Recently, a lot of organizations from around the world have been posting online dance classes and dance tutorials on YouTube and across social media in order to help inspire the love of dance in others. I received a question from a reader asking for tips on creating audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes, and if there are any good practices to use when describing dance moves for audiences who may not be able to see them. Here are my tips for creating audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes with YouDescribe, a free tool that anyone can use.
WHAT IS AUDIO DESCRIPTION?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description is provided during natural pauses in dialogue so it does not distract from the video. Occasionally, describers may pause the video themselves and add description if there are no natural pauses available.
For most online videos, open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device to be used.
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WHAT IS YOUDESCRIBE?
YouDescribe is a free website and iOS app that allows viewers to watch YouTube videos with audio description. The audio description tracks are written and recorded by sighted volunteers so that people with blindness and low vision can watch YouTube videos and receive visual information. YouDescribe is a project of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California.
YouDescribe is available online and as a free iOS app. At this time, audio description tracks can only be created through web browsers. YouDescribe can be used with or without an account for viewing videos, but connecting to a Google account is required for requesting videos and creating descriptions.
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DO I HAVE TO USE YOUDESCRIBE TO MAKE MY VIDEOS ACCESSIBLE?
If users are creating their own videos, they don’t necessarily need to add a secondary audio description track to make their videos accessible for blind and low vision audiences. However, they will want to make sure that all relevant visual information is described onscreen and that someone would be able to watch the video with their eyes closed and still understand everything that is going on. Even if users choose not to add audio description, the information in this post is still a great guide for creating narration for videos aimed at audiences with vision loss or for writing text-based descriptions of dances posted on social media.
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Why add audio description to dance tutorials?
As a student with low vision, having access to audio description for online dance classes and dance tutorials can be incredibly helpful for the following reasons:
- If I am standing up, I might not be able to easily lean closely to see what is happening onscreen in a dance tutorial
- When learning a new dance move or combination, it is helpful to have as much descriptive information as possible- it’s hard to know how to move “like this” if you can’t see what “this” looks like
- Information such as hand gestures or gentle footsteps may go unnoticed, even though they are a major part of choreography
- For some dance styles, a lot of movements can look the same if the user is not watching closely
- Doing certain dance moves incorrectly can lead to injury to the dancer or surrounding objects, so it is better to know exactly what is going on
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INLINE VS EXTENDED AUDIO DESCRIPTION
One of the most common questions new describers have is when to use inline description (which involves reading audio description over the video audio) or extended description (which involves pausing the video to read audio description), and what to consider choosing one type over the other. While there are some people who prefer one style over the other, here is what I prefer as someone who relies on audio description for understanding content.
When to use inline:
- When there is limited voiceover/speaking or lots of music
- If the necessary descriptions are short and can be quickly read in natural pauses
- Whenever the narrator is describing movement that is very quiet, i.e ballet
When to use extended:
- If there is lots of description needed at the beginning for the layout of the scene
- When a scene changes very quickly and additional description is needed
- If there is lots of talking or voiceover content
- When sound is an important part of the video, such as with tap dancing or where listening to the song is important
What to include in audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes
Here are my recommendations for what to include in audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes, which may vary depending on the style of dance and intended audience:
- Names or descriptions of dance moves/choreography if not explicitly stated. For intermediate or advanced classes, it’s okay to use the name of the movement instead of giving a full description, i.e tendu for Ballet
- Movement across the stage/floor, such as whether the dancer moves forward, backward, or sideways
- Any other movements such as hand movements or facial expressions, if relevant
- References for how to do new movements/choreography- for example, doing a jazz walk is moving in rhythm to the music and walking in an almost exaggerated way
- The number of repetitions for a specific combination, i.e spinning three times or doing sixteen tap shuffles on each foot
- Which foot/side to start on, if important
- Mentioning the name of choreography if it is for a specific dance, i.e the Macarena
- Description of the dancer, if they are wearing special shoes or a costume
What not to include in audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes
Here are my recommendations for what not to include in audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes, which may vary depending on the style of dance and intended audience:
- Any redundant information that is already covered by audio- if the instructor says they are doing jazz hands, there is no need to mention that again, unless they are trying to show someone how to do jazz hands for the first time
- Literal descriptions of background audio, i.e music
- Describing repetitive movement- if a describer goes into detail about a tendu at the beginning of a video, they don’t have to re-explain it each time
- The background of the video, unless it is a stage or otherwise decorated
- Made-up names for dance terminology- lookup terminology for individual styles of dance if confused, but don’t worry if there isn’t a word listed, just describe it the best you can
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Dancing is a lot of fun and a great form of exercise, and it’s just as enjoyable to watch dance as it is to participate in it. Whether you have the chance to dance with others or just by yourself, I hope this post on creating audio description for dance tutorials and dance classes is helpful for learning new dance moves and choreography!