Did you think the HampsterDance was one of those odd, fleeting phenomena that temporarily titillated the Net's funny bone and then disappeared into the ether? Well, you were wrong. The HampsterDance is back in town and, if Deirdre LaCarte has her way, on its way to becoming a media empire.
LaCarte, creator of the wildly successful Web page filled with animated dancing rodents, recently unveiled her new "interactive" hamsters. At HampsterDance2.com, viewers can speed up and slow down both the music and the dancers. Individual hamsters can even be dragged to different locations on the screen; clicking on them pauses their motion so the dance steps can be started at different times.
The hamsters have also learned to rap. The familiar "Dee dee dee, doo doo, do-do doo" now burbles over a thrumming synthesizer and electronic percussion -- part of a longer track you'll soon be able to purchase on the "Official and Authorized" HampsterDance CD. Over a driving techno beat, the speeded up voices shout: "All right everybody, now here we go. It's a brand new version of a dosey-do!" Several rhymes later, it culminates with a speedy "Yi-ha!" and an announcer's voice saying "Let's try it" before the familiar yodeled refrain ...
But you can't teach an old hamster new tricks. European fans of the hamster chorus know that the original site was sampled by a U.K. band in April 1999. The Cuban Boys mixed the ditty with their own techno beat and sound clips of voices; after it was played on John Peel's influential radio show on BBC One, the tune quickly became the show's most-requested song in over 20 years. The band landed a contract with EMI and has sold more than 200,000 copies of the single since it hit stores in December. Titled "Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia," and promoted with an offbeat video, the song remained in the top 10 for three weeks, and was released across Europe on Jan. 31.
This was all particularly galling to LaCarte. The British Columbia art student and martial arts instructor had assembled the original HampsterDance page from materials she'd collected around the Net as a tribute to her pet hamster, Hampton. She contacted a management company called "Big Fun Media," which in turn hired an independent production company to create the "Official and Authorized" CD. The hamsters now dance under a banner ad for WorldlyInvestor.com. The humble GeoCities page where LaCarte started it all now points to the new domain at HampsterDance2.com, where the registered trademark symbol appears six times.
Meanwhile, the original Hamsterdance.com site has become a casualty of the reshuffling. After over 60 million visitors, the Web-hosting company Tilted Planet, which served HampsterDance.com for LaCarte, appears to have taken down the frolicking hamsters. (Last summer CEO George Vuckovic complained that they were having trouble keeping up with the site's popularity -- and generating enough revenue to cover the costs.) HamsterDance.com now leads instead to an assortment of other dancing critters (the fishydance, the leprechaun dance, the turtle dance, the armadillo dance) plus a card trick and jokes like the "magic Web cam." LaCarte is now pleading with Hampster fans to boycott the errant site.
HampsterDance2 has included a page for the original hamsters. (Though Friday they were dancing without their trademark ditty.) But LaCarte's management company has big plans for the little animals. "As we get the site up to speed we will add a 'forum page' so that visitors will be able to interact with other visitors," says Jeffery Lane, the company's president. "E-cards will also be offered that will allow the fans to create and customize greeting to their friends and family." They're even planning to introduce new female characters.
Lane says that the critters are receiving 200,000 visits per day and thousands of e-mails. They've also been featured in a commercial for EarthLink. But fame has its pitfalls. One webmaster has already created a Web page titled "Die, Dancing Hamsters, Die." Nuke that rapping rodent before it causes any more pain!