Dance Craze Helps Students Fight Fat And Stay Fit - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

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Dance Craze Helps Students Fight Fat And Stay Fit

"Come on in. Get on a mat, and get started," the coach told her students.

It's a scene you don't often see in school - kids rushing into class, and eager to get started.

"We're doing DDR today, so get ready to dance it up," the coach said. "Here we go. Look to the sky. Get on that mat and get that feet moving."

"I like to move it, move it," the kids chanted to the music.

"And right, and back, and right, and back," the coach instructed her class.

Students at Magnolia Park Elementary are dancing and sweating to the techno beat.

"It's fun to do and it exercises your legs," one girl said.

"You move your legs. You burn calories, and it's a good way to have fun," a boy said.

Coach Katie Povolo kicked off "Dance, Dance Revolution" in her PE class a month ago.

Here's how it works: Players stand on a mat, and watch the screen. As the music plays, the arrows move and point in different directions. When the arrows reach the top of the screen, the players must also step on the corresponding arrows on the mat. This high-energy game is the latest weapon in the fight against fat.

"We know from studies that children from Mississippi are very obese. There are high rates of diabetes," said Coach Katie Povolo. "This is what the kids love. This is what they're normally doing. It's an active video game, where they're not sedentary and sitting just with a controller. They're moving."

Several months ago, the only thing Max McGraw was moving were his fingers. The eight-year-old spent most of his free time, sitting around and playing video games.

"I have three systems," said Max McGraw. When asked how many hours of video games he played a day, Max responded "Usually about one or two hours."

Nowadays, Max is using his video game skills to master DDR.

"My mom showed me it," Max said. "I just tried it out once. I was very bad, and I kept trying it and I got better and better and better."

Max enjoys it so much, he practices at school every afternoon. Now, even his mom is playing along.

"I have lost quite a bit of weight since we started doing DDR at lunch," Ann McGraw said. "It's difficult, but it's a lot of fun. And when you're done, you're a little sweaty and a little panting, but it's fun. It's addictive. We intend to get it for the house, so that we could play it at home together."

"Whoo, I'm messing up Max," Ann McGraw told Max during a fun, mother-son dance contest.

"Yes! I love beating my mom," Max said. When asked how he would describe his mom on the dance machine, Max smiled and answered, "Very bad."

Max seems happier now. He has lost some weight and feels more energetic.

"It's better for your heart and brain," Max said. "There are lots of different things instead of sitting on a couch, watching TV all day."

I wanted to find out if a person with two left feet can conquer the quick steps. So under Coach Povolo's guidance, I tried out some dance moves.

"You got to find that beat, and put it in your feet," Povolo said. "This is the easy version, and it goes up to 200 beats per minute."

After numerous tries, I discovered that the game is not so easy, but I can see why the students love the high-tech toy.

"I like the songs," one boy said. "I like it because you get to move your legs really, really fast," another boy said.

"It kind of makes you healthier and you have to get exercise," a girl said.

"Good! You need lots of coordination and balance and move your legs really, really fast," Povolo said.

"It's really fun, the way you have to move fast and I really like the music," said a boy.

"It's not about winning or losing, it's about having fun and feeling good about yourself," Povolo said.

Magnolia Park Elementary received a $3,000 "Health is Academic Grant" from the state to purchase the mats, Playstation, and music discs. By the way, Oak Park Elementary also has the DDR system.  The prediction is, by the end of the decade, more than 1,500 schools across the country will be using the video game.

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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