Dance Dance Fever

Valley arcade rats find fame on the DDR Dance Pad

"It's a feeling I could imagine people get from being onstage, like in an actual performance," says Feuchtinger, an amiable longhair with a slight Shaggy beard who lists on his DDRFreak profile, under both hobbies and occupation, "smoking weed and playing DDR."

"You get into the music and the colors, you start concentrating on the arrows and all the epilepsy-inducing flashing lights, and for the five or six minutes that you're up on the stage, nothing else matters. You can tune out everything else. Pretty soon, as you get better, you start gathering a crowd around you. And before you know it, you start playing the game more for the group of people behind you, and the showmanship of it all."

Occasionally, the DDR crowd will catch a jealous stare from the Time Crisis 3 or The Grid players, whose arcade addictions of choice don't naturally attract the rapt audiences that assemble around the DDR machines.

DDR couple Jennifer Seymore and Michael Mahoney, in happier days.
DDR couple Jennifer Seymore and Michael Mahoney, in happier days.
David Benavidez, a.k.a. Zero (left), and Preston Adams, a.k.a. Pope, gear up for the Showdown.
David Benavidez, a.k.a. Zero (left), and Preston Adams, a.k.a. Pope, gear up for the Showdown.

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Photos by Jeff Newton

"There's more of a scene around DDR than there is around any other arcade game," says Underwood. "You can't really have a big social gathering for, like, Tekken. I mean, yeah, you might have a bunch of friends who like to play it whenever they go to an arcade. But you don't have, like, 20 people who get in line and wait every Saturday at the same arcade, 'cause they know everyone's gonna be there.

"With DDR, it's always like that. Every single arcade has its own little group of regulars around the DDR machine."


Jack Feuchtinger is infamous for having once tried to organize the group of regulars at the Castles N' Coasters DDR machine into a kind of arcade-rat social club, which he named Team Iron Chef, after a love for the Japanese cooking show (DDR fans, worshipful of the Japanese arcade scene, generally profess a love for everything even remotely Asian).

"We all gathered at Castles N' Coasters every other Friday night, and then we'd stay up all night, on a diet of Pixie Stix and Mountain Dew," he says. "We'd go over to this friend's house, who had almost every version of DDR for the PlayStation 2 there was, and we'd just keep playing and gearing up for what we were gonna do the next morning. Then around 7 a.m., we'd pile into cars and head over to MGL for their Saturday morning video blowout."

The group, which had swelled to about 25 regulars at its peak, eventually disbanded, messily, when The Sketch's second-in-command put the moves on his girlfriend -- "the drama that you get in any large group." But Feuchtinger still regards the experiment as a totally noble effort.

"A lot of people really don't have a life outside of DDR," he says. "They go to the arcade and socialize, play a few rounds, then leave. And then you don't see them again until the next day -- when they do the same thing, over and over again."

When they do tear themselves away from the machine, most DDR devotees wile away their free time playing Stepmania, a PC clone of the game where players practice the complex steps to the songs -- with their fingers -- on the keyboard, or logging on to the forums at DDRFreak, DDRAmerica and others to post their playing achievements and talk about the game with other obsessives.

"It's funny," says Underwood, who goes by the name Ghost. "A lot of people don't even know each other's real names. We only know each other by our aliases. It's just 'cause we never really hang out with each other away from the DDR scene."

Feuchtinger is disappointed in his friend, whom he dragged to the table as an example of a DDR player with an active social life. "C'mon, what do you do when you're not playing DDR?" he presses Underwood.

Underwood pauses for a moment. "I'm actually big on finding a lot of friends who are bored, and going out and doing random stuff until we have to go home," he replies. "Like, we'll go to Target and walk around? Then we'll go to, like, a supermarket, and buy some cookies?"

With a nomadic schedule like this, it's not surprising that the trip to the arcade is almost always the highlight of the day for these teens, many of whom are stretching allowances to cover bus fares and arcade tokens.

Not that it's an empty life. Entire romances have started, flourished and flamed out in front of the DDR machine.

Michael "Rocket" Mahoney and Jennifer "Tifaheart" Seymore met at a DDR tournament held at ASU's Memorial Union building last year, and were pretty much inseparable all summer. A true odd couple -- Mahoney is a hefty teen with a naturally loud voice just a couple decibels below Gilbert Gottfried's, while Seymore is a low talker with a rail-thin Olive Oyl figure -- the two were united by their love of DDR, and their dates tended to revolve around tournaments and low-priced arcade blowouts.

Mahoney and Seymore finally broke up in August, around the time Mahoney showed up at a tournament held in the arcade at the Brunswick Mission Bell bowling alley in Glendale without her -- and won second place in the doubles contest paired with pal Will Hightower.

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