Arts exhibit review

The Disco Dance Floor by First East

Collaboration and power tools were key to dance floor premiere

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First East presented “The Disco Dance Floor” for this year’s Bad Ideas Weekend.

Hastily printed signs warning of bright, flashing lights were emblazoned across the doorways of First East for a very real reason. From fall semester through IAP, the residents of First East designed and built a disco dance floor, which we unveiled as hosts of the annual Bad Ideas Ball.

Although Bad Ideas Weekend is typically characterized by such events as the infamous Green Building Challenge and cheeseball eating contests, the world premiere of the second generation disco dance floor is universally acknowledged as a very good bad idea. The dance floor is composed of six modules, creating a sixteen by eight foot party area that features approximately 4,608 LEDs flashing to the music. Highlighted patterns include rapidly changing cascades of color, rainbow spirals that can only be described as “trippy,” and Nyan Cat (as well as other crowd-pleasing animated GIFs including a dancing banana and Mario).

Incorporating these patterns into the visual display required intensive work. Namely, we created a Web UI that allows someone without coding experience to add, subtract, and layer generic elements (like colored lines) to create brand new patterns. Popular patterns could be saved for immediate use. The code is scalable to a floor of any size.

Laughing and cursing were heard in equal measure throughout the build process as the denizens of First East labored late into the nights of IAP. It was interesting to observe the surprisingly Darwinian process of creating the dance floor. In order to minimize both man-hours and cost, we had to be versatile. The first solution to any execution problem is always the most labor-intensive, and if we had not improved upon our initial idea, the dance floor would probably still be under construction. Thus, we used natural selection to choose the most efficient implementations, from sanding technique to cross-sectional support installation. We the builders lived in a constant state of flux as issues ranging from malfunctioning equipment to insanely warped wood threatened to hinder our progress.

This article would not be complete without mention of Nubby, our faithful drill bit. Nubby, bless his soul, was our first responder, drilling every pilot hole. Though he was injured in battle (broken in half), he continued to fight to fabricate holes for us and ultimately prevailed.

Okay, we did get sentimental about some of our equipment, but just like the disco dance floor creators, we were faced with sub-optimal conditions. We needed people with all types of skills to bring this idea to reality, from snack-making to coding to power-tool-wielding. And during the late nights of construction, some even discovered new skills as soldering guerillas and drill-press whisperers.

Never before have I worked on a project of this size that was purely motivated by the desire to see the idea become reality. Finally, with great pride, the disco dance floor literally took center stage at the Bad Ideas Ball on Sunday, January 26th.

Undulating lights and enthusiastic builders evidently make for great parties. To complement the dance floor, a hallway was lined with LEDs, and the existing lights framing the dance floor area were programmed to mimic the dance floor. Hit pop songs sound much better when heard from the top of a pulsing circle that’s changing from purple to blue as you fist pump.

But the disco dance floor is not confined to the friendly location of First East. One module made an appearance at TechFair and attracted many curious visitors to our booth. Further work on the dance floor allowed us to generate patterns on the floor that are synced to the beat of the music. We also created a human density sensor system that adjusts the pattern based on the number of people in a given area.

Bad Ideas, the Council of the Arts at MIT (CAMIT), Techx, the EC housemasters, First East alumni, and current residents all deserve huge thanks for donating to the dance floor. Without their help, this amazing creation would not have been possible.

You can come see the disco dance floor at the next First East Party!