Participating in a folk dance Zoom session (on a computer)

new: tips for improving Zoom performance (video and sound quality) at end

What:
Zoom is software that lets video and audio be broadcast to many participants. As we will use it, the dance leader will broadcast music and video of him/her/theirself dancing and you can dance along. Zoom is free for participants. Sharing video of yourself is optional.

How:
Click on the zoom meeting link (that is on folkdancers.org and in HIFD facebook and was emailed to you), and agree to start Zoom (or to download the client application if this is your first time using Zoom).

Many of the Zoom controls are at the bottom of the screen. They may not be visible until you move your mouse near the bottom of the screen.

toolbar

In general, your audio should be muted. You can change your audio status at the bottom left of the screen (and you can also start/stop video). You can unmute yourself temporarily by pressing the space bar. (This seems to be enabled by default on Windows, but on Mac you may need to enable this – another choice behind the microphone at the lower left is Audio Settings, where you can click to select “press and hold SPACE key …..”) 

If you connect your computer to external speakers, the music will probably sound better. If you can connect your computer to your TV, it might be easier to follow the dance leader.

To follow the dance leader, you will want Zoom in “Speaker View, which can be selected at the top right of your screen (Full screen mode is also recommended). The alternate to speaker mode is “Gallery View" which lets you see many people at a time (when there too many to fit you can scroll to other screens with blue arrows at the side of the screen – which may not be visible until you move your mouse there).  On some computers, instead of saying “Gallery View” you will see a little square symbol made of 9 dots.

There is a Chat window that you can show or hide by clicking the chat balloon at the bottom of the screen. You can send chat messages to everyone, but if you message is just for one person, send the chat message directly to them. Be aware that people might be busy dancing and not see the chat message.

Another way to communicate is with “Reactions”, which is at the bottom of the screen – slightly to the right. Thumbs up means “all is good”. The other icon was designed to show applause, but we will be using it to mean “hey” or “hold on” or “There’s a problem”

When we're doing a dance that you know pretty well, you might find it fun to switch to Gallery View, so it looks like you're dancing with dozens of others.   You can improve that effect by asking zoom not to show non-video participants.

Recent:   For security reasons, participants can no longer rename themself.  You usually have the option to rename yourself before joining.   If not, or if you forget,  send a private chat message to one of the dance leaders requesting to be renamed.

NEW (and updated) -tips for improving Zoom performance (video and sound quality).  

There can be several problems that occur with a zoom dance session, but the most annoying is when the music and the steps are not synchronized.

Sometimes the dance leader is having problems with their computer/network, but usually if there's something wrong, it's on your computer/network.   (The dance leaders have worked hard with zoom experts to optimize performance.)  One indicator of the status of the dance leader's computer/network is to look at the lower left where there are four vertial bars next to their name.   If the bars are white then their computer and network are healthy.   If the bars are yellow or red, there is a problem with their computer/network.   (Bars not visible on ipad or iphone).  Another indicator is when some people are sayin in chat "out of sync" and others are saying "sync OK".   That means that the dance leader is broadcasting a synchronized signal and the problem is on your end.

If it's your computer here are some of the things that could be causing problems, and some tools to help.

Busy CPU  If your computer is trying to do a lot of other things in addition to running Zoom, that can affect your audio or your video, or how they are synchronized.  Things that have worked for others are to pause backups, pause the anti-virus program, suspend automatic disk defragmentation.  (On my PC it helps a lot to pause Carbonite backup, which uses CPU, Disk, and Network.  I also tell DropBox to pause synching.)

Tools for assessing your system:  While running Zoom, the Audio Settings pane (click the up arrow next to the microphone) also can show "Statistics".   The "Overall" tab will tell you if the CPU is busy (Overall should be 40% or less).   The Audio and Video tab will show network issues - any Packet Loss is bad, and latency should be under 40 ms.    The ultimate tool on Windows for assessing exactly what is using system resouces is Task Manager, which can show CPU, Disk, and Network utilization. 

Poor internet connection:   It usually helps if your computer is wired to your router/modem instead of connected by WiFi.   If connected by WiFi try to turn off other devices using WiFi (phones, tablets, etc.)  You can test your internet connection using www.speedtest.com    Ping latency would ideally be less than 10ms.   Download speeds more that 10Mbit/sec and Upload speeds more thatn 5Mbit/sec. 

What else can you try? -  In some cases, if you leave the zoom meeting and rejoin, that helps.   It is rumored that if you turn off your internet connection and turn it back on that might help.   Rebooting might help (but you'd miss a lot of the dance).    Some people say that turning off your video might help, but unless you are the dance leader, your video camera typcially uses 0.02Mbit/sec, so it's unlikely to be the main culprit.   

If there’s something missing from this guide, email jnjbloom@gmail.com with your questions or suggestions.   My experience is with a Windows PC, so if anyone has contributions relevant to other platforms let me know.

If you care about the computer science, here's my best guesses on what causes sync problems.   Zoom appears to treat the video from the camera and the audio from the microphone as one "unit", so that voice and steps will be together.   (There may be stutters, freezes, or changes of tempo, but they stay together.)   Some dance leaders play the dance music through their computer microphone, and never have sync problems.   But the music sounds much better using "Shared Computer Sound" where the audio from the music player (e.g. iTunes or WinAmp) goes directly from the player to Zoom with 100% fidelity.   Unfortunately Zoom does not resynchronize the shared computer sound with the video at the other end.    When everybody's PC and network is performing well,  things are synchronized and the dance experience is wonderful.    If the PC/network at either end has a problem, then the music and the video can arrive at slightly different times (usually the music is late).    If the dance leader is singing his voice will be with the video, not with the music.