Byline: KANDACE LANKFORD
For students at New Berlin Elementary School, fitness has become a lot more fun.
Though they still enjoy body-strengthening staples like jumping rope, shooting baskets and racing around the playground, they are also stepping outside the box of traditional exercise to get a new kind of workout.
School Principal Deidra Johnson spent a recent Wednesday on stage in the school cafeteria, inviting students to join her in a fitness phenomenon that takes participants beyond the boundaries of typical physical education - and it all happens within the margins of three-foot-square mats.
Dance Dance Revolution, a video game that gave birth to the word "exertainment," has revolutionized the way students at the North Jacksonville school view physical education.
The game uses a combination of electronic entertainment, rhythmic music and sweat-inducing movement to get feet pounding and hearts pumping, making for an unforgettable workout.
Through a PTA fundraiser, students raised $8,000 toward the purchase of four Dance Dance games, which cost around $3,000. The remainder of the money was used to enhance music, art and physical education resources. CD Resources, a St. Augustine company and creator of the Digital Dance-a-thon concept, provided the materials and instructions for the fundraiser.
"Studies show that childhood obesity is increasing because kids aren't going outside to play anymore; they're all indoors with their electronics," Johnson said. "The kids love this; there are different speeds and levels and it really gets them going."
Bella Clements, a third-grade student, was the first to join Johnson on the stage. As the familiar Disney tune Get Your Head in the Game played, Bella looked at the TV in front of her to see arrows pointing in one of several directions - forward, back, left, right and diagonally.
While the arrows scrolled up the screen in various sequences and combinations, the 9-year-old pursed her lips in concentration and stepped on corresponding arrows on her mat. Since success is measured by the player's ability to time and position steps, her controlled focus was an important component of the game.
As she tapped out a beat with her black tennis shoes, small beads of sweat popped out on her forehead.
While the tempo of the music increased, Johnson kept perfect pace beside her, and other students in the cafeteria stood behind them, watching the screen and mimicking the movements with their feet.
"The power bar at the top shows how good you're doing, and I did pretty good this time," said Bella. "It makes me feel really good when I get a high score."
When Jordan Gay took the stage, he swaggered onto the mat with confidence. …