It’s barely 9:30 but the line to get into the hottest party of the weekend has already stretched around the building and down the block. It feels like every walk of local life is represented here: bespectacled Mission scenesters, Marina ya dudes, a crew of tightly wound Haight mongers who seem like they’ve been on a bender since 1987. Fitting, since we’re all wearing our finest ’80s gear, inspired by the iconic looks of the Bangles, Flock of Seagulls, and Mötley Crüe. I dug out the ole hairdryer diffuser just for the occasion, creating a veritable cotton-candy cloud of frizz that’s sprayed to within an inch of the ozone layer’s life.
My friend Anne passes me a plastic cup brimming with cheap mimosa.
Oh yeah. It’s 9:30 in the morning.
This is it, kids. This is the “waiting room” for Dance Party.
Airing regularly on San Francisco’s KOFY, Dance Party is a celebration of all things kitschy and fun. The premise is simple: People show up to the KOFY building on the morning of a taping dressed in whatever theme the station has dictated (usually it’s ’80s related), cram into the studio, and bust a sweet move. Think a tongue-in-cheek Soul Train (RIP Don Cornelius).
Dance Party originally aired in the 1980s. Hosted by KOFY founder James Gabbert, the show played both Top 40 hits and music from the 1950s. Sadly, the show was cancelled when KOFY became a WB affiliate in the mid ’90s, changing up its call letters (to KBWB) and its programming. Eventually, WB tanked and in October 2008, the station brought back KOFY – and Dance Party.
These days, host Morris Knight (of 98.1 KISS-FM fame) and DJ Katie are the lord and lady of the dance. He leads dance-offs and trivia games, she spins classic tunes. Actually, she may just be pretending to spin, while a producer or some other crew member projects music from “behind the curtain.” This is the magic of television.
And magical it is. On this particular morning, I show up to stand in line at around 9 a.m., armed with a thermos of booze, a purse full of blue makeup, and three lady friends – key dance floor accessories for a girl who was once cast as a “statue” in a ballet recital. It’s freezing, it’s drizzling, it’s fucking early for a Saturday morning, but nobody in line seems to care. All around us, people are bouncing up and down on the balls of their feet, trying to warm up for the dance floor.
The line lurches forward when some KOFY employees come outside to start checking us in and issuing tickets and neon paper bracelets. Entrance is free and on a first come, first served basis, though you can preregister online. Behind me, I hear more than one groan of facepalming frustration from people who are worried that they won’t get in, the loudest from a gaggle of girls dressed in early Madonna couture. They drove here from the East Bay, didn’t think to preregister, and may be shit out of luck.
We preregistered are ushered inside KOFY, where we stand in another line that stretches through white-walled hallways, up a flight of stairs, and past cubicles and filing cabinets. We’re giggling at the absurdity of it all – lounging around a mundane-looking office, dressed and behaving like it’s a frat house on Halloween. My tiger-print shoulderless number and pink feather earrings make me look like a slutty castoff from a community theater production of Cats. Anne’s jean jacket barely covers the marshmallow sleeves of her green sequined dress. My Amazonian cousin, Sarah, is a tower of teal mesh. Emily – whose grandmother is a diehard Dance Party viewer – smoothes her “Democrats Know How to Party” block-letter T-shirt. We all have glitter eyeliner pooling in the ducts of our still-sleepy eyes. Plus, by now it’s 11 a.m. and we’ve been drinking since 9. So … we’re drunk.
I start chatting it up with the people in line around me – one couple drove here from San Jose this morning. They’ve been faithfully attending Dance Party tapings since the show first aired. A lady in a blue tulle gown and Dolly Parton wig seems to know everyone in line, including the woman standing with us who is usually accompanied by her husband, a disabled man who grooves from his wheelchair. There are teenagers, there are moms and dads, there is a woman whose septuagenarian status is not stopping her from wearing head-to-toe gold lamé, including a matching cowboy hat. They are all Dance Party superfans, and the life’s blood of this show.
“All of us at KOFY who are involved with Dance Party really appreciate the fans who come out and dance,” KOFY producer Mark Baker tells me later. “This show is all about the viewers, about people who want to come to a party, be on TV, and have a great time. And that’s the coolest thing about it. Without them, we don’t have a show.”
Finally, the production crew is ready for us, and we spill into the Dance Party studio like cows storming an ambrosial meadow of clover. It’s a multi-camera setup, with a silver-spangled stage and DJ table toward the front of the room and a decently large area to dance in. There are sparkles everywhere. There are also neon pink and blue walls, and Technicolor disco balls, all framed by bright lights and walls of black curtains. Off set, there’s an area to rest and refresh – we’re instructed to go there if we’re tired or if we want to chat with our friends. Once the music starts and the cameras are rolling, there’s no talking – just dancing. And smiling. Show biz!
The producers and cameramen start blocking out their shots and plotting their movements, while we dancers get a “warm up” tune. We giggle, and just start … dancing. It’s so weird. It’s bright under the studio lights, and usually the only way I’ll go dancing is under the anonymous veil of a dim bar, where nobody’s watching me. Here, we’re watching each other and, oh God, the cameras are on a mission to capture our every move. Morris sprints out from the wings and hops up on stage, introducing DJ Katie and the show. And … we’re off! Michael Jackson’s “Bad” blares over our heads! It’s starting! Dance, monkey! Dance like nobody’s watching, but make sure to smile because everyone is watching!
I don’t know if it’s my wiggly birthin’ hips or my epic hairstyle, but soon enough I feel a tap on my shoulder and I spin around. It’s a KOFY crew member, and he motions for me to come closer to the cameraman who’s squatted on the floor and filming upward. Filming me. OH GOD.
Did I mention that I’m camera shy?
For journalism! I think to myself, and force my eyes to meet the gaze of the camera’s lens. We lock into an intimate one-sided groove, the cameraman doing his best to hold steady, I doing my best to contort my body into patterns of movement that resemble some kind of purposeful routine. Behind me, Anne, Emily, and Sarah are giggling hysterically at my plight. Traitors.
A breathless hour later, we’ve gotten down to Debbie Deb, Kool and the Gang, Billy Idol, Gucci Crew, and, of course, Grandmaster Flash. To add some flair to the whole shebang, Morris has pulled three people out of the crowd to compete for the title of Dance King or Queen. Two dudes and a lady have to answer ’80s-related trivia questions, show off their best signature dance moves, and pop and lock for their lives. Ultimately, Matt, a San Francisco accountant sporting the sassiest shirt I’ve ever seen, takes it all. He is rewarded with a big gold crown and, I’d like to think, the lifelong admiration of his friends and family.
Dance Party is taping three episodes back-to-back today, and when this one is finished we have the option of getting back in line outside if we’ve brought a change of clothes. The ladies and I take one look at the line, thick with fresh dancers, and decide to give our aching feet a break. There will be more Dance Party tapings. For now, it’s time for more mimosas.
Want to shake your thing on Dance Party? Episodes are shot at the KOFY studios (2500 Marin St.) on select dates. Upcoming tapings include April 7 and April 28. Admission is first come, first served. For more information, visit www.kofytv.com.
Watch a clip from a past Dance Party episode here.