Enginursday: Prototype Wearable LED Dance Harness

My experiences exploring wearables for dancers performing a choreographed piece.

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Let's Go Back…

It was the summer of 2005 just before my freshman year at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was attending a pre-collegiate engineering program when we had this so-called “mandatory fun night.” I was skeptical at first, but I actually had fun. That was when I discovered bboying.

Bboy Holding a Chair Freeze

Since then I have continued to dance and pass on the knowledge by teaching at local studios in Boulder. One of the studios that I teach at usually has three performances a year with a small budget for costumes. With the funds, I decided to apply my skills to merge technology with the arts. One of my inspirations came from watching one of Wrecking Crew / EL Squad's videos. Plans were drawn out in my head at the old SparkFun building. Let's take a look at the first two designs that I built.

Mark I: EL Dance Shirt

In 2014, I went forward with one of the plans. The plan was elaborate, but I realized that I lacked the experience or time to execute. With the deadline approaching for the performance, I decided to go a more simple route using EL strips, EL panels, EL inverter and a 9V battery. Here's a picture of the first version.

Mark I: EL Dance Shirt

The performance was fun, and my students thought it was cool. However, I was not satisfied with the design. I had to frequently repair the wires attached to the EL terminals. It did not help that the EL inverter and battery kept falling out of their pockets while they were dancing. It was also slow to connect the parts together.

Mark II: LED Dance Harness

In 2015, I decided to move to using RGB LEDs and making harnesses to hold the electronics together. Here's a picture of the second version using non-addressable LED strips and a 9V battery.

LED Dance Harness

The second design performed better and had a different effect on stage. I was satisfied with the design being durable, secure and quick to connect. The show was another hit, and my students had a lot of fun testing it out.

Drop That…Tutorial!

The first design was OK, but I felt it was not worthy of a tutorial. The design just was not satisfactory in my opinion. However, check out the tutorial below for more detailed information about the second design using the LED harness.

Prototype Wearable LED Dance Harness

Have you built a wearable project designed around dancing? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments. Until next time!



Comments 9 comments

  • That looks cool!

  • I must be getting old. BREAK DANCING has been around since the 80’s…

    But nice to see the young un’s “discovering” this art again now! ;- )

    • Ha ha, yeah it’s been around but underground. There is a committee with some legit bboys/bgirls that is working to get it into the Olympics. Just look up “Breaking for Gold.” ;D

  • The idea looks great – I’m sure the dance is fantastic to watch – but I’m getting a “404” error (Not found) when I try to look at the tutorial…

    • Sorry about that. The tutorial should be live now. Check again. =)

      • Great! I was glad to see that you’re thinking about a “Mark III”, including sensors and microcontrollers. FWIW, a couple of years ago I did a “Flashy Santa Hat” that included “Neo-Pixel addressable LEDs”, an accellerometer (I used one from Adafruit), and an Arduino Pro-Mini to control it. (BTW, because of the berightness of the LEDs, I also included a light sensor [from Adafruit] so that the Pro-Mini could adjust the LED levels to the ambient light.)

        The LEDs would “twinkle”, with the patterns responding to my head movements.

        BTW, to mount the LEDs, I used this mount to attach the LEDs to the hat.

        • Mark III has been completed. Ha ha. I just have not fully documented it. I’m hoping that I will have time for a future post. ;D

          The Flashy Santa Hat sounds fun. =) Were you using an analog or digital accelerometer? Nate received a gift similar to your build. I used the analog ADXL335 accelerometer, N-Channel MOSFET, and Arduino Pro Mini in 2016 on Mark III. Calibrating all the accelerometers was special.

          • The accellerometer is a digital one - I’ve also used a couple of them in another project where I needed to calculate the relative angle of two components.

            The light sensor is analog.

            The inspiration for the Flashy Santa Hat was a bit competive - my ham radio club gets together with another club for a fancy “Holiday Dinner” (at a local culinary school), and a member of the other club had a Santa hat to which he’d added a simple string of battery powered LEDs, and I thought “I can do better than that!” ;-)

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