Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Filipino Dance Revolution

A couple weeks ago it was the Playstation 3 that was causing people to stand in lines and this weekend, at least locally, it was the Nintendo Wii. One of my coworkers stood in line and was one of 18 people to get a Wii and as he was relating some of the games he played with his son, one of them struck a memory of my time in the Philippines. Here it is.

My wife, mother-in-law and aunt were off getting makeovers and I was charged with keeping track of my wife's younger brother and a cousin, both teenagers. Actually since I was in a foreign land, in a shopping mall completely full of people, they were probably keeping me out of trouble. We walked around a bit but it was getting tiresome keeping an eye on the young boys waiting to pick pocket me as soon as I let my guard down. They followed us from floor to floor in the giant mall and would creep closer or back depending on whether or not I was looking in their direction. I needed a place to relax with my back to the wall so when we came to an arcade, I suggested we go inside.

I gave the teens some pesos and found a nice place against a wall next to some arcade-like game called Dance Dance Revolution. The object seemed to be that you danced to music while watching a screen that dictated your steps on a multicolored mat. Judging by the long line of people waiting their turn, it must have been really popular. The current occupants, two teenaged girls were really moving right along. They were able to dance for another few minutes before they finally committed one too many mistakes and ended the game.

The next gamer stepped up onto the platform. He was a man in his 30's and beanpole thin. He took off his backpack and set it on top of the game. He pulled a bandana out of his pocket and carefully tied it around his forehead. He flexed this way and that for a minute limbering up as if he was about to complete a life or death event and needed every muscle to survive. He plugged the machine with a few pesos, the music began and he started his dance.

At first his feet seemed burdensome slow as they made the required moves, but gradually as he passed various levels they began to pick up the pace. After ten minutes, he had surpassed the teenage girls' score judging by the pace and a sheen of sweat was starting to show. Others like me must have realized that this was the real deal and were stopping to watch the man who was focused only on the screen in front of him. Fifteen minutes passed, then twenty and the man was still dancing, feet now a blur and sweat starting to fly off in sprays accentuated by the bright arcade lights. Suddenly I was picturing Kevin Bacon in the big dance sequence in the movie Footloose.

By the time he reached the half hour mark, I was sure I was witnessing the first meld between human and machine. I could no longer see the feet which were just a blur and I wasn't sure that even a mind could think that fast even if just sending some signal like registering pain after touching something hot. Sweat was now pouring off the man in rivers and even the bystanders were now taking care to step back out of range. The man's arms were now holding himself up using the railing behind him for support as if to help his lower extremities in their quest to reach light speed and the music now sounded like carnival music played at high speed.

At thirty-five minutes, I could see that the guy was almost done for. Not because he was making mistakes because he wasn't. No his breathing was now coming in ragged gasps and I knew that he must be getting close to dehydration. Almost as soon as I thought this, the man just stopped. The machine buzzed him with each of his allotted mistakes as he just stood there trying to catch his breath. Finally the machine declared that too many mistakes had been committed and took him to the scoring. He was the high score and as he signed in, I saw that all the previous five highest scores were also with his initials. He removed his bandana, put it in his pack, shouldered it and walked out into the mall proper leaving a trail of sweat as he went. The man had been a machine. He was a one man dance revolution.

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