Chic-A-Go-Go: Chicago’s Dance TV Show
I park my car around the corner from Chicago’s Public Access Network Studios on 322 S. Green St, just west of Halsted. It’s a quarter to noon on a rainy Saturday. I’m attending a taping of Chic-A-Go-Go, a children’s television dance show that’s a hybrid between American Bandstand and Soul Train. This year, Chic-A-Go-Go celebrates its 15th anniversary.
At the studio a sign greets me that reads, “Ring bell for Chic-A-Go-Go taping!” with an arrow pointing to a buzzer. I oblige and walk inside, where I’m directed to a set of stairs that leads into a basement. I get downstairs and notice Zohar, a boy in his mid-twenties, sitting alone and surrounded by families. I sit next to him and hesitantly ask if he’s ever been here. He hasn’t. He’s waiting for a friend.
After thirty minutes, we move from the basement and into the studio. Here, we sit on folding chairs and the rules of the taping are broken down. They’re simple, dance and don’t stand too close to the back curtains or you won’t appear on television when the show airs on CANTV (Tuesdays at 8:30pm and Wednesdays at 3:30pm).
We make our way on stage: a sterile gray concrete floor with two carpeted platforms and a cartoon backdrop that highlights the city — old Comiskey, the John Hancock, a Maxwell Street Polish stand. Rihanna’s Only Girl (In the World) starts to play. Zohar smiles and moves his index fingers towards the ceiling. A boy in a cow costume with utters hanging from his stomach stands on top of one of the platforms and bounces. A toddler with blonde pigtails punches the air and a kid in a Luke Skywalker mask sways from side to side while a lady with spiked blonde hair, arm warmers, and a studded belt, does the twist.
Zohar’s friend, Jonathan Frazin, sneaks into the studio. Over the band, Daemon Familiar, I introduce myself. Jonathan’s a veteran. It’s his tenth taping. Later, over email, he says, “I keep coming back because I love dancing and I see the show as a continuing art piece that I can contribute to.”
We dance as Silver Abuse, one of the first Chicago punk bands, takes the stage. In the words of Ratso, the denim overall-wearing rat puppet who hosts the program, they look like teenagers that have, “been through a lot.” Like all of the bands, Silver Abuse lip-syncs and uses household objects to mimic their instruments, like an unplugged Hello Kitty electric guitar and a plastic flat toy piano. Bosco, the lead singer, wears black sunglasses and mouths a screeching song about Cubs legend, Ron Santo.
Silver Abuse finishes and Ratso interviews the band. You can tell that Jake — a man with gray crimp curled hair that reaches his mid back, the voice of Ratso — loves this part.
“We’ve been really lucky; we’ve had almost every punk rock band from Chicago in the 70s on,” he tells me, after the taping, in the squeaking voice of Ratso.
The taping moves quickly. After Silver Abuse, there are more bands and dancing to current hits. It ends just before 2:00pm and everyone clears the studio. Today’s taping was chaotic — Ratso’s pants fell off, a space-aged rock band gave an impromptu political speech, Miss Mia, Ratso’s co-host, showed up late. Jake is naturally frazzled and I politely remind him about my interview with Ratso.
The two of us head across the street to 7-11 so Jake can buy a hot dog. Luckily, the rain has stopped. As we cross Green I ask, “If you could pick anyone to be on Chic-A-Go-Go who would it be?”
Even without his puppet, Jake doesn’t break character. He responds in the voice of Ratso and with the same cheesy humor that’s found in the knock-knock jokes Ratso recites throughout each episode.
“Sammy Davis Junior, but I don’t know if he’s available anymore.” I can’t help but laugh.
We pause outside the door of the 7-11. “Audience costumes are a huge part of Chic-A-Go-Go. Any favorites?”
Jake smiles. “People always look good in one of those devil costumes with the face that’s a mask. It seems as people are always going as nuns and priests and naughty cartoon characters. But, if you want to be naughty you should go for the old school devil costume.”
Some on-duty cops stare at us as they walk into the store.
“Besides tapings of the show, where can your fans find you?”
We enter 7-11 and the dinging of the door echoes behind us. I try and keep up with Jake as he darts towards the soft drinks.
“Mom won’t let me have a Facebook page, or a MySpace page, but I’m still on Friendster.”
At the register, Jake asks if I’m on the Chic-A-Go-Go e-mail list. I nod. We say goodbye and I think of how dedicated Jake, after more then 600 episodes and having traveled to half of the states, is to Chic-A-Go-Go. The shows theme song says, “there’s laughing and there’s dancing and it’s fun.” For Jake, it’s been exactly this for 15 years!
Experience Chic-A-Go-Go yourself at 322 S. Green St. All tapings are FREE and open to the public. To find out more visit the official website.