A once undeniable internet sensation known as the dancing baby re-entered the zeitgeist Monday thanks to NatGeo’s Rewind the ’90s, which looked at where it came from and what its lasting effects have been.
The computer file, which is a bald baby wearing a diaper while dancing and twirling in place, was created in the mid-1990s by animators who were experimenting with 3D technology at the time. And after being emailed around the workplace, the baby eventually made its way beyond that according to one of the co-creators, Robert Lurye, who spoke on Monday’s show.
“We called it Cha Cha Baby, and because the footsteps had a rhythm to it, someone added music along the way,” he said.
The song is usually “Hooked on a Feeling” by Swedish rock band Blue Swede. And Lurye knew that things had really taken off when other big-time animators were starting to take notice.
“I had friends who worked at Disney animation who said, ‘Robert, you know it stopped Disney for a day because everybody was stopping to look at this,’” he said. “It was a little bit of a Frankenstein. Just had a life of its own.”
Its popularity really exploded when then-teenager Robert Sheridan gave dancing baby its own website, which was ultimately how it was discovered by a producer of the Fox show, Ally McBeal. Dancing baby was incorporated into the hit series as the titular character Ally was seeing it in visions meant to represent her anxieties about a ticking biological clock.
“And that’s how it exploded offline,” Sheridan said, adding that his website “crashed, big time” after the baby hit primetime.
Aleks Krotoski, a tech journalist and talking head on Monday’s show, said the dancing baby “really was one of the first internet memes” and is widely credited for opening up a new way for people to express themselves besides standard communication.
The gif and meme culture has come a long way since then, and some of the celebrities featured on Rewind the ’90s like Julia Stiles, Alex Winter and Luis Guzmán, whose faces will show up in memes from time to time, said they have embraced it.
“It’s fun to be part of meme culture in a way that my kids can enjoy, I think it’s sweet,” Winter said.
However, interest in the dancing baby wasn’t only because it was sweet and cute — many people found it to be quite the opposite. Of course, that was all the more reason to share it back then, but maybe not so much today, according to some viewers on social media.
Rewind the ’90s airs Mondays at 9 p.m. at National Geographic.
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