July 18, 2014

Dolphins move so gracefully with each other. To match that in some way so humans can join their dance – that has always been the vision of the Dolphin Dance Project.

“Surge” is a single take, a 60-second dance screen dance that highlights the internal experience of dancing underwater as we hold our breath.  One minute is the average length of our active dives.



Performed by Chisa Hidaka and Jillian Rutledge
Underwater Videography by Benjamin Harley
Music by Loren Dempster

Premieres at Topanga Film Festival:  July 18th, 2014


Filmmaker Notes:

Dance improvisation skills are essential to the collaborative work we do with each other and with wild dolphins, but the first requirement for dancing underwater is to master the techniques for being comfortable in the deep ocean while holding your breath, which is an art in itself: the art of free diving.  Jillian Rutledge, featured in this film, embodies this technique so beautifully.  She is an instructor with Apnea Academy, and her insight and sensitivity have enhanced the capabilities of our entire team of dolphin dancers.

“Surge” is a special film because it showcases how much the movement of the camera can contribute to the viewer’s experience of ‘participating in the dance just by watching’; it co-creates the choreography.  It was this video clip, shot in 2012, through which we discovered the approach we continue to develop.  The camera is a dancer, and the choreography is fully integrated into the way it shoots this duet, which offers a very immediate experience of what it is like down there – participating in the surge of forces so much bigger than ourselves – weightless, effortlessly revolving and spiraling, tuning to the movements of another.

When I observe wild dolphins, I am still always inspired. To me, what makes their interactions so dance-like is how hydrodynamic and communicative they are. So we want to embody a dance form that is hydrodynamic and communicative, too. In our training and rehearsals, we are always looking for ways to work with (rather than against) the supportiveness and resistance we find at different depths of the ocean, and fine tuning our capability to ‘listen’ to and interact with each other through our bodies and movements and eye contact. It isn’t easy: we are always exhausted and freezing by the end of our rehearsal sessions. But we also feel a kind of bliss, having focused so intently on our harmonious connections to the ocean and to each other.

It is our continued hope that our work will inspire increased protection and respect for all dolphins and their habitats.  With thanks to the dolphins, our fellow dancers, and everyone who so generously supports our work!

Visit our website to learn more about the Dolphin Dance Project, and see more of our videos on our YouTube channel.



Dolphin Dance in 3D

November 3, 2013

We are excited to share with you the first ever 3D video of humans and wild dolphins dancing together.

Chisa and Yuki with Hugs and Kisses

Click here to watch this video in 3D on YouTube.
Anaglyph 3D still of Chisa and Yuki with Hugs and Kisses

If you have a pair of good old Red/Cyan 3D glasses, you can watch this video right on your computer (and if you don’t have a pair, we can send one to you).  If you have a 3D TV it will look even better. There are instructions for 3D viewing at the end of this blog post and in the comments under the YouTube video.

Dolphin Dance in 3D: Sample

We make our films to provide an experience where you actually feel what is being exchanged and communicated between the dolphins and the dancers. The 3D effect seems to enhance that feeling substantially by providing the sensation of actually being under the water with them.

We’d love to hear what you think.  Feel free to post a comment below or on our FB page.

If you don’t have 3D glasses, or you just want to compare and contrast, you can watch a high quality 2D version here:

Ultimately, our ambition is to share this experience and its story on giant screens in educational venues like discovery centers, natural history museums – all of these almost exclusively screen 3D films. So we decided to see for ourselves, how it might look … and we built our own custom 3D rig, with two high definition cameras, some optimistic thinking, and a fraction of what we would pay to use a commercial system.

After seeing the results, we are more enthusiastic than ever about seeing this work in giant screen venues. While we build the financial support we will need to do a feature shoot with a commercial system, we are also considering how we can share this 3D experience using our custom rig, perhaps by creating installations using 3D televisions.

We recorded this footage during our rehearsals this summer (see our last blog post). In addition to Hugs and Kisses, we were joined by a mother dolphin – who we refer to as Flower – and her less than one year old baby, Buds. In the close up shot, as Hugs hogs the camera, you can see Buds making a successful loop with Yuki by staying very close to mom.

Hugs Flower Buds and Yuki

Hugs (closest) with Flower and her baby, Buds – all dancing with Yuki.

(To learn more about how dolphin babies learn to dance with humans from their moms, see our previous video – Introducing Jalapeño.)

We want to give a big shout out of thanks to our dancers. We so appreciate their talent and commitment. It is thanks to their extraordinary ability to establish a moving relationship with the dolphins and with each other, that we are able to see a connection between species we might otherwise think impossible. We also want to thank Sophie Ellen for contributing a track from her debut album as our sound track.

We are immensely grateful to our donors who helped to make this experiment possible (and also to the extraordinary high seas skills of Captain Scott).


You can watch on your computer wearing Red/Cyan glasses, but the quality of the 3D effect and the image will be much better on a proper 3D TV.

To watch on your computer with Red/Cyan glasses (If you don’t have a pair, we can send one to you: donate through our online store):

1) Open the Youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrLsn7vIlrY

2) Go to the pop up menu in the ‘cog wheel’ at the lower right hand corner and choose 3D

3) Under ‘Options’ choose ‘Full Color’ and ‘Red/Cyan’.

4) If your internet connection and computer are reasonably fast, you’ll want to view in 1080HD.

5) Be sure to watch in Full Screen. If the image is too small, you won’t see the 3D effect.

To watch on a 3D Television with the specific glasses it requires:

1) If your TV is connected to the Internet, you can use the YouTube app to watch the video. Open the YouTube app on your TV and type in the identifier: UrLsn7vIlrY.


2) Otherwise, you can connect your computer directly to your TV and play the YouTube video in Full Screen. Choose the 3D option ‘side by side’ rather than Red/Cyan.

3) Use the TV remote to choose to convert 2D ‘side by side’ to 3D.

Chisa Yuki Hugs and Kisses - Left and Right images

Left and Right Images of 3D Still

posted by Ben Harley


Human Dolphin Dance Continues To Develop

August 21, 2013

For almost the entirety of the first of two weeks on the ocean, the East wind blew, the rain fell, our ship pitched and rolled on the waves. And where were the dolphins? We saw dolphins quite a bit less often than we usually do. Then, to our great relief, during the second week, the sea became calm. We even had a day when the surface was like glass – with a silvery sheen from the overcast sky. In the lovely, diffuse light the ‘dolphin grounds’ appeared magical; and yes – we even made new dolphin friends. Even so, on this trip, we were reminded that when we work in nature much is out of our control.

During our second week, we met a couple of delightful young Spotted dolphins whom we named ‘Hugs’ and ‘Kisses’. They had come for a bow ride with adult dolphins – their mothers or perhaps babysitters. But by the time we entered the water, the chaperones were out of our visual range, and although the youngsters were only 4 or 5 years old, it seemed the adult dolphins willingly trusted them to play with us. On that first meeting, we danced until twilight. We finally left the water when it became too dark for us to see. Young dolphins like Hugs and Kisses are at the age when developing alliances – best friendships – is important. So it wasn’t surprising that we saw these two together several days in a row. Eventually, they danced and twirled with us in such close proximity, we felt they were offering us hugs and kisses!

Yuki, Kayoko, Chisa and Hugs and Kisses

From left to right: Kayoko Sawamura, Yuki Kusachi and Chisa Hidaka (obscured) with Hugs and Kisses. Photo by Ben Harley.

We were very happy to make new dolphin friends and happy also that our human ‘pod’ was able to rise to the challenge with grace underwater and above. We were pleased to see how all our rehearsal training – which we do in placid, tranquil bays – paid off in the chop and strong current of the open ocean. Even amid the challenges, we were able to hold our breath, keep our form, flow with the dance – so we could enjoy our new dolphin friends.

We were a ‘pod’ of human dancers: Jilly, Kathleen, Yuki, Kayoko – along with Ben and me. We’re so grateful to the talented group of dancers who are volunteering their time, and giving so much of their passion, energy and talent to developing the human-dolphin dance with us. Jilly is from Canada, Kathleen from Bimini, and Kayoko and Yuki from Japan. The last time this group worked together was in December, as seen in this video clip. We so appreciate the opportunity to continue our ongoing rehearsal and development process with this international cast.

Rehearsal dance featuring (in order of appearance): Chisa Hidaka, Kathleen Fisher, Kayoko Sawamura, Yuki Kusachi and Jillian Rutledge. Videography by Benjamin Harley.  Music by Loren Kiyoshi Dempster.

Our main work over the last few months has been to complete our next film, “Dolphin Dreams‘”. We captured one last critical clip on the most recent trip, so now we can finish editing and soon hand over the film to David Darling to create the original score. At the same time, we have also been busy keeping up with our outreach and education efforts.

In April, we made a presentation to the Dance MFA program at Smith College. Our presentations at universities, schools and other venues is an important part of the outreach/education component of our work. We really enjoyed our presentation to the advanced dance students such at Smith, and to colleagues such as Chris Aiken, the program director who extended us the invitation, as they gave us the opportunity not only to educate, but to participate in a high level of discourse about the artistic and other implications of making dance with non-human collaborators.

In a concert in NYC in May, Ben and I had the opportunity to experiment with presenting live dance (a duet we performed) with our underwater video footage of dolphins. We are grateful to the NYC Chinese Cultural Council for having given us the opportunity to present our work in this way. And we were pleased by how using live dance allowed us to show the connections between the human dance (contact improvisation) and the movement of dolphins and to demonstrate how the human-dolphin dance develops from there. We were also very pleased to share the evening with talented emerging choreographers Kevin Ho, Ching-I Chang and Nico Li.

Chisa  and Ben at NYCCC

Chisa Hidaka and Benjamin Harley with video of wild Pacific Spinner dolphins at NYCCC. Photo by Takaaki Ando.

Following our recent presentations and our challenging, but fruitful recent trip, we are more inspired than ever to share our stories of our dolphin partners and the dances we are able to create together. Join our mailing list, and you can stay tuned for our next film, and many new clips to come!


Video Portrait of the Dolphin Dance Project for Focus Forward Films

January 19, 2013

The Dolphin Dance Project believes that one of the most powerful ways to transform how our global civilization relates to its natural environment and treats the other creatures with whom we share the planet is to challenge the common assumption that we are separate from the rest of nature.  Furthermore, we believe that the unique experience of mutual understanding and creative collaboration with wild dolphins that we offer through our films is a particularly compelling and innovative catalyst.

For this reason, we recently submitted a brief documentary profile of our work to the Focus Forward film competition, a Vimeo-sponsored initiative to promote the people and ideas that promise a “quantum leap to human progress through innovation”.

“All of a sudden, you realize there are these persons in the ocean.”  Founder and choreographer Chisa Hidaka describes how amazing it is that wild dolphins are able to collaborate in these improvised dances, conversing with us through movement and showing us their tremendous intellectual capacities, curiosity, and generosity.  She also explains that just by watching, the audience is able to experience a profound moment of intimacy and mutual understanding with another species.  As one student relates, after attending one of our lecture presentations, “our traditional perceptions of the dolphin-human divide are just completely … gone.”

Although the film was not selected as a finalist, and will not be one of the films that is being screened this week at the Sundance Film Festival, we are confident that this work is “making a difference to help sow the seeds for a brighter tomorrow.”

The documentary uses excerpts from our upcoming short film, “Dolphin Dreams”.  To learn more about the project, our past and future films, please visit http://dolphin-dance.org.


Dolphins Are Calling

November 8, 2012

We are excited to offer a ringtone of this amazing sound of the greeting of a wild Pacific Spinner dolphin.  During our fundraising campaign to complete our next short film, “Dolphin Dreams”, everyone who contributes at any level will receive a link to download it:  http://dolphin-dance.org/dolphindreams

When your friends hear you answering the call of the dolphins (your phone) they will know how important cetaceans and the oceans are to you.

This is an example of a ‘signature whistle’, a whistle sound associated with a bubble stream.  Scientists believe that these whistles express self-identifying information, much like a human name. Mother and baby dolphins often call and find each other using ‘signature whistles’. Wild dolphins have also been observed to make ‘signature whistles’ towards other dolphins when they meet after a separation or for the first time. As you see in the video, in our experience, dolphins will greet our dancers with their whistles at the beginning of a rehearsal, and frequently stream them again before they leave.  Like saying, “Hello” and “Goodbye”. What a special gift!

Combining our own observations with those of scientists, we are exploring the extent to which we can communicate with dolphins through movement and dance. “Dolphin Dreams” is our next film on this theme and will be a big step towards developing our IMAX feature film, which will not only feature the human-dolphin dance, but many scientific and other insights that underscore the importance of this remarkable inter-species co-choreography.

Please help us spread the word about “Dolphin Dreams” and the Dolphin Dance Project by downloading the dolphin ring tone and letting your friends know that you answer the call of dolphins!


Help Make “Dolphin Dreams” A Reality!

November 4, 2012

We are excited to invite new and previous supporters to join us in producing our second film, “Dolphin Dreams”.

Cooperation between pod members is essential to wild dolphin culture. Wild dolphins help each other fish, raise their young, protect each other and more to survive and to thrive. We humans also depend on communities more than we may often recognize.  In that spirit, the Dolphin Dance Project  is intent on creating a community to support and appreciate this new film.

Please help us spread the word about this project far and wide, not only so that we can raise the funds we need to amaze you with a spectacular experience of the human-dolphin dance, but also so that we can raise interest in a wide audience to see it when the film is released.

Many of you already know about “Dolphin Dreams” which features two human dancers and a very charismatic pod of wild Atlantic Spotted dolphins. In our recent clips and videos you have already seen how gorgeously the dance was captured in super high resolution video by the eminent underwater cinematographer Howard Hall. Some of you also know that we have a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts that is supporting the composition of the original score by Grammy Award winning cellist and composer David Darling. Now we need your help to put music and dance footage together into a unique and beautiful film we can share with you and viewers around the world.

To be successful we need many, manypeople to find out about us, get excited and support the project!

Please ‘join the pod’: support us with a financial contribution if you can, and spread the word about our IndieGoGo campaign ( http://dolphin-dance.org/dolphindreams/ ) through email, Facebook, Twitter … or just old fashioned word-of-mouth.

Thank you so much!

Dolphin Dreams


Introducing “Jalapeño”

September 24, 2012

In this video, we introduce a baby dolphin we call Jalapeño. She and her mother Notcho are both featured dancers in our upcoming film “Dolphin Dreams”.

Jalapeño and her mom, Notcho, are part of a group of Atlantic Spotted dolphins who have been instrumental to the development of my choreographic approach. Although this pod lives far from shore, they initiated a relationship with a few scientists and naturalists more than 30 years ago; and humans and dolphins continue to deepen this relationship today. I have returned for yearly rehearsals with these dolphins, who first inspired the initiation of the Dolphin Dance Project. As you see in the video, both humans and dolphins continue to learn  about how we can dance together.

The triple loop you see in the video is new for Jalapeño this year … it is also rather new for me. You haven’t seen such sustained interactions before partly because of the breath hold training that was required for me to achieve them. Jalapeño, on the other hand, has had to develop the coordination for and interest in sustaining an interaction with a human. Doing three loops together is an example of how, through years of observing each other and working together, we are developing a movement ‘‘language” that humans and dolphins can share to express our mutual interest in playing and making dance together.

Doing multiple loops with humans is clearly not a stereotyped reaction; not all dolphins engage us in this way, even when we are dancing and playing together. Jalapeño had to learn how to do this … most likely from following along with her mother the previous year. This is consistent with the scientific research of Richard Connor and others that have reported on wild dolphins learning specialized behaviors from their mothers. I wonder what new skills Jalapeño will have learned next year?

Jalapeño Dancing With Chisa

Jalapeño dances with Chisa, while momma, Notcho, watches.

Jalapeño’s mother, Notcho, was a youngster, about 4 years old – and with just a few spots – when she first met humans in the 1970s. Decades later, and now a mature mother with many, many spots, she brings her daughter to meet her human friends. It was a great privilege to be introduced to Jalapeño last year… incredibly heartwarming to see her growing up this year … and a joy to imagine how things may progress in the future.

Among the first humans Notcho met was Hardy Jones. A journalist and film-maker so dedicated to cetaceans he is known as ‘the Dolphin Defender’. We are very fortunate to have Hardy as a new advisor to our project. You can read more about Hardy’s discovery of Notcho’s pod – and much more about protecting dolphins – in his new book, “The Voice of the Dolphins”. (We recommend it.)

We endorse the work of Hardy Jones’ BlueVoice and other organizations that endeavor to protect dolphins and whales. Families like Notcho and Jalapeno’s are ripped apart when dolphins are hunted, killed as bycatch in fishing gear, or captured for aquariums. We hope that the attention our films bring to these amazing creatures inspires respect and protection for all wild dolphins and their habitats. To learn more about the threats that dolphins face and how to mitigate them, please visit our Protecting Dolphins page.

Thank you for your support of the Dolphin Dance Project.


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