I am a Geek for Dance Dance Revolution

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How does one master the concept?

Like with language, the greatest approach to mastery is to practice using it.  Organize every book in the world from least difficult to most difficult, and then read every book once through.  Coming back to the simplest books, you’ll find their content underwhelming.  The same is true with DDR.  Play every song, at every available difficulty: every song on Easy Mode, every song on Intermediate Mode, every song on Expert mode.  Experience the diversity of language that every song’s stepchart has to teach.  You’d be amazed how many ways 10 arrows can be sequenced.  Even a 10-word language can make poetry.  Choosing one book and reading it over and over until you’ve memorized it, no longer needing to look at its words, does not make you much better at understanding the whole language; and ultimately the end-goal of DDR is to read each song flawlessly, your first time playing it.

A sample sentence from the 10-word language

DDR is four challenges rolled into one game. 
Challenge #1: Learn to recognize every arrow and Jump, in every arrangeable sequence. 
Challenge #2: Learn to recognize every rhythmic pattern and reproduce it with machine-like exactness, given any tempo (speed of song). 
Challenge #3: Learn to coordinate your body such that it can gracefully and accurately respond to any set of instructions on sight. 
Challenge #4: Acquire the stamina and agility to keep up.

These four challenges are part of why I love Dance Dance Revolution.  The first challenge is visual and cognitive.  The second challenge is visual and musical.  The third challenge is kinesthetic and the fourth challenge is physiological.  This is a mind and body game in every sense of its requirements.  Neither trained mind nor trained body alone is enough.  They can, however, be trained separately.

Strategies, advice and philosophies.

            I’ve watched many dancers who are considered masters of this game; yet their play styles are visibly different.  That is because there are so many open-ended nuances of play style.  For instance, what is the proper dance posture?  Where on the screen should you look?  What do you do with your arms?  The answers are inconsistent, as players vary in approach and largely create their own style based on body type and whether they were trained by other players.

            Certain questions have led to distinctive approaches to DDR.  One such question regards the use of the large red metal bar behind the player.  Philosophy A says “Using the bar aids in balance, and frees the lower body to achieve greater speed, making the most strenuous songs more accessible to the ambitious player.”  Philosophy B says “Using the bar to aid in balance robs the body of core muscular training and physical development that a player could strive to achieve without relying on the bar.”

This is where you look at the screen.

            I’ll offer a couple of my personal recommendations about gameplay. 
“To avoid last-minute moves, look down the road 10–15 seconds ahead of your vehicle so you can see hazards early. Constantly staring at the road just in front of your vehicle is dangerous.” – The California Driver Handbook offers good advice to DDR players.  As a musician, we are taught to read a few notes ahead of where we are playing, so that we can always be prepared for what’s coming.  If your eyes always are focused on the note currently being played, the next note will come less prepared and lack smooth, graceful production.  Since DDR is a whole-body game, being graceful can never be underestimated.   Especially at faster speeds, the body flails when it lacks sufficient time to prepare for upcoming arrows, wasting energy and impairing accuracy.  Keep your eyes focused at the middle of the screen as the arrows scroll up and stay a few notes ahead in your mind.

Take some time to learn how to properly internalize and externalize tempo, or pulse.  This really makes the difference between a masterful player and a learner.  You can typically use the bass drum as a reference to what the pulse is.  The “bm ch ka ch bm ch ka ch” sound in dance music attempts to make the pulse very clear to a listener, and this is advantageous for DDR play.   If you can clap the “bm bm bm bm”, that is externalizing the tempo.  Take a variety of DDR songs at different tempos (typically between 110 and 190BPM) and listen for the pulse, reproducing it with hand claps.  The biggest listening mistake is, not
surprisingly, to get too comfortable with the sound of our own clap and stop listening to the true pulse of the music; in which case our internal tempo begins to stray too fast or too slow.  In DDR, your steps are emulating one of the instruments already playing, and that instrument is digitally accurate in its rhythmic steadiness.  So your hand/foot percussion needs to be digitally accurate too.  If you can hear songs with different BPM and very quickly be able to steadily produce that pulse with your hands/feet, your grade will improve tremendously. 

This is where you look at the screen.
These kids suck at clapping together.

6 replies
  1. Nate Morse
    Nate Morse says:

    DDR is good times. I used to play it all the time at the movie theater in the next town, because that was the closest arcade version. I also had a friend that had one of the dance pads, so whenever I visited his place for the weekend, I would dance until the wee hours of the morning. In front of a small television. Usually without pants. And an open dress shirt. Which, incidentally, is how one of his neighbours saw me when he was passing by the house walking his dog. I glanced out the window and saw him there staring up at me. A fat guy, shirt open, pants WHO KNOWS WHERE, dancing. I’m sure he’d never heard of DDR. To him, I was just some crazy dude dancing.

    Good times. And true story.

  2. Charlotte
    Charlotte says:

    I must say the best time I played DDR was at Knott’s Berry Farm at the arcade. They have a full, large machine right outside of it. Jason and I started playing for a bit when we noticed we had a large crowd behind us. Being night time made it more fun and flashy. 

  3. Lish
    Lish says:

    As far as the arcade goes, I was RIDICULOUSLY bias towards DDR Extreme, as in, would seek them out and ignore the other machines, heh. I recently ordered a hard pad, and though I haven’t had the chance to use it much, it was totally worth the investment, especially since pretty soon here I’ll actually be able to start playing everyday. I’m so looking forward to it.

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