This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2002, and reprinted in the October 2013 issue.
Beam dancing started out as a techno-fad in colleges on Terra. It rapidly spread throughout the Solomani Rim and the Domain of Sol, and from there into the rest of the Imperium. Today, it is considered a mainstream art form throughout the Imperium, and it is not unknown outside it.
In beam dancing, the performer stands upon a mirrored stage floor, with a set of low-power lasers and sensors in an overhead unit. The lasers, which may use frequencies running from near infrared through near ultraviolet, form a network of beams that the performer will interrupt in the course of the performance. This causes the sensor to send a signal to a connected audiosynthesizer’s computer, which acts on its program to generate an audible response.
Beam dance stages are available in a wide range of sizes and configurations. For the occasional home-use dilettante, a basic stage is square, 1.5m on a side, with a combined overhead beam projector/sensor array, and programming console. Any number of this type of unit can be linked together to form larger units (for multiple simultaneous dancers), for use at (for example) parties or where the unit cannot be left set up permanently. A multiple-unit array can be programmed from a single console, or each unit can be programmed individually from its own console. Nightclubs and dance-halls, or other locations where the stage can be left standing permanently, can generally obtain custom-designed units, usually including vertically mounted sensors and projectors and a custom console. These custom units are generally programmable to allow variation of the projector frequencies and to permit differing responses from sensors when different frequencies (or none at all) are detected.
Some beam dancers will wear fully- or partially-mirrored clothing, from just sequined gloves all the way to full-body coverage. Often, the projectors will be configured to use visible light, allowing the performer to couple a light show with sound.
Most professional beam dancers program the stage themselves or hire beam console programming specialists to do it to their specifications, often with highly customized programs. There is, however, a wide range of preprogrammed console packages for dancers without the skill to do their own stage programming, or the money to hire a professional.
By far, the majority of professional beam dancers are solo performers. Most multiple-dancer performances are “complementary solos”, where each peformer is effectively dancing on a separate stage, with complementary programs for each performer. Such complementary solos have been known to have as many as six performers. Much more difficult, technically, but yielding a richer performance, are the interactive multiples, where all performers dance on the same stage, with the same program, and interact with each other. Few dancers, even at the professional level, have the skill to consistently turn out good performances in this mode, and those that do are guaranteed to have sellout crowds.