Dance Dance Dancerush

Greetings, everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely August so far.

Before I get into today’s non-20/20 post, it’s time for a quick update from the front. Unfortunately for us, the last few weeks were riddled with setbacks. Minor illnesses and (now-recovered) injuries have taken their toll on our attendance. The diet is still going well and hasn’t changed much by choice, but our progress has slowed in response to incorporating a little more normalcy. This is expected, once we’re ready to focus on maintenance – but we both still have work we want to do! 20 pounds don’t lose themselves. Until we can manage to get back in the saddle without falling, though, we are effectively in maintenance mode by force, not by choice.

The good news is that we’re not struggling. We’re not regaining anything, and we’re not giving up. We’ve just hit a bit of a mandatory holding pattern that’s taking longer to break than we hoped. After nearly a year and a half of this journey, I can’t fault us for slowing down a bit, even if there is still a part of me screaming about how long this is taking. It took me thirty-two years to put on the weight in the first place, and I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d have come THIS far so fast without risking my health. For the purposes of being healthy enough to have kids, and for lessening the effort I need to put forth to maintain my new life, I’m disappointed – but every day that we don’t fall back on our old toxic habits means that we’re right where we should be.

That said, I’m eagerly awaiting a full return to the “grind.” The confidence and validation from pushing myself alongside the folks I’ve come to know and love is something I’m missing right now, and it makes the social hurdles I’m still climbing even harder to deal with. It’s hard to be the tough, brave, courageous heroine you want to be when you’re stuck on the couch with a Kleenex box or an ice bag! Even my usual creative strength isn’t what I want it to be, as I struggle to come up with an idea worthy of this year’s impending EXPER3. Finding the cute-and-fun-but-serious-and-honest blend that worked so well for The Looking-Glass Girl is still the goal, though it was little more than a lucky break at the time! Trying to force myself down a particular path out of desperation so far has only made me angry, so that solution won’t cut it this time.

For the rest of today’s post, I want to talk about something that’s been going on for a couple of months. John and I have continued our Thursday night dates to Round One, the fancy arcade with the Japanese-style karaoke booths and all the great imported games that I’ve mentioned – specifically, DDR. Sometimes we pop in on Sundays as well, if we aren’t busy and/or one of us needs to make up a workout from the previous week.

A few months ago, we discovered a new arcade machine hidden among the machines in the back of the arcade – a new addition exclusive to Round One locations in America. It’s called Dancerush Stardom, and it’s Konami’s next dancing-based rhythm game. Some folks worry that it will replace DDR in the future, but I’m not convinced. After playing both, I’m hopeful that Konami continues to make both. I like them for different reasons!

The difference between DDR and Dancerush is immediately obvious when you look at them. Gone are the four arrow buttons that show you where to stand and what steps to hit. There’s just an open stage – a large digital floor panel slightly raised from the arcade floor – and a screen. The panel isn’t pressure sensitive, which is good, because stomping isn’t the name of this game. Dancerush’s focus is on actual shuffle dancing, so you’re expected to skid, slide, and shift rather than “step” at all. That’s right, kids – this game uses REAL dance moves. Some of them are mandatory to learn if you want to get past the most basic difficulty the machine offers.

The screen shows you what to do with your feet, though not as explicitly as DDR. It suggests foot placement instead. Left foot here, right foot there, jump now, get low now. A camera in the machine senses whether you’ve put your feet in the correct positions at the correct times, but it’s not capable of detecting WHICH foot (or other body part) you’ve used in a given location. This allows dancers to perform their own tricks and moves if they choose, rather than obeying strictly what the machine says. The best dancers I’ve seen can make it look good AND still hit the suggested targets, but how much you care is 100% up to you. It’s far more of a game about dancing well and looking cool than it is about difficulty and precision – which is why it’s not really like DDR at all.

The first time I saw this thing, my reaction was equal parts fascination and terror. While I can hold my own pretty well with DDR, and people always tell me I look good while I’m playing, I have been a fat girl for 32 years of the 33 I’ve spent on this planet. Dancing was something I left behind in childhood, once I became aware of how sweaty and gross and awkward I was at my weight. There is a certain freedom of movement that ceases to exist when you’re that heavy, and it’s as much of a mental block as it is a physical one. It’s not that you CAN’T be graceful or agile or trust yourself to move – it’s that you don’t BELIEVE you can. And you’re afraid of hurting yourself or someone else by doing too much. So you don’t try. I’ve been not trying for most of my life, throughout the years that most girls learn to dance and have fun like it’s not a big deal, because it isn’t for them.

That, however, has not stopped me wishing with all my heart that I COULD be that kind of girl. Confident, stylish, graceful, and sexy – the kinds of characters I would write and want to be like in real life. Playing DDR became the closest thing I ever thought I’d see in reality, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve loved playing it over the years. It’s the only physical thing I’ve ever been any good at until now, and it taught me to be light on my feet, even at my previous weight. So many people think that stomping is necessary or beneficial when playing DDR, but the fluidity and grace of being able to twist and turn in time with the step patterns and the music is what makes a DDR player shine. And as I’ve learned from years of experience, that fluidity and grace comes from practice – but it also comes from trusting yourself to move in ways that are instinctive for folks with much smaller bodies. For the rest of us, it must be learned. My current DDR weaknesses still revolve around overthinking certain kinds of step patterns, and until I learn to trust myself more, I’m going to plateau.

Dancerush is different. Again, this isn’t about precision or difficulty anymore. This is about actually requiring you to dance! And that was the first nail in the coffin for me, months ago. I don’t dance, least of all in public, unless it’s DDR – and I’ve never thought of DDR as real dancing anyway. You wouldn’t use those moves in a club or on a stage. Now, Dancerush has whole tutorials on how to do the Running Man and the T-step. Those are real dance steps that people take to clubs and parties every day. Check them out on YouTube sometime!

And when I do “dance” in DDR… people tell me I look like I’m Riverdancing. They mean it as a compliment, and don’t get me wrong, I love Riverdance and would happily take a step-dancing class if I found one! But it highlights one of my biggest weaknesses – the fact that I’m so tense and afraid of bumping into others or doing something that looks stupid that I can’t BE the fluid, relaxed person I need to be for the higher levels of play. Stiffness is one of the first things that most good dancers have to learn to get rid of, and as a social anxiety sufferer, I have more of it than the average Joe (Jane?) Real dancing, far more than DDR, mandates looseness and trust.

Looking at Dancerush, for me, isn’t just a new challenge to overcome. It requires me to step out of my own mind and my own skin, and literally be something that transcends my life experience and who I am. It was that reason that I swore I’d never set foot on it. And yet… I wanted to so badly. I hated myself for not having the courage to try, the way I tried with DDR. My curiosity and fascination with the game in my teenage years was enough to overcome my shyness and fear, and I never looked back – but Dancerush was the mental equivalent of jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I just couldn’t bear to try, even after John happily stepped up to the plate and did great. It looked so FUN… but it was the kind of fun not meant for people like me.

The other guy playing the machine that night was eager to get new folks playing, and wasn’t at all willing to let me stand in the outfield staring like a deer in the headlights. He kept trying to get me to join him for a two-player game – which, in Dancerush, takes the form of the shorter player standing in front and the taller player standing in back on the same panel – moves are synchronized so that they look good together while preventing (intentional) collisions. If done right, it ends up looking not unlike a couple dancing in a club. Which was, I think, perhaps the reason he was so keen on getting me to join… it’s taken me a long time to see other ladies playing! And I’m not super comfortable playing DDR with people that aren’t John. It’s paranoia about not running into people nearby more than anything. I’ve never even done that before, and I’m sure people would be kind if it happened, but brains are the worst. I’m working on it.

Despite there being absolutely no way I was ever going to try THIS form of two-player with a total stranger… I finally got to the point where I was frustrated with myself and embarrassed by being the only person unwilling to just have fun with it. I was annoyed with the guy for not taking no for an answer, but also glad he didn’t because I DID really want to play and I needed the push. My brain can get really tsundere about this. So I marched my ex-fat bottom onto that stage and swiped my game card before anyone could say anything else. Hell promptly froze over. Birds scattered in some distant location. There was a disturbance in the Force.

And then the music started.

It’s been a couple of months since then. I play more Dancerush now than I do DDR. I don’t like it better, exactly – it’s the drive to master something that’s so foreign to me, just like it is at the gym. Even if I’m still not able to play DDR at the highest competitive levels, I get the idea well enough that the only thing stopping me is raw stamina and the trust I mentioned before. There’s room to improve, and there probably always will be. I still play for that, and because it’s familiar and fun and makes me happy. I’m doing better than I ever have before! Give me a machine and I’ll still lose multiple hours and gallons of sweat to it without thinking twice.

But Dancerush is something that haunts me. It’s something that highlights one of my strongest weaknesses, and yet it’s something that I deeply, desperately want to become good at, no matter how long the road might be to get there. I’ve seen countless dancers now, both in person and across YouTube, that have shown me how it’s done, and I watch them without blinking, trying to understand how they do what they do. The freedom and trust that goes into their every movement is amazing. I’m jealous. Someday I hope to have that too. Until then, it reminds me of what I’m searching for.

Last night I ran into a lady we’d met a month ago – at the time, she was amazed by me playing and sat around to chat with us, though we never did convince her to try playing while we were there. We ended up leaving that night because a) it was time to go home anyway and b) it seemed like she might try if she weren’t psyched out by having an audience, even a supportive and friendly one. That was right around the time I was starting to improve my own game enough to handle some of the most difficult songs – I’ve since gone on to get the highest star rating on the current hardest song in the US release of the game! (That said, I won’t be happy until it looks right. Again, just hitting the steps isn’t the real point of this game. It’s DANCING them!)

My shy little protege acknowledged I was the one that taught her to play (at the time, I’d quietly scrapped plans to try something monstrously hard for me in order to play something that John could step her through more slowly while I played) and then proceeded to actually DANCE her way through the same hardest song in the game that I mentioned before – with a nearly perfect score. Talk about mixed feelings! I’m so proud of her for coming so far, and I’m thrilled we were able to encourage her – but now she’s so much better than I am, and designing her own choreography to boot! She returned the favor by trying to coach me a little on the real Running Man step, which I understand from a theoretical standpoint (after copious YouTube videos) but have yet to physically master for more than about three beats at a time before I overthink it and it falls apart.

It’s going to take practice, both on and off the digital stage… but I want to learn. So badly. I’m going to keep working on doing my best to loosen up and have fun with it, and I’m hopeful that trust will come with time. The more time I spend challenging life in this new, more capable body, the more I’ll learn how others are able to do what they do. It’s time to start learning how to make simpler steps look better before moving on to the rest.

I don’t know if I’ll ever become the dancer I’d like to be… but between this and the Google Holiday Party last year, I have hope. I have the drive. I can bring the effort. And as always, I am…


  1. Mom

    Glad to know you are feeling better and have returned to some dancing. I hope to watch you some day. Sorry things have slowed down but any other diet would find you much farther from your goal ! You can do this!!!! I am very proud of you and John. Let’s talk soon.

  2. Carolyn

    First of all- Congratulations to you and John for maintaining your new lifestyle and staying on your new diet, and thereby not regaining any weight! I see that as quite an accomplishment!
    So… Way to go!

    As far as your dancing… Wow! I think you are a-m-a-z-i-n-g to give this a try! And I think it’s wonderful that you are determined (DterminD) to keep working towards getting better and better! Say… Today is Thursday. I guess you may be having fun with this tonight. Enjoy!

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