One of the most popular local children’s entertainers ended up in his career nearly by happenstance.
“Polka Dot,” otherwise known as Ron Albanese, can be seen donning outrageous costumes and polka-dot hats and performing for crowds of screaming children in and around Hudson County. The former Hoboken resident and one-time Jersey City teacher is known for his boundless energy and performance skills.
In the 1990s, Albanese was an editor of The Current, a midweek lifestyle paper published by the Hudson Reporter. He interviewed aspiring actors, artists, and musicians.
One day, he interviewed a female singer-songwriter from Jersey City. She invited him to join her in delivering singing telegrams.
Albanese, who lived in Hoboken with his wife at the time, had played in rock bands and was a devotee of Cheap Trick and Kiss. In fact, he was an author of a Cheap Trick newsletter. So he had some music experience, but not with singing telegrams.
“On my lunch break I go to this guy’s office in Union City and he looks at me and he says ‘You’re hired,’ ” Albanese said in a phone interview recently.
Albanese began dressing up as characters such as the Telletubbies, Pikachu, and Elmo.
“I want spectacle, I want something larger than life…” – Ron Albanese, aka ‘Polka Dot’
In the beginning, Albanese would try anything and everything that was asked of him.
“I just went for it,” he said. “I think it’s given me the ability to do anything to entertain an audience.”
The birth of ‘Polka Dot’
After almost a year of dressing up as Elmo and Pikachu, he wanted to be an entertainer with an original persona. He didn’t have an interest in being a generic clown, so he began donning wacky outfits, packing a guitar, and performing a comedy act. He started in March of 1999, and is now in his 15th year as “Polka Dot.”
“It was chosen on the fly, at random,” he says about how he chose the name. When he began performing, he didn’t have a name and kids would ask him what it was, so he said “Polka Dot” because he was wearing a hat with polka dots on it. He says it’s a good name because kids remember it.
Albanese said, “I never speak down to kids; I entertain along with the kids who entertain along with me.”
He says that he occasionally does specific shows about subjects, such as being physically fit and eating well, but mostly his shows are designed to be “a great escape.” He mostly performs at birthday parties and music and street festivals.
Music plays a huge role in “Polka Dot” shows. Albanese says that rock n’ roll gave him a base for being able to work a stage and entertain an audience.
“It’s given me a gift,” he said.
He grew up admiring Kiss because he says they were “50 percent for the ear, and 50 percent for the eye.”
“I want spectacle; I want something larger than life,” he said of his performances. He also wants his shows to have facets that can be enjoyed by all people, no matter what age.
Albanese spoke of the challenges of performing as “Polka Dot.” He said one of the main challenges is consistently putting on the best show that he can and delivering the standard he knows his audiences expect from him.
He also said he goes to the gym four days a week and does a lot of yoga in order to be up for the physical challenge.
“I figure by the time I’m 65, if I’m still doing ‘Polka Dot,’ I’m either crazy or bionic,” he said.
He also runs into overbearing and demanding parents from time to time. He spoke of a party where he was hired to dress up as a pirate and find a map that had been buried in the ground. However, he said that once parents see he knows what he’s doing, they relax.
Teaching and writing
Albanese grew up in West Caldwell, and graduated from Montclair State with a degree in psychology. He used to be a teacher in Jersey City at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is no longer open, and at P.S. 30, teaching elementary school students. He is still a teacher of computer sciences for second to seventh graders.
Albanese also worked on the newsletter for Cheap Trick called “One on Four” for a few years with one of his friends. They worked closely with the band and picked up quite a bit of attention from people like Conan O’Brien and members of Motley Crue.
“The internet happened,” Albanese said, referring to why they stopped producing the newsletter.
On the move
Albanese lived in Hoboken for a total of 10 years. “The energy of Hoboken is a good match for me,” he said. “I really bonded with the city.”
Eventually, he and his wife and two kids moved to Verona. He had grown up in that area and wanted his children to grow up in the suburbs like him. His two children, 12-year-old Nick and 9-year-old Sophia, and his wife Toni, all play a part in his shows.
“From day one it’s been a family affair,” he said.
His son plays keyboard for the shows and runs the special effects, his daughter sings and dresses up as different characters, and his wife creates his wacky costumes.
“I dream it and she builds it,” Albanese said.
“Polka Dot” has gone far. Albanese recently licensed a few clips of “Polka Dot” to ABC Family and has gotten lots of airplay on the internet and Sirius XM radio. Albanese has performed in Wildwood, Boston, and all over the Tri-State area.
Upcoming events for “Polka Dot” include performances at local festivals and pre-schools. He will be giving a concert as part of the concert series at Shipyard Park on July 8. Last year he helped host the annual Halloween Ragamuffin Parade in Hoboken.