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December 13, 2001

Dance Fever

Japanese dance craze hits area

By Dann Denny ,
Herald-Times Staff Writer

Monica Hammons, right, and her friend Sarah Peacock, 14, left, concentrate while trying to keep up with the dance machine at Lazerlite. Ryan Rush, 11, center, watches the girls to learn how to play the video game known as Dance Dance Revolution. Staff photos by Chris Howell

Two months ago, when Monica Ritchel turned 12, she asked her mother if she could delay her birthday party several weeks.

The reason?

She wanted to wait until a video game called Dance Dance Revolution had been added to the video and virtual reality game arcade at Bloomington's Lazerlite a family entertainment center that also includes a laser tag arena.

Her mother consented, enabling Monica and five of her friends to enjoy one of the hottest virtual reality games to hit the country in years.

"It was worth waiting for," said Monica with a smile. "I absolutely love it. I play it about 20 times a day."

Dance Dance Revolution, known as D.D.R. by the young people who queue up to play it in the arcades, is a Japanese innovation that is beginning a tsunami-like sweep across America.

The game is made by Konami, a company whose popular Web site ddrfreak.com says there are already more than 500 D.D.R. machines in the country.

And the numbers are climbing. When Lazerlite purchased a D.D.R. machine last month, Bloomington became the seventh Indiana city that could boast having at least one of the gadgets within its borders.

"It's pretty fabulous," said Lazerlite's co-owner, Susie Wolfgong. "People are even driving down here from Indy to play it."

D.D.R. is sort of like a jukebox with an attitude or karaoke for the feet. Players hop onto a soft, foot-friendly platform where they stand facing a large screen.

The machine asks players to chose from a selection of 77 disco dance routines, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced.

The D.D.R. uses a sequence of on-screen arrows to give step-by-step dance instructions to the players. As it does, players step or hop onto designated 6-inch squares.

Players are awarded points for their ability to perform the dance steps properly. They can even dance simultaneously alongside a friend and compete for the best score.

"For 75 cents, you can get up to three songs," said Wolfgong. "But if you fail by not scoring enough points, the machine only gives you one song."

Monica Hammons rests for a moment after dancing to three songs with the 3rd Mix dance machine. Staff photo by Chris Howell

As players perform, the machine gets a bit mouthy, barking out its candid assessment of their performance.

It offers words of encouragement "Wow, you are too cool!" "I've never seen a dancer this good!" or words of derision "You're dangerous!" or "You dance like a monkey!"

Wolfgong says the D.D.R. attracts children, teens and adults, and an equal number of males and females.

"The younger kids do it for fun, and the adults think it's a fun way to get an aerobic workout," said Wolfgong. "Many of the older teens and college kids are really good at it. Some of them even go to D.D.R. competitions that take place all over the country."

Thirty-seven-year-old Gina Ritchel of Bloomington treats the D.D.R. like a souped-up Stairmaster. She says 20 minutes on the machine leaves her hair soaked with perspiration.

"It's a fun workout and it's challenging," she said. "It also helps me improve my dancing skills."

Bloomington resident Sarah Peacock, 14, started playing D.D.R. three weeks ago.

"It gets you pumped up, it's challenging and it's fun listening to the music," she said. "I like to do it with my friends."

Dancing on the D.D.R. is like running in place for 17-year-old Jason Nethery but a lot more enjoyable.

"I'm not that good yet, but I have fun at it," he said. "After I do it for a while, I have to go home and take a shower."

To be sure, the D.D.R. phenomenon is a spectator sport. At Lazerlite, says Wolfgong, crowds of 20 or more often gather to watch players gyrate to the beat of the machine.

"It's fun to watch beginners make fools of themselves," said Nethery. "But I've also seen guys who are really advanced play the game just to show off in front of girls."

Monica Ritchel admits that early on, she was a D.D. R. klutz.

"The first time I did it I was horrible," she said. "I thought my mom would literally die laughing."

Now, Monica loves to strut her stuff in front of large crowds.

"The more people watching me the better," she said, her feet moving like a blur on the D.D.R. dancing platform. "I like showing off."

Wolfgong says the D.D.R. machine costs $8,000 to $10,000 used and up to $20,000 new.

Reporter Dann Denny can be reached at 331-4352 or by e-mail at denny@heraldt.com.



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