This Day In Internet History — January 15, 2006: The Dancing Baby Becomes A Granddaddy (Of Memes)

(YouTube/uninvitedinno)

Greetings, Internet historians! Some of you may remember a little television show from 1997 called Ally McBeal (come on, it was only 21 years ago). When you think of that show, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’ll wait.

If you didn’t say “that stupid dancing baby,” then you’re a damn liar.

Don’t get me wrong, Ally was a compelling protagonist — and who didn’t love the frequent cameos from theme song performer Vonda Shepard? We all loved all that shit. 

Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart with theme song performer Vonda Shephard (Credit: 45worlds.com)

But the thing that stuck in the deepest recesses of our craws was the animated dancing baby, AKA Baby Cha-Cha, AKA Oogachaka Baby (I swear to God I’m not making these up).

Baby Cha-Cha (Credit: Giphy)

When Ally McBeal tanked, the baby didn’t get thrown out with the bathwater. In fact, to this day, Baby Cha-Cha holds a revered place in Internet history. Called “the granddaddy of memes,” the dancing baby was one of the first ever GIFs, as well as a pioneer of what it means to go viral.

A Brief History of Dancing Baby

The story of how the dancing baby got on the Internet is actually a fascinating peek into the history of modern technologies.  

Back in 1996, animators Michael Girard and Robert Lurye developed Baby Cha-Cha as a product sample to demonstrate what their 3D character animation software could do. Why they chose to create a weird dancing baby and not, say, a sick as hell werewolf snapping zombies in half and firing a machine gun at a blood-red moon, is beyond me. But, okay, a dancing baby. Fine. Cool. Whatever.

Impressed by the 3D animation, Ron Lussier of LucasFilms fixed up the file and emailed it to a slew of co-workers. They, in turn, forwarded it to their pals, and so on. I’ll beg the reader to remember a time before Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, etc., when people actually had to EMAIL interesting things to each other.

Dear Meg Ryan, You’ve gotta see this dancing baby!!! (Credit: Giphy)

It didn’t take long before the baby danced into email inboxes all around the country. Says Lussier, “I heard people say they had received it back again from people outside the company, across the country…it quickly traveled to the Internet and became the strange phenomenon that it was.”

Then, the dancing baby became one of the first ever GIFs. Perhaps even THE first. Web developer John Woodell, whom I will now call a “GIF pioneer” created a compressed animated file from the source, to demonstrate a new technology that converted moving images into GIFs. By the way, GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and you can pronounce it any way you damn well please.

Credit: Giphy

And that’s when Ally McBeal got hold of it. Used as a metaphor, the dancing baby appeared often on the show as a hallucination, meant to represent McBeal’s biological clock. (I found out recently that the character of Ally was ONLY 27 YEARS OLD! Come on, The Patriarchy, give a lady some time!) The baby usually sashayed along to Blue Swede’s cover of the B. J. Thomas song “Hooked on a Feeling.”

Since Ally McBeal averaged about 12 million viewers per episode, the dancing baby immediately became a superstar. Its image was brandished on merchandise and parodies swept the cultural landscape. Even The Simpsons did a take on it, called “Dancing Jesus.”

Credit: YouTube

Baby Granddaddy

On January 15th, 2006, some horrible person uploaded a video to YouTube called “Oogachaka Baby,” enabling people to watch the dancing baby at their leisure. The video gathered over 3.3 million views, prompting The Washington Post to call it “the granddaddy of Internet memes.” But, in my opinion, it’s a crime that not all of the 1,300 YouTube comments said: “please remove this immediately.”

Credit: YouTube

Don’t worry, the good news is that the dancing baby swiftly declined in popularity. People stopped feverishly searching the term “dancing baby” near the turn of the 21st Century, or, when they did, they meant to see actual footage of real babies dancing. Still, it’s not hard to stumble into long-running fan sites, like dancing-baby.net.

Shake Your Booty Into The Sunset

Let’s close it out with a quote from Ron Lussier (Remember him? He’s the one who emailed the dancing baby to all his friends in 1996). This comes directly from the FAQ section on his fan site.

Q: That baby is so stupid and ugly! Why did you do that?

A: I’m glad it bothers people. I think that’s cool!  🙂   I fixed up the file because I thought it was really bothersome in a cool way, but also bothersome in a crappy unfinished way. I tried to, at least partially, finish it. That’s my “enhanced” version you used to see on many web pages.

Thanks a lot, Ron! See you in hell, buddy!

Father and Son Escape Burning Truck in the Nick of Time

(News Channel Nebraska)

19-year old Minnesota man Kobe Sammons drove 500 miles to visit his family in Nebraska. When he arrived he told to his father, Jeremy, that his ride just wasn’t running right. So his dad hopped in the truck and the two went for a drive in hopes of discovering what the problem was.

A short while later they pulled over when Jeremy noticed smoke had entered the cabin of the truck. The smoke quickly turned to heat and it became apparent the engine compartment was on fire.

That’s when both men attempted to open their doors but they would not unlock.

The father wondered if this would be their final moments together.

“I told him he would have to break the glass or kick the door open. I couldn’t help him.” the elder Sammons told News Channel Nebraska.

But eventually Kobe was able to kick the door open.

“It was in those moments. Just when it had to open, the door opened.” Kobe’s dad said.

By the time firefighters arrived the truck was completely engulfed in flames. Authorities on the scene considered that the fire may have caused the doors’ unlocking mechanism to malfunction.

The truck can easily be replaced, the important thing is that this father and son duo escaped unharmed.

75-Year-Old Volunteer Literally Takes Catnaps at Animal Shelter

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

If you’re a cat lover you’ll probably agree that 75-year-old Wisconsinite Terry Lauerman is living the dream. He spends most days volunteering at his local animal shelter snoozing with cats.

Lauerman begins his day at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary where he brushes any cat that needs it, then ends up catching a few z’s with his feline friends. The cats and staff at the shelter love the service Lauerman provides and so do thousands of others because of a viral Facebook post about him.

Elizabeth Feldhausen, the founder of Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, told The Huffington Post that Lauerman never signed up to be a volunteer but just showed up one day, armed with a cat brush and dream to help some kitties.

“He just walked in and started brushing,” Feldhausen said. “So eventually we told him he was an official volunteer and had him fill out our volunteer form.”

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill shelter aimed at rehabilitating cats with special needs who would likely be euthanized elsewhere. Feldhausen says Lauerman usually comes in for about three hours every day—he’ll start by brushing a cat but usually ends up dozing off.

“He sleeps for about an hour, then he’ll wake up and switch cats,”

The cats aren’t the only ones benefitting from his visits, though. “He said, [the brushing is] as great of an experience for him, as it is for them,” said Feldhausen.

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

The post about Lauerman has received tons of positive attention and according to Feldhausen, they’ve received about $20,000 in donations since the post went viral.

While Lauerman is happy to have brought so much attention to Safe Haven, he wants people to know that there are plenty of other volunteers that put in hours of hard work to make sure the cats are loved and cared for.

Unlike them, however, Lauerman can do it in his sleep.

Father Figures: So Be It

“My money is tight living here in Silicon Valley.

My daughters are both really smart and take advanced classes, which takes a shit load of money for tests, materials and such. I too play the ‘money is tight’ card around holidays and birthdays, but I work my ass off and find side jobs. As many as I can to make sure they have the best day possible on those special occasions.

If that means not buying myself anything for the rest of my life, so be it.

They always come first, and I believe they will appreciate the struggles later on in life, and they’ll be better off for it.”

– Mauro Hernandez

Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email fatherfigures@thedad.com

Dad’s Panoramic Photo of Daughter Goes Horribly Wrong and Viral

(Twitter/sc_x_cs)

With new phones constantly boasting advancements in camera technology, it’s no wonder some people have trouble keeping up—dads in particular.

Just ask 21-year-old Twitter user Simran. She recently came to terms with the fact that her father is a bit more technologically-challenged than she realized.

Here’s how Simran appears when she’s directing the photo shoot:

While on vacation her dad attempted to snap a unique picture of her. He insisted on trying out his iPhone X’s panoramic photo mode. As you probably expect, the photo didn’t turn out quite as planned.

“My dad told me to stand by the apples because he said he discovered a new way to take pano pics vertically,” Simran told Mashable. “I agreed to it and this was the result.”

“When he saw them he said ‘they look great’ and then I saw them and completely lost it. I mean, are you kidding me? I look like an Alien,” she said.

A number of people chimed in and made fun comparisons to some pretty unflattering images.

Clearly, Simran has been a good sport and we commend her dad for a bold attempt at harnessing advanced photo technology. But perhaps he should stick with the old fashioned point-and-shoot method from now on?