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!