Viva la dance dance revolution!

Just when I start to get a little complacent and narrow-minded in my concept of “dance” something comes along to blow open my field of vision again. Recently this blast came from a very unexpected place. It is a video game and it’s a mania that has been sweeping the globe. It’s the innocuous Japanese video dance light game: Dance Dance Revolution.

OK, I have to confess, I have never played this game, nor have I ever seen anyone play this game live. I’ve never had any interest in video games, probably because as a kid, like many other dancers I know, I had no eye/hand coordination. Plus I’ve never liked sitting and staring at a screen for hours at a time. However my life has been devoted to dance and based on the belief that dance can change the world, and despite all my preconceived biases, I have to accept that the dance revolution I’ve been wishing for all these years, may in fact have come in the form of an arcade video game.

This was not an easy revelation for me to accept. Not when I’ve spent 26 years of my life, uncountable hours, buckets of sweat and tears, dozens of lost toenails, and thousands of dollars to live in a garret as a starving artist (ok I’m exaggerating a bit). So I had to put this phenomenon to the dance revolution test:

1. Is it interesting to watch? 2. Does it encourage people to move and get in touch with their bodies? 3. Does it bring people together and allow them to express themselves? 4. Is it artful?

Thanks to the ingenuity and competitive drive of the human spirit…Dance Dance Revolution passed my test. Here’s why.

1. Is it interesting to watch?

Normally I hate watching other people play video games. It seems like the most boring competitive activity in the world to watch (even worse than golf). But, DDR is different. It involves the player’s whole body and requires split second reactions. I searched for videos of it on Youtube, and remarkably I found all the ones I watched interesting and engaging. You could see the individual players unique styles come out, and their virtuosity (almost to the point of freakishness) was apparent.

2. Does it encourage people to move and get in touch with their bodies?

I was impressed by the range of people I saw playing this game on Youtube. From 3 year olds to old men, fat & skinny, two legged and one legged, everyone is playing it. I read two articles about how West Virginia and California public schools have made DDR part of their physical education curriculums, and there is also some evidence that it is helping fight childhood obesity. As far as video games go, this one definitely comes the closest to engaging someone in a full-bodied way. It seems to draw the potatoes out of their couches and hooks people on dancing, which is very revolutionary indeed.

3. Does it bring people together and allow them to express themselves?

Huge communities of fans have formed around this game. It started in Japan and has mushroomed all over the world since. Some popular websites are DDR Freaks out of the SF Bay area and Aaron in Japan. There are currently two major styles of DDR: Freestyle and Technical which represent the two extremes of play. Just like common divisions in the dance world between improv and technical dance, classical and contemporary, there are the same demarcations in this form. Here are a couple good examples of the two.

4. Is it artful?

This question is pretty subjective, but given the range of approaches and interesting uses of the game, I would say yes it is. There is something John Cage and Merce Cunningham-ish about this set-up. The game creates chance-based dances and the electronic directions act like a real basic version the choreographic software “life forms”. I love how it creates this superstructure that the individual players can work within and embellish however they choose. Also it is clearly difficult to master and requires practice, concentration, and skill. I bet anyone who is good at DDR could pick up the fancy footwork of dance forms like samba, flamenco, Irish step-dancing, or tap pretty easily. And frankly, seeing a skilled DDR player is beautiful to watch. So yes, my vote is that it is artful. Human beings can make just about anything artful.

So have I gone off the deep end? Have any dancers out there played DDR? What do you think?

Frankly I think I should stick to my old-fashioned self-generated dance moves, but nevertheless Viva La DD Revolution!

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7 Responses to Viva la dance dance revolution!

  1. Boris Willis says:

    I find this so interesting. The simple form of the game is rhythm and eye/foot coordination. What the people in some of these vidoes have done is take it to a whole new level. One has to (presumably) start with getting the patterns down and then finding different ways to execute them.
    I did a paper on my observations of DDR in an arcade and came to the conclusion that it was not dance. However what the people in some of these videos are doing is clearly dance…and technology.

  2. My passion is dancing, but I have to tell you how even though I am happy that my 20 year old enjoys and is good at DDR, I am sad that his dancing is done almost always ALONE! Except for when a friend might come over.

    I too believe that dancing can revolutionize the world….

    …now if we can just get all the DDR enthusiasts to get together LIVE with other dancers, then maybe we will see a REVOLUTION!??

    Great Blog!


    Shoshana Rose
    Dance Missionary

  3. Anna Brady Nuse says:

    Thanks Boris and Shoshana for your comments!

    Boris I’m interested to know what factors led you to conclude DDR wasn’t dance in your research. I agree that these videos show the ability of people to take a highly restrictive movement game and make it artful and idiosyncratic. It shows an interesting organic evolution of humans with machines, and a humanizing effect that has mutated the game into something more than just eye/foot coordination in a prescribed rhythm.

    Shoshana, I agree that the solitary aspect of this game is worrisome to me. I feel like dance lives best as an experience of moving with other people. However, most of the videos I watched were of players in a social setting with audiences that they were performing to. Also the “doubles” form of the game is like a dance duet, or a b-boy or b-girl “battle” in hip hop culture. I think to get to the point where you can take the game to a performance level is pretty difficult and rare, and most players are just playing by themselves. However, like all art forms, practice is central to an artist’s development, and often this is done alone. Dance is a little different from most arts because we practice in groups, but not always. Flamenco is generally a solo dance form, I think of Butoh as a solo experience (at least in the training and practice of it). I do hope that DDR can serve as a gateway for people to get into other forms of dance. If nothing else, I think it will make many people more movement literate, aware of their bodies, and less intimidated to try dancing. This may be the best message for the dance community to take away. There are a huge number of people now who have some dance skills and don’t even know it. We need to reach out to them and make them feel welcome and invited to dance.

  4. In Art and Business Fluidity Trumps Clarity

    In my beginner modern dance class last night at the 92nd Street Y, my teacher Susan Cherniak made the point during one of the exercises that she wasn’t interested in our arriving at the right point in sync with the…

  5. Anna Brady Nuse says:

    Matt at quodlibet has posted some interesting comments in response to this entry. His knowledge of the history, practice and culture of DDR is quite large. Thanks Matt for shedding more light on this topic for the uninitiated!

    Go to: &

    Also, my friends Zach & Tom told me about this crazy thing at Burning Man this year called Dance Dance Immolation. Check out the youtube vid:

    The players are wearing flame retardant suits and if they make a mistake they get shot at with flames!

  6. Natalia says:

    I know I’m coming late to this post, but I really wanted to thank you for posting it. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to go to movies at the Sony Metreon, which has a huge arcade. When we had free time, we would go see people playing DDR, and it was exhilarating to watch.

    When I would play it, I could manage nothing more than robotic stomping, but the teenagers that were really rocking it? They were *dancing*.

    Looking back on it, the thing that strikes me about DDR as a gateway to dance is that is is probably the best tool I can think of for learning how to physically find the rhythm in music. When I started out bellydancing, I had the same problem as almost every other adult-starting student, the dance is very strongly tied to Arabic hand drumming, and I couldn’t get my moves to happen on the beat. To get the super-high scores on DDR, it’s not enough to do the right moves, but you have to do them at the exact right moment, on beat with the music.

    Anyway, I had fun watching all the videos!

  7. Anna Brady Nuse says:

    Great story Natalia! I’ve been to the Metreon in San Francisco, and was glad I wasn’t prone to epileptic seizures from flashing lights. Now I wish I had ventured in the arcade more to see the DDR players! Matt Gough wrote in his post that most of the really good DDR players he knows of are dancers first. This gives them an edge. I’m curious if the DDR phys ed programs in schools turn more kids on to dance. If nothing else, it may as you suggest, give more people rhythm and a physical connection to music.

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