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Dance Machines

Whether you’ve played a few rounds at a friends house or play regularly at an arcade, there’s nothing worse than dance game pads you can’t trust. Most experienced players devote hours on a dedicated cabinet and you might want to take the leap. For new players and new residents, here’s a primer on what to look for in an arcade, cabinet and community in Chicagoland.

Finding a Machine

Many players will be restricted to the nearest arcade due to transportation requirements. For those who aren’t, DDRFreak.com has long been considered an authority on machine locations. They track venues, cities, versions, hours of operation, user ratings and even what kind of quality you can expect from the cabinet and software at each location. As of this post, there are 89 documented machines in the state of Illinois, several which are located in the Chicagoland area. Find local arcades by searching for machines near you.

Machine Etiquette

So you’ve picked a trial location and have arrived on the scene. Generally, there are four scenarios you’ll encounter:

  1. The machine is empty. Go change in for some tokens, set your items on the side shelves of the cabinet and start a round.
  2. The machine is in use. Regardless of skill level, it is never polite to stand on the platform or hold the safety bar while someone is playing. Let said players finish and step away from the machine before you insert tokens.
  3. There is a large crowd. This can get tricky‚Ķ Close-knit communities might reserve their spot with a simple token on either side of the metal bevel just below the screen. More regimented or unfamiliar communities may use IDs. Either way, consult with a bystander to see which order tokens/IDs are lined up and place yours at the end. If you happen to be cut-off regardless of saving your spot, approach the offender and kindly explain you’ve been waiting your turn. Players are generally a respectful lot. If neither methods are implemented and there isn’t an obvious line, ask.
  4. The machine is broken. Yes, the possibility exists and we have all been there. What can you do about it? Talk to a supervisor, gently express your disappointment and ask when they expect it to be repaired. Then go try some other games before leaving. It will demonstrate your willingness to spend money at their arcade and potentially influence machine repair priority.

As for actual gameplay, it’s the same as at home.

  • If you can’t pass a song, don’t push yourself to injury.
  • Feel free to take however long you need to find the appropriate song for your skill level and catch your breath.
  • Most venues will tolerate a water bottle.
  • Many will not tolerate bare feet or sandals, so wear appropriate footwear.
  • Note that if you play heavy-footed, you might get glares as some see this as unnecessary damage to the sensors.
  • When the game is complete, take your belongings and wait for your next turn.
  • It’s acceptable to chat with others in-line and compliment performance. This is a good way to gain pointers and learn some history about communities that might be established at your arcade.

Quality Machines

All dance game machines tell a story. Before you dump tokens in the chamber, check if the token panel is loose or ajar. This could indicate faulty equipment which may eat tokens, or it could also mean that experienced players who enjoy some minor hacking might have modified this particular machine. The latter coupled with scratch marks and faded plastic where you would find placeholder tokens/IDs might even indicate a regular community of players. Though if the machine is a DDR Extreme or older, this machine may have been located elsewhere during its prime.

Quickly check for loose arrow panel screws and tighten them by hand. If the pads look dusty, try wiping your shoes off on a mat between rounds or use a rag to wipe them down. Many machines are missing the original padding for the safety bars, so pay no mind. If the game skips during song selection or play, be aware that it might give out mid-play due to a scratched disc. Nothing can really be done if the arrows are unresponsive, but it wouldn’t hurt to notify maintenance. If you feel this machine isn’t up to your standards of quality, head to the next trial arcade.

Local Communities

This is has become a tough topic as most stable communities are centralized around a particular machine and meeting time with little or no publicity. For the most part, it really is about who you run into while you’re waiting, so don’t hesitate to strike up conversation if you’re looking to join a group.¬†Other organized clubs that promote online have fallen to the wayside as the dance machine craze loses its luster. Keep an eye on the Chicago Dance Game Meetup Group and the Pump It Up Meetup Group to see if they resurrect. And hey, if you’re the ambitious type, you may want to consider creating a group of your own!


Most of what has been covered here can apply to other dance game machines throughout the USA or even the world. We hope this has been an informative primer for those both new and seasoned. Have you experienced different scenarios? Wanna give a shot out to your favorite machine? Please discuss in the comments!