I watched a show at Spirit Light Dance Company, and knew I needed to get behind the stage and get involved.” Melvis contacted Carol Meredith, joined SLDC, and danced with them for a year, where he was mentored, his hunger to learn fed by the generous spirits of SLDC. It was also here that he met close friend Jaicya, who often participates in his dances.
After that, he met Zhaza Zerbino and danced with the Pink Lady Dancers for a while. From there, he got in touch with Bubble Roffo, having been a long-time fan of the Kittens & Tigers, and having attended many of their shows. “This is the place where I dance now… even as a dancer there, I still get amazed by the amount and quality of the shows they do. Bubs is an amazing choreographer and Didds, to see how she converts a movie into a SL dance play, simply amazing. And we also do matinee [variety] shows were people can come and show every first Friday of the month… this is the same place were I have my freedom to do whatever I like. There is no stress, and with great people… Didds, Bubs, Ray and now Andy.
It was at one such variety show that I learned what a brilliant dancer Melvis is. “Then one day at a matinee show, I had choreoed three dances, but with a lot of stress because of rez issues. I only managed to do two dances. The last one was string, a puppet dance… and that dance totally changed my day with all the stress. The dance was only half-way before IMs were rolling in… two of them, Gunner and Baby… I guess they liked the dance *grins* and asked me kindly to come show at Empire as a guest dancer. And now, I have already done a couple of dances there… and more will come *winks* and then I also dance with Journey dance when time allows me to.”
That certainly answered one question, but launched heaps of others. Finding out Melvis is in Europe certainly explained a lot as to how he has flown under my radar for three years, considering we are on different time zones and I am often asleep when he is performing. All the more reason I was honoured he was willing to interrupt his own sleep to do a guest performance at Elysium.
What is it about dance that Melvis likes so much? Ironically, his favorite and least favorite things about dance are the same: time. Least favourite being, not ENOUGH time. His most favourite thing about dance and time? “I think the best thing you can give another person in SL… that’s time. So when the audience comes in to see a show, and every choreographer has about four minutes to show… then you take those four minutes and try the very best to give them a performance that makes them forget about RL and to see and feel all the emotions through your dance. When you hear then cheer, laugh, cry or maybe even make their jaw drop to the floor… well that’s one of my favorite things about dance.”
At times, dance in Second Life can be stressful. I asked Melvis about pressure and stress in his dancing, curious to hear his perspective. “It depends on what group I dance with, all the groups that I have danced for never used the same HUDs. Like SLDC, they use their own dance HUD and it totally gives a unique style, as they hand-pick animations as the dance goes on. It’s a team effort, and you really have to depend on everyone. I found that a bit stressful… but no matter where you dance, there is always stress in any way, and that’s just something you have to deal with.
“Of course I get stressed every time just before I dance, but only when I do guest appearances and you are in control of everything… and you want everything to go just right… but it does get better every time. Just need to take a deep breath and think it will all be fine.”
When it comes to challenge, Melvis considers the greatest challenge of dance to be finding the right animations to go with a song, and make it all look smooth. And though he agrees SL is addictive, he says it works for him. “I just need that SL dance fix.” For him, like so many SL dancers, virtual dance is his drug of choice. And it is a good drug! Not fattening, won’t rot your teeth, or drain your bank account unreasonably. In fact, SL dance can be a spirit lift that makes your RL feel more joyous as well. While Melvis cites lag and lack of time as being the biggest obstacles in SL dance, for him the benefits transcend the physical aspects of performance, and embrace the mind, heart and soul. “The people that you meet, all the things you learn, to be creative, to imagine something and make it become a reality in SL… and all the feedback you get from people that see and understand the hard work.” It’s about connection. Connecting with others on an emotional level. Which he does so very well.
Does he ever get burned out? “All the time, but the effort is always worth it, so I guess it goes with the territory. I guess my RL work levels it out, and vice versa… SL dance levels my RL work out.” In RL, Melvis is a carpenter. He lives with his daughter and has no pets. “I was at a circus/dance show in RL, amazing show really. Never before have I looked at a show with new eyes, trying to figure out how to bring part of the dance into SL. I also stay more organized in RL.” He has danced in RL long ago, “When I got drunk at clubs, but you really don’t want to know about that, lol!” Outside of dance in SL, Melvis participates in MadPea hunts and takes building classes, but says 85% of his slife is devoted to dance.
I wondered what dancers this dancer I so admire… admires. “I see lots of great dancers in here, so the list would just be too long. I would say, lately, I have seen a boom of new male dancers creating stuff that’s just mind-blowing.” Oh, I have noticed that too! A trend of seeing a lot more male choreographers! Melvis is an eager supporter of other dancers and dance troupes, and attends many of the shows performed by his peers. I am not only a fan of his as a dancer, but I am a fan of his as an audience member. I look for him, and I notice when he is not there. When he is there, I feel comfort and warmth. “I just can’t count all the shows that I have seen, this is one of the things that keeps the stress down. One of my favorite things to do is, Friday night at Empire when it’s time for the show. I remember right after the new year, I think three weeks in a row the sim was full, and I was about to go nuts. This is one of the things that I need in here… welcome to the weekend and then the intro song… chills down my spine, wow!”
Melvis shared with me his proudest moment in his virtual dance career. “Just to be dancing with Kittens ‘N’ Tigers, when I did my first dance for the public, when you and Gunner asked me to come as a guest dancer.” And he also shared his most agonizing, which I found to be adorable and amusing! “I remember when I just finished Spaceman, my daughter walked up to the screen to see what I just created. She said, ‘Dad, you know you are a nerd, right.’” Okay, that is too cute!
It has been a true pleasure and utterly delightful to get to know Melvis Baum better. I have such deep appreciation and admiration for him as a choreographer. I look forward to his next creations with great anticipation. He never disappoints. Every dance he creates is a life in and of itself. His sets are well built, costumes are fabulous, and his choreography is second to none. I cling to every second when I get the opportunity to see him perform. I hope that if you have not yet been able to see one of his dances, that you soon get the chance. Thank you Melvis for making the time to share so much of your soul with the rest of us!
I leave you with this advice from Melvis to anyone who is new to dance and wants to give it a try:
“If you have the passion, just keep going. Some of the groups that I danced for had classes on how to create almost everything, how to create the set and dance… I never did those classes. [I did it] with some basic building skills, and just keeping focus of what I wanted to do, the way I imagined the set. You know, I have often been told that I do things the wrong way or the hard way. Well maybe so, but at the end of the day I always come up with something to show. I learned that way. And best thing, I learned WHY it was the wrong way, and not just being told how it should be done without any understanding. I would say… just keep going and try every way you can imagine.”