love to dance. This always seems to come as a surprise to people, me with my
big gangly 6’3″ frame and all, but I quickly qualify: “Oh, I’m not good
at dancing — I just love to dance.”
It all started at a grade seven school mixer in 1985.
Our classroom, once the lights were flicked and a discoball was plugged in, was transformed. I was surrounded by the few friends I had at the time in a dark room, without even a beer to pose with as we leaned against the desks that had been moved against the wall.
Chris Beharry, a Guyanese kid who’d introduced me to this music his American cousins were listening to the year before — “It’s called rap music” — was bopping his head. And eventually, his legs and arms followed suit.
I have no idea why I thought I could do the same, not being a particularly confident kid, but I did. I remember the exhilaration, not from the freedom of the movement itself (that came later) but rather the fact that no one was laughing at me. Despite my rather shaky popularity, the moves I was busting were not singled out for ridicule. After a while I took a break, wandered over to the snack table and enjoyed a potato chip, calmly surveying my boogying classmates from the heights of my new social standing.
Since that triumphant moment, whenever I find myself in a club or at a wedding or anywhere else where the normal rules are suspended in favour of dancing to cheesy breakbeat anthems or hip-hop, I’m usually shaking what I got. Once, very drunk in a club on a cruiseboat headed for Helsinki, I vowed to dance in every big city of the world — and I was only partially joking. So the idea of a videogame named Dance Dance Revolution may seem ludicrous to some, but it doesn’t to me.
DDR, as it’s known to its legions of fans, is a series of games from Konami that use a footpad in the place of a joystick. On the screen are a cascade of arrows (up, down, right, left) that scroll to the top in quick succession. When they get to a specific spot, the player foots the corresponding arrow and gets points based on how accurate their timing was. A quantification of rhythm, if not grace. It’s all done, of course, to a fabulous dance favourite booming out of the most sophisticated piece of electronics on the game unit: the speakers.
The series has been around since 1998, and I’d seen the game in action plenty of times in Asia and in the Asian malls around Toronto. A quick spin on the internet will introduce you to fansites like ddrfreak.com that document the DDR competitions held in North American cities. But on a recent trip to a friend’s Georgian Bay cottage I happened upon a beachfront arcade and was delighted to see that the revolution had spread as far as Tiny, Ontario.
It was time for me to stop denying myself. Slipping in a loonie (the new millennium’s quarter), I chose “It’s Raining Men” and got down to it. It took me a few seconds to figure out when I was supposed to foot the pad, so I got a “Miss!” and even a “Boo!” or two before I found my feet. But pretty soon I was nailing the arrows with the right rhythm, and even managed to do a right-left combo arrow — a leg-splitter — without missing a beat.
It was almost as fun to watch my friends dance. In between offering helpful hints, I chatted up the teenaged girls who were waiting their turn. “So what song do you like to play?” They mumbled something, and I said “Eh?” like the grandpa I was. “Blow My Whistle,” one of them repeated emotionlessly, staring ahead at the screen. They had on matching white jackets festooned with a logo I believe I’ve seen in Vice magazine.
When the two teenaged girls took the stage — which they could, since there were two footpads side by side — we shamelessly looked on. They indeed chose the song they had said, except that its full name (wisely truncated) was “Blow My Whistle, Bitch.” Their synchronized dancing would have been more impressive except for the multitudes of “Miss!” and “Boos!” the screen gave them. We floated away, trying not to show the girls how disappointed we were in them, when another young lady took the stage.
She wasn’t as pretty or as stylishly dressed as the other two, but you could tell by the way she whipped through the menus that she was a pro. While her song played, she hit all the arrows and then some, and the arrows were flying a mite bit faster than they had been with us. Between levels she adjusted her hoodie and gave the audience a whatchulookinat kind of glare. Then she went back to dancing, staring at the screen, her feet flying and self-conscious not in the slightest.
Sure, the other girls had the money and the boys. But at the end of the day,
who had the fuckin’ high score?