Dance Away the Heartache

It is essential to establish, early in your Dance Dance Revolution career, whether you’re a freestyler or a techie. Anthony Carella, an 18-year-old college freshman from Brooklyn – and a hard-hitting techie – started going to arcades to play the video game about six months ago. He’d just broken up with his girlfriend, and he found solace in the game, which works like this: A computer plays a song (like Madonna’s “Holiday,” or something equally familiar), and the player has to keep up with moves shown on a screen. The “dance floor” has four panels that light up in time to the music. For anyone who remembers the eighties (and really, who doesn’t these days?), it’s like playing Simon – but with your whole body.

DDR is very big in Japan, where it’s all but replaced karaoke, and now it’s poised to take over the arcades of Times Square and Chinatown, where, on most afternoons, a crowd can be found watching the sweaty, frantic kids play. There’s a group from FIT that monopolizes the machine at Broadway City on 42nd Street on weekdays, and teenagers from the outer boroughs ride in on Saturday night to line up with fists full of tokens.

The quest for points (a techie’s golden ring) has been a welcome distraction for the lovelorn Carella. “The game has proved to me that I can accomplish a lot,” he says proudly. “Like, I didn’t know what a good memory I had.” And it provides plenty of compliments. “You are too cool!” the machine’s androgynous voice tells him over and over. “You’re my dancing hero!”

Freestylers don’t worry so much about points: They pick a song with a relatively slow beat and embellish with flips and twirls. They’ll use their hands, sometimes, to hit the pad, bending and arching to get there. Shannon Jones, an Afro’d 17-year-old from East Flatbush, even leapfrogs on and off the machine without missing a beat.

Kevin Loughran, a tall, gangly NYU senior (and a serious techie), comes to Broadway City twice a week for three hours at a time, and is usually found staring intensely at the screen, sweat staining the collar of his polo shirt. His feet move with robotic precision, but he’s not really … dancing. “I figure it’s a workout,” he says with a shrug. “It’s instead of going to the gym.”

“I’ve lost a lot of weight playing DDR,” agrees Rachel Brauer, a 17-year-old with lavender hair who is a highly skilled techie. (She calls her method PA, for Perfect Attack.) “And we don’t even try to go to clubs,” she adds. “Why would you when you can play DDR?”

Dance Away the Heartache