Bubble baths are usually languid, peaceful escapes, not public escapades with techno music, flashing purple lights and shiny club wear.

Welcome to the foam party, a fad catching on in the Midwest after serving as a social lubricant during the last decade for teens and twentysomethings in warmer parts of the country.

Nightclubs pay for inflatable dance pits or just fill dance floors with up to 15 feet of white froth, turn up the beats and hope young men and women shed their inhibitions for some good old-fashioned, G-rated splashing and dancing.

In spring break hubs worldwide, there are R-rated foam parties complete with nude cavorting. But promoters in the Chicago area are sticking to the more innocent version as they try to stir interest in the concept among high school audiences.

"We're like a rock show," says Detroit-based Floorplay Foam Concepts & Services founder and promoter Chris-Anthony Gonzales, 39. "The foam is the lead singer. We make sure the notes are right."

Robert Thompson, popular culture professor at Syracuse University, explains that foam parties may appeal to the Nickelodeon generation because of its familiarity with the cable show's green slime.

"You've got this group of people who have this as part of their cultural vocabulary. Obviously youth culture is always looking for an excuse to engage in a sensual art. [It's] got an erotic dimension to it . . . like taking a communal shower," Thompson says. "They are getting messy. You are in fact doing what you spent the first years of your life being told not to do."

Heather Goncher of Olympia Fields and her companions sip vodka-lemonade drinks and painstakingly prepare for a recent foam party at the Chicago Heights club Oasis One-Sixty, even though they predict they will be damp and disheveled a few hours later.

"What is a foam party anyway?" asks Goncher, a 22-year-old communications student. "I'm thinking of it as a regular Friday night . . . we don't know what to expect."

Once at the club, which is sandwiched between a furniture store and gyro shop in a strip mall, Goncher, her sister Katie Graziani, 21, and their sister-in-law, Barb Goncher, 31, hesitate only slightly before wading into the foam.

"I love it!" declares hairstylist Barb. "I'm getting in!"

Heather responds: "Oh, my God -- it's full. Wooohooo!"

Her fiance, Alan Stock, 37, a finance manager at a car dealership, casts a skeptical eye on the frolicking:

"I think my hot tub's better than this. It's nice though. It's clean fun," Stock says. "It should get a little wilder. The foam is a little overrated. I thought there'd be foam all over the room."

Shawn Fanning, 24, is more cautious.

"I feel a little weird running around in foam with people I don't know," he says from behind the pit's rubber barriers. "It seems like a good idea until you gotta go home."

Another guy remarks: "The girls look like foam goddesses."

"It's like a dance floor," says Phil Agosti, marketing director for Floorplay, one of a handful of foam companies nationwide. "The more people get in, the more they respond."

Originating in Ibiza, Spain, 15 years ago, foam parties generally flourished in warmer climes, because club-goers leave soaking wet. But in recent years, the parties have caught on in Alaska and Northern cities, such as Chicago, even as they're fading in popularity elsewhere, says David Ireland, publisher and editor-in-chief of BPM Magazine, which covers club culture.