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For ‘Dance Party’ Fans, the Music Never Stopped

TV show with a cult following is a Bay Area staple, revived

KOFY Dance Party 01On a gray February morning, Karen Alexander stood in a Mission District parking lot, dressed in red lamé leggings, silver heels, a fringed top and a floppy red hat that read “BAD GIRL.”

“I’m 66, I drive a gold Camaro, and I won’t go out knitting,” she said.

Alexander was part of a diverse crowd gathered at the independent TV station KOFY waiting to appear on a show called “Dance Party” that was a Bay Area staple in the 1980s and ’90s and was revived in 2010.

On the dance floor, Alexander, who goes by the nickname “Lady Gold” and was a fan of the original show, shimmied next to a young man dressed as a sexy pirate with boots that lit up when he walked and a man in a wheelchair with a large Rubik’s cube affixed to it.

“It has that cultish-following factor,” Craig Coane, KOFY’s president and general manager, said of the show’s power to attract retro-loving twentysomething fans as well as longtime fans in their 60s, all of whom love being on broadcast television.

During the 1950s, the success of “American Bandstand” spawned a craze for live dance shows — simple, locally produced affairs, filled with high-energy volunteer dancers, musicians and DJs.

KOFY came along with “Dance Party” in the 1980s with a top-40 format; by the ’90s, the program had changed to ’50s nostalgia, then it went off the air.

When KOFY revived “Dance Party” in 2010, this time with an ’80s theme, it quickly attracted a huge following. “At the first taping, we had friends and staff dancing,” said Mark Baker, a producer.

The second taping attracted 200 people. Most recently, 400 people showed up to record the first shows of the 2012 season.

KOFY does not subscribe to Nielsen ratings. But the station estimates that it reaches more than a million households around the Bay Area and considers “Dance Party” a success based on viewer response.

Dancers are solicited through a Facebook page with around 1,700 followers, and fans have started an unofficial fan page called Dance Party Addiction.

To be on “Dance Party,” all you have to do is show up and sign a waiver.

The station records three episodes at a time, about once a month each season. Changing tents are set up in the parking lot for dancers who want to appear on all three episodes, which are broadcast on Sunday nights.

Wally Podrazik, consulting curator for the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, says that “Dance Party” works for KOFY for the same reason it worked for local stations when the format was born in the 1950s.

“It connects you with your audience in a simple, tangible and, frankly, inexpensive way,” Podrazik said. “You put people on TV that are thrilled to be on TV.”

According to Jake Austen, author of “TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV From ‘American Bandstand’ to ‘American Idol’” and producer of a Chicago cable access dance show, local dance shows began to die off by the 1970s, when federal regulations made it illegal for hosts on children’s shows to advertise directly to viewers, cutting off a big chunk of revenue. But in some markets, the typical low-budget show lasted into the ’80s, until slick, national productions like “The Grind” on MTV — as well as increasing pressures for local channels to run syndicated rather than original fare — replaced the genre altogether.

Many lamented this situation. “Watching people dance is one of the purest forms of entertainment. It’s color and movement and joy,” Austen said. “In my opinion, it’s the best format in the history of TV.”

KOFY Dance Party 02

For the crowd at “Dance Party,” the show provides more than a kitschy thrill — a community has sprung up. For instance, the four women first in line, who arrived at 7 a.m. with a box of coffee in tow, met through “Dance Party.”

One man, Dave Carvalho, has formed his own dance crew. The idea came to him when he took his father (also named Dave) to a taping of the show in August 2011 for his birthday and decided to commemorate the day with puffy painted T-shirts reading “Dance Party Dave.” The group has since ballooned to about 20 members.

But most of all, there’s the dancing.

“It’s an awesome free party,” said Claire Towner, a 23-year-old with a shock of red curls who was channeling an ’80s tough-girl in a flannel shirt and striped nylons.

Around noon, the dancers were released onto the floor in a stampede of neon and began gyrating to the Waitresses’ hit, “I Know What Boys Like.” Two men danced suggestively with an inflatable boom box. One girl roller-skated.

Coordination and skills are not as important to this crowd as enthusiasm and sheer stamina.

“I’ll probably be out in here in my walker, decorated with neon, or something,” Alexander said.

“I have a bum knee and a bad hip, but I’m going to keep dancing no matter what.”

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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