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Dance Dance -- The Madness Begins

'Dance Dance Revolution' has landed on the West Coast and is poised to invade the rest of the country. TechTV's Lab Rat, Ray Weigel, has already caught the fever.
By Ray Weigel
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Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Extended Play.

Dance Dance RevolutionNaming my madness

My madness has taken on a name -- "Dance Dance Revolution." Or if you're one of the many people around the world swept up by this new videogame phenomenon, then it's not known as "Dance Dance Revolution," but by its more clinical and ultimately hipper acronym, DDR.

I can the see the three words, "Dance Dance Revolution," drearily back-lit through the window across the rain-soaked street I'm huddling next to in downtown San Francisco. Two security guards decked out in yellow flak jackets and brain-squeezing brush cuts kicked me out of the arcade about an hour ago, but I can't go home just yet.

Standing here in the rain beneath a tattered billboard advertising Camel cigarettes, I can still see the game's screen, and I've gotten to the point in my life where my feet and legs have started to move independently of my will. So if I can still see the screen, I won't be able to stop playing the game. My feet, even out here, across the street from the arcade, are dancing in step with the children that are actually playing the game.

My only hope is that the crowd begins to thin out and the owner decides it would cost less to close early than it would to pay the yellow bopsy twins to pick on customers. If they close early, maybe he'll turn off the game, and I can finally go home and get some sleep.

More than a game, more than music

My "Dance Dance Revolution" problem didn't actually start with the game. It started with the music. The game is fun, but the music is more accessible, more insidious, and in the end, more damaging to your sense of who you are. But to fully understand the power of the music and what it can do to people, you've got to first get a little background on the game.

"Dance Dance Revolution" is an arcade game from Japan that features a new way of interacting with the action on the screen. Instead of using a joystick or buttons to move your character, you actually dance on a small platform that juts out from the base of the arcade machine. You move your feet instep with arrows that move across the screen. If you hit the spot on the dance floor that corresponds to the correct arrow moving on the screen, you get points. If not, you get booed from the crowd noise on the screen, and sometimes from the crowd that inevitably gathers every time someone starts playing the game.

The music of the game is pure aural nicotine. It's a second helping of chocolate mousse and espresso -- decadent, oh so delicious, and yet oh so evil. It's the cheesiest techno you can possibly comprehend. In fact, it's worse than that. Imagine taking one of the cheesiest pop songs ever, say "Xanadu" by Olivia Newton John, and then making an even cheesier techno version. That's the music from "Dance Dance Revolution." For someone like myself whose tastes are easily and often swayed by the latest pop music stylings, the songs are catchy to the point of being dangerous.

Much of my formative years were spent in the '80s, and growing up in a world with radio waves dominated by groups like Air Supply, A-Ha, and Bon Jovi, I learned to give into music without giving myself completely over to actually liking it. I've always got to maintain that thin thread that connects me to the real. I've got to keep a snorkel.

I didn't do that when I started downloading "Dance Dance Revolution" songs from the Internet. The first time I heard the voice of that golden, ever-too-crisp R&B diva sailing from my computer speakers, I lost my sense of who I was and what I liked. It felt like I'd been waiting to hear this style of music all my life. It felt like some internal part of me giving into it, liking it, loving it, and becoming obsessed by it was the best thing I could be doing right now.

So I let myself sink into it.

Dancing to the end

I downloaded a few more songs, and a few more, and a few more. I soon began to develop this vague notion that the songs from "Dance Dance Revolution" would sound better if they were alone in my apartment.

I put down my old Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles albums. I packed up my Ornette Coleman and Emmylou Harris, my Clash and my Massive Attack, and put them all in my bedroom closet. Finally, I could listen to "Dance Dance Revolution" MP3s without being distracted by the gaudy covers of other albums. I started burning CDs. Not mixes, but I'd burn the same minute to three minutes song onto a single CD over and over again so that I could listen to different "Dance Dance Revolution" songs continuously throughout my day.

It was a quick step from there, to going to the arcades to play... all day long. Eventually entering tournaments, and eventually winning one of them. But only one. I think the judges were a little reticent about giving first place to someone in his 40s. I was competing against kids a third my age, and although I could hear some of the parents snicker as I stepped off the dance stage, I didn't care. I was there to dance, and there was nothing they could about it. That is, until they got the restraining order, and the courts wouldn't let me go closer than 500 feet to an arcade.

But that was months ago, and it has nothing to do with the rain beginning to soak through my parachute pants or the glint of recognition I just caught in the security guard's eye when he looked out the window and saw me, dancing despite myself, dancing in the rain, dancing away from him as he bolts from the doorway toward me...

    Posted June 13, 2001

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