VR artist brings pole dancing to virtual reality, and it's quite a sight
As a fitness workout and acrobatic dance, pole dancing is well established. Now a VR artist is bringing the sport to virtual reality.
Pole dancing is often associated with lascivious lolling on the poles of local nightclubs. But it's actually a sophisticated blend of dance and acrobatics performed by women and men alike.
Today, training studios can be found in almost every city. There are pole fitness classes, national and international competitions, and countless creators on social media sharing their choreography.
One of them is "R00t", known only by her pseudonym on TikTok, Twitter, and the like. She adds a special twist to her performances: she dances in virtual reality. But how can such a movement-intensive sport be translated into VR?
Pole Fitness Workouts in VRChat
VRPD is a VR pole dancing community that meets in the VR social app VRChat and on Discord. Instead of "traditional" VR fitness workouts, members meet regularly to pole dance and support each other's workouts.
Regular training is mandatory for pole dancers. It often takes several years of hard training before the pole moves look as smooth and elegant as those of professionals. Pole dancing requires a tremendous amount of strength, coordination, body control, and pain tolerance, as the training equipment is not exactly comfortable.
For example, in the "Shoulder Mount" exercise, dancers stand with their backs to the pole, grasp it above the head, and then pull the lower body up onto the pole with the legs above the head. The shoulder is pressed against the pole with all its strength.
Root makes VR pole dance popular on TikTok
A well-known member of the VR pole dance group is content creator:in R00t. She has been involved with virtual reality since 2013 and has been active as a VR artist and 3D designer ever since.
On the blockchain-based VR platform Somnium Space, she runs roots.club, a social VR world for underrepresented groups where mostly female and non-binary people meet.
During the lockdowns in the pandemic, R00t discovered her passion for the sport, got her own pole for home and practiced with VRPD. In an interview with Daily Beast, she talks about the challenges of playing the sport in VR.
Using full body tracking to become a VR pole dance pro
To make her avatar's movements in VR as realistic as possible, R00t uses a full-body tracking setup. She bypasses the annoying cord on her HTC Vive Pro with a wireless adapter.
She wears two Valve Index controllers on her wrists, a belt with Tundra trackers around her waist, and two Vive trackers on her ankles. Four SteamVR 2.0 base stations provide precise tracking.
— R00TS.CLUB 🌈 🐈⬛ (@R00TSCLUB) January 31, 2023
This solution is not optimal. "It’s been nearly 10 years that I keep saying, ‘I’m sure in a few years it’ll be so much easier," she said. R00t added that for almost 10 years she believed it would be easier in the future, and while it is much easier today, "it's still a bit of a setup.
Pole dancing in VR requires technical tricks
Even the sports equipment itself is not without its problems. To prevent athletes from getting seriously injured, pole bars are usually chrome-plated. This makes the surface smooth and allows for a nearly frictionless glide on the pole.
However, chrome has one property that is not necessarily conducive to VR tracking with SteamVR lasers: it is highly reflective. The reflections lead to tracking errors and cause glitches on the VR avatars. R00t had to adjust their setup and switch to a special silicone-coated rod.
Pole in VR: When the human becomes a pole
Speaking of the pole: The pole in the real world cannot be easily transferred to a VR world. That's why VR athletes often don't see it when they wear the VR headset.
— Andy Fidel 🏳️🌈 (@AndyFidel_) February 25, 2023
Worlds created in VRChat have virtual poles that users can adjust to match the physical pole. In other environments, Root has to make do thanks to a friend and a trick: a pole-shaped avatar.
It positions itself in the VR environment where the poles are in Root's real-world environment and remains motionless for the duration of the performance. "It’s cool that we can do a performance together like this in a way," R00t said. "And she’s really proud of it, like, ‘Hey, that’s me! I’m the pole!’"
Pole dancing in VR is not for VR beginners
Combining VR and pole dancing brings even more challenges. "It feels like the biggest disorientation because you’re already kind of balancing the virtual and the real world," the VR artist says.
In addition, the weight of the headset causes her head to tilt back when she turns quickly. This makes it easy for her to lose her balance, which can lead to dizziness and motion sickness.
Despite the obstacles, pole dancing and the community are an important part of her life that she might never have discovered without virtual reality.
"When you pole-dance, especially in VR, you barely see anything because you’re spinning around so fast, and you’re so focused in that moment," she said. "It stops being about anyone else but you and your dance, and you’re safe."