If you aren’t paying close attention to VR, you’d have no idea that some insanely futuristic stuff is already happening today. Case in point: VRChat is host to a growing community of people strapping on motion-trackers to have live dance battles in virtual reality.

Yes it looks pretty janky at times, and the hardware is surely a pain to strap on, but there’s no denying we’re living in the future when people are donning headsets, stepping into anime avatars, and breakdancing with each other in virtual reality.

These are real people, connected virtually from around the world, actually performing these dance moves in real-time. Dance battles like these have been cropping up in VRChat, a social VR application which has embraced both full-body motion tracking and an ‘anything goes’ approach to avatars; the culmination of which has led to this unbridled level of digital self-expression.

To pull off the full-body dance moves in VR, prolific VRChat dancer Makoto from South Korea uses an HTC Vive headset with wireless add-on, Index controllers around his wrists, and Vive Trackers on his waist and feet.

Dancing in VRChat has been a thing from the outset, from simple spontaneous dance parties to players going as far as doing actual pole dancing in virtual reality.

Communities are beginning to form around these activities, with organizers coordinating virtual get-togethers, mentorship, and competition, connecting people from across the globe who would almost certainly not have met otherwise.

The International Dance Association (IDA) is one such organization. The group has hosted a series of tournament-style dance battles with judges and prizes; the IDA helpfully explained the format of one of its events last year, using VRChat, naturally:

Dancing in VR is greatly enhanced by motion-capture accessories, which means that there’s still a significant barrier to entry given the cost of buying additional accessories for full body tracking. Luckily there’s already some competition brewing on that front, alongside increasingly more affordable VR headsets.

On the software side, improvements in avatar technology will also enhance the experience. Makoto, the dancer from South Korea, showed off his dancing skills in another social VR application, Neos VR, which replicates his movements in virtual reality more realistically:

While such communities are still fledgling, the grass-roots dancing movement in VRChat and beyond is yet another example of VR’s ability to remotely connect people in truly unique ways. As the technology gets better and cheaper, you can bet that this and other unforeseen VR use-cases will continue to emerge.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
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    I’d really like them to put at least one small button on the trackers or pull the gaze control of SteamVR headsets into the game. Because those new trackers that can be worn like a watch would be great for something like this.

    It’s such a shame that Dance Central was a Facebook game and never supported any form of body tracking. Final Soccer was on steam and so they let you strap your vive wand to your leg.

    • knuckles625

      Yeah, its really insane to me that a good version of Dance Central hasn’t been made in VR yet. Its such a no-brainer. Maybe slow adoption of tracking is a big part of it. Either way, waste of a really strong IP

  • Amni3D

    These guys are the OG power users.

    • Ryan McClelland

      Those are some complex, glitchy setups requiring a ton of technical knowledge. Can’t wait until it becomes frictionless.

      • Rogue Transfer

        Using Vive Trackers doesn’t require any technical knowledge. You just tie them onto your shoes, set which is which, and put your feet into position where the markers show in VR and click both controllers to Calibrate.

        • Amni3D

          Really it’s more like people are waiting on the Tundra trackers. Being cheaper and smaller means more points to track.

  • wheeler

    That NeosVR clip looks way more stable than the VRChat ones. Does the difference come down to the quality of the IK implementation?

    • Squishy

      A mix of factors.
      1) In the Neos clip the camera is coming from the dancer themselves, meaning there’s zero degradation via networking the IK.
      In the VR-Chat clip, the camera view is coming from a 3rd person rather than the dancer locally. Whilst VR-Chat does have really impressive IK networking, this kind of high speed acrobatic stuff does naturally test it’s limits.
      2) Frame rate. The Neos dance is being done in a blank world with only two avatars, simpler shaders, less physics, etc. The VR-Chat dance is full of people wearing complex avatars, with the majority likely using FBT. Spinning round like that in a busy room causes a lot of spikes as avatars repeatedly render and reset their physics. If it’s too much it tends to cause gaps in tracking.
      3) Number of trackers. In the VR-Chat clip he is using 6 point tracking. Head, hands, hip and feet. Whilst in the Neos clip he is using 11 point tracking, allowing accurate tracking of knees, elbows, and chest as well, rather than relying on IK to fill in those gaps.

      • benz145

        Good insights!

        Are you sure the Makoto Neos video is not showing the avatar according to the network? The tweet credits another user for the video, so I thought it might have been captured across the network. I’ll reach out to Makoto directly as well.

        • Guillermo Valle Pérez

          From what I’ve heard of the person who helped Makoto set this video up, this was recorded from a third person. Neos doesn’t use networked IK, it computes IK locally at every user. That has disadvantages when having a lot of users, but its more accurate.
          Makoto was using 6 point tracking in this video too.

  • implicator

    This is part of why VRChat+Vive Trackers is so great. Being fully mocapped in a video game is an amazing experience and immersive as it gets. If only it supported 11 point tracking like Neos as well. The new Tundra trackers will hopefully make full body tracking even better.

  • We tried to make something like that some months ago, but the full body tracking in VRChat gets crazy when the user has the legs in the air (like in the video). But it’s cool seeing people having fun nonetheless

    • Sven Viking

      Tracking does look significantly better in the NeosVR clip. I was wondering how much of that was due to hardware or software.

  • wheeler

    I highly suggest people check out the audio sync corrected videos of this competition on youtube. They timelines are labeled by competitors. B-botics in particular seems to defy physics at times and his dancing is insanely creative.