The Fit Family

Kristen, founder of ElectriKids, has inspired thousands of kids across the country to find the joy in exercise. She shares her experience and insight as a kids' fitness crusader in this column.

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Family Health

Joining the Revolution

By: Kristen DeLeo
Published: Tuesday, 25 March 2008
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I’ve recently been asked by a school district in Los Angeles to develop and lead an after-school class based on Dance Dance Revolution. I didn’t know how to answer. The truth is, somehow I’ve gone all this time without being indoctrinated by the craze that’s sweeping the nation. For those of you not yet acquainted with DDR, as it’s often called, it’s a video game where you match your feet to arrows on a computerized mat that match the arrows on a television screen. It’s accompanied by popular music and keeps score of all your missteps. When contemplating my decision whether to teach the class or not, I caught myself thinking, “In my day, we didn’t need computer games to encourage us to exercise. We had to be resourceful!” Wow. I was “this close” to ranting about having to walk 3 miles to school, up hill-both ways. I realized then I needed to ditch that mentality and embrace what’s new and innovative. Besides, my philosophy regarding kids’ health and fitness has always been to encourage kids to move in any way they find fun.

Dance Dance Revolution, and other dance games like it, is played in arcades or at home on your television. So in the comfort of my own home, I finally joined the revolution. First I stepped around the plastic mat for a few minutes, getting a better feel for where my feet are supposed to land. Next I chose my level- Beginner- and my song- “Vertical” from Disney’s Jump In. Finally, I took a deep breath and pushed Start. The arrows came at me right away. They kept coming and coming. There seemed to be no pattern to what arrow would appear next. After years of studying dance and fitness, suddenly I feel as if I have two left feet. It doesn’t help that after every time your foot misses a step, the word “Boo” appears on the screen. I got a lot of “Boos.” My first session of DDR ended when I stepped on my own pant leg and nearly fell into the coffee table.

I felt defeated, and pretty silly. But I also felt slightly winded. My heart rate was definitely elevated. Imagine what a workout I could get if I actually became good at DDR! Maybe it was the endorphins, but suddenly I got the bug. I practiced almost every day for a couple of weeks. My poor husband had to endure Hannah Montana songs repeatedly. I began to realize that to achieve success I had to approach DDR not as a dancer, but as a gamer. At least as a beginner, I have to focus on foot-eye coordination and reflex- not style and choreography. It’s similar to when accomplished guitarists I know try to play the Guitar Hero video game. If they focus on the real cords of a song instead of the colored dots on the screen, they’ll get booed off the virtual stage.

My experience with DDR got me curious about other forms of virtual exercise. After researching the subject, I learned that about 2,000 schools in 35 states have set up “exergaming” centers on campus. There are stationary bikes that allow you to race an opponent through a virtual course. You can even jump and lunge your way out of virtual dodge balls by sweating it out on the Trazer. Long time P.E. teachers seem to feel the same way I do about exergaming. Although it may seem like an unnecessary indulgence, we have to appeal to the wired generation. We can’t afford not to.

But do all these bells and whistles really get the job done? Studies show that they do. A 2006 study by the Mayo Clinic found that kids expend a significant amount more energy playing DDR than walking on a treadmill while watching T.V. And how many kids really want to walk on a treadmill for any length of time? Kids often write to me via my web site,, and ask me fitness-related questions. Recently a boy asked me if DDR is considered a workout. Now that my dance mat has seen plenty of action, I can safely say yes- with a few caveats:

*Keep Trying- You have to get over the learning curve to really achieve a cardiovascular workout. Once you get past the beginner level, the pace really picks up.

*Keep Going- Play consistently for at least 20 minutes.

*Keep Moving- If you’re taking turns with a partner, keep moving when it’s not your turn. This may look a little weird if you’re playing DDR at an arcade. But if you’re at home, ban the sofa when it’s not your turn. Enjoy the freedom of dancing the old-fashioned way- without a mat telling you where to step.

Dance Dance Revolution and other games like it provide a great opportunity for parents to exercise with their kids at home. But a word to the wise- before you challenge your kids to a DDR tournament, sneak in a few practice sessions when they’re at school!


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