Just Dance and My Mental Health (In a Pandemic)

We know it, we’ve played it, and most of us have never given a second thought to it – the Just Dance series of games developed and published by Ubisoft. Starting in 2009, it featured 33 songs from the early 60’s to the late 2000’s for players to dance to. It was playable on Wii, and tracked your dancing skills by using the motion sensor in the Wiimote to determine where your right hand is in relation to the on-screen dancer. The first game was rather negatively reviewed because of poor tracking and simplistic moves that did not demand much from players.

Fortunately, it has evolved over the years, using cameras compatible with the XBox and PlayStation to track the player’s entire body instead of just the right hand. Up until Just Dance 2020, all mainline games were available on the Wii, and Just Dance 20172021 have been available on Nintendo Switch as well. Ubisoft has focussed less on classic songs and more on popular songs from around the world, although golden oldies come about from time to time.

My own experience playing Just Dance games started around Just Dance 3, playing with girlfriends at sleepovers in high school. I didn’t give it more thought, admittedly, until Just Dance 2019.

It was time for another sleepover, and I thought my friends and I would engage in some good old-fashioned poorly co-ordinated dancing, like old times. It was then that I found out about Just Dance Unlimited, a service that started with Just Dance 2016 that allows you to access a catalogue of games from the first game to present if you pay the subscription fee, with classic and exclusive songs being released on a regular basis. My friends and I ended up spending almost the entire night giggling and bumping into each other. My Joy Con even flew across the room, which made my heart fly in my throat (that $40 price tag ain’t easy, y’all).

Of course, it was only right that I played the game in my own home, as sleepovers don’t happen often enough to justify the price of admission + the JDU subscription. A whole world opened up for me.

Those who know me know that I spend a lot of time in my home. I studied at an online university for 5 years, and worked from home as well, so going out wasn’t something I did very often. Back on the island I lived on, there were no gyms to go to, and getting to the beach was tedious. That left me to get my exercise done at home, which was beginning to get suuuuper old. Strength training is something I enjoy most with the guidance and support of a trainer, so I had unfortunately fallen off.

Just Dance provided a large variety of songs for me to learn and perfect, and the concept of having my performance tracked and scored gave me further incentive to improve my skills. I also didn’t feel pressured to learn the extreme difficulty songs, or get perfect scores. I also enjoyed the World Dance Floor, which is an online component in recent games that allows players to compete against each other in songs native to that game. Ever so often the WDF has a Happy Hour, where players can play JDU songs, even if they don’t have a subscription. I did enjoy that this was included for people who couldn’t afford a subscription, as $60 + $25 every year is a pretty steep price to pay for the entire experience.

Dancing was amazing, I felt better, and I slept better, which meant my mood improved greatly. Even though I had no friends who played it outside of gatherings, I really enjoyed learning new moves and loved that feeling of finally being able to Megastar a song I was having trouble with. Funnily enough, it reminded me of Animal Crossing – progression is entirely up to you, you can choose which content to engage with, and you are not penalised for performing poorly or not following any guidelines. That sort of low-pressure, self-study approach is something that suits me well, and I’m sure many others feel the same.

Cut to now, in 2020, in a pandemic, after having moved away from family and friends to Germany. Not to be dramatic, but I am going THROUGH it. Everyone is, this year. The only thing that really makes me excited these days is waking up to learn new songs on the newly release Just Dance 2021. The thing about Just Dance is that I often don’t know half of the songs on offer, but they end up staying with me as earworms for months to come. The gamification of exercise is what keeps me motivated, which is why I enjoy games like Ring Fit Adventure as well.

A new challenge I’ve given myself is to not only get high scores on my favourite songs, but to use my whole body and imitate the on-screen coaches entirely, instead of just moving my right hand to the right place to my Joy Con tracks my movement. I use a mirror and it boosts my confidence tremendously! It’s amazing. For Just Dance 2020, I only played songs and choreographies I enjoyed. This time around, I’m going to try and megastar all the songs (save for extremes) in Just Dance 2021 before I play online. Unlocking stickers, avatars and other profile flairs is super fun, and doing challenges for in-game currency allows me to play songs I may have normally overlooked.

If you can afford this game, have a bit of space to dance, and wanna move your butt in a way that isn’t boring, I really recommend this. A lot of places have their gyms closed now due to the pandemic, and even those who are open may not be the safest place to be. Dancing is good for your brain, and your body. If the price of Just Dance 2021 is a bit too steep right now, you can wait for the game to drop in price. Like most Ubisoft games, Just Dance games often drop to $40 or even $20 on the eShop. They’re also available in droves for cheap on second-hand store websites, like eBay. If you buy the most recent game, you get the new Just Dance Unlimited songs as well! And most of all, this game is best when played with family and friends. So if you’re locked down or quarantining with others, this may be just what you need to lighten the mood.

Just Dance 2020 is available on Wii, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia. Just Dance 2021 is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (no PS5 camera support), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Google Stadia.

NOTE: If you are struggling with mental health issues, please talk to a trustworthy adult or a licensed professional. For my US friends, follow this link: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. For those in Germany, head over to: https://www.opencounseling.com/hotlines-de. If things are critical and urgent, feel free to contact your local emergency services line.

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