What is a Dance Mat?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Two young boys
Two young boys

A dance mat, also known as a dance pad or dance platform, is a special kind of input device for video games, meant to be danced upon. It is essentially a video game controller, but instead of being operated by the hands, is operated by the feet while lying on the ground and jumped on. The dance mat is used in a number of dance games, of which the best known is the popular Dance Dance Revolution™ game, sometimes referred to simply as DDR.

In arcade versions of these video games, the dance mat is usually a rigid platform, called a dance platform. These pads are made of steel or some other rigid material, and often have support bars for players to hold on to if they choose. They are very durable, and built to sustain a wide range of weights jumping up and down forcefully on them hour after hour day in and day out. Although it is possible to purchase an arcade-quality dance platform for home use, the pricing is often many hundreds of US Dollars (USD), making it out of the reach of most people. Cheaper metal dance platforms may be found for around $150-$250 USD, but this is still too expensive for many people.

Luckily, there is a much more affordable alternative for home users: the soft dance mat. A soft dance mat, rather than being made of steel or aluminum and hard plastic, is instead made of soft plastic, sometimes with hard plastic components. Although not nearly as durable as the rigid pads, these soft mats will nonetheless hold up for long periods of time under the conditions of home use. With a high-end soft dance mat costing only around $60 USD, and cheap versions costing as little as $15 USD, they offer an extremely affordable option for those who want their own home dance games.

One problem with a soft dance mat is that it may not be as responsive as a rigid dance platform, leading to occasional frustration when dance moves are not accurately registered. Additionally, since a soft dance mat is relatively lightweight, it may slip across the surface it is on when danced on, which can cause the player to get off center, and lead to an interruption in play. Although many soft mats include rigid backings to try to reduce this, players often find themselves resorting to techniques like taping the mat to the floor or attaching it to a backing of cardboard or something heavyweight to keep it in place.

A third option exists between buying a cheap soft dance mat and an expensive metal dance platform, which is modifying a soft dance mat into a metal dance platform. Instructions can be found around the internet on how to do this, by cutting out holes in a sheet of aluminum to build a frame that the constituent parts of the soft dance mat can be fitted into. Some enterprising people even build their own dance mat entirely from scratch, deconstructing a normal game controller and using its input devices in a homemade frame.

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      Two young boys