Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dandies founder retired, but not from circus

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Sep 29, 2005): Although former gym teacher Jon Cahill retired last year after 34 years in Scarborough schools, he has continued his involvement with the Gym Dandies Children's Circus and plans to be with the group in New York City in November for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“It’s not the end of my career with the Gym Dandies, but it’s a real culminating event for me,” said Cahill, who started the group in 1981 as an after-school juggling club.

A dancer had visited Wentworth Intermediate School as a guest artist and taught him to juggle, which he began incorporating into his gym classes.

It has grown in the years since, and now includes more than 200 kids from third grade through senior year at Scarborough High School, who juggle, walk on large rolling balls and ride unicycles with seats as high as six feet off the ground.

Dozens of parents help in practice and during shows, helping keep lines of performers straight and close together, and assisting kids who fall off their unicycles to get back up and rejoin the show.

Cahill said few people have seen anything like the Dandies' performance.

“There are going to be 2.5 million people there that are going to be flabbergasted” when they see the Dandies in the parade, Cahill said after Monday’s before-school rehearsal in the Wentworth parking lot.

The parade will involve 56 kids riding “giraffes,” the six-foot unicycles, in rows and performing various moving formations along the 2.5-mile parade route.

“Once they’re up, they’re going to stay up for an hour and 15 minutes,” Cahill said.

“I can’t imagine it being harder than the monsoon we rode through,” said Scarborough High School junior Matt Sirocki, who was in the two previous major appearances of the group, in the 2000 and 2004 National Independence Day Parades in Washington, D.C. In 2004, rain poured down on the Dandies as they rode in the parade.

He said it’s uncomfortable to ride a unicycle for longer than 30 minutes, but said that goes away with the excitement of putting on the show.

The group is still trying to raise money for the trip, and received a $1,000 donation from the Saco and Biddeford Savings Institution Monday. The Scarborough Board of Education gave $5,000 toward the trip, which is estimated to cost $35,000, and the Maine Community Foundation recently donated $5,000 to support the entire program, some of which will be used for the trip, Cahill said.

The group is also raising money for a return trip to the National Independence Day Parade on July 4, 2006.

Some larger potential donors decided not to give the group money because Macy’s parade rules bar groups from wearing logos for organizations or businesses other than themselves, Cahill said.

“I wouldn’t do that anyway,” he said.

The group spent about $8,000 – “over budget” – on uniforms for the parade, which required them to have gear for warm weather, cold weather and rain. The uniform helmets, knee and elbow pads used last year in D.C. are still in good shape and will be reused, Cahill said.

He said the parade, “a once in a lifetime event,” will draw many of the Dandies’ families, including relations from around the country, to New York for the Thanksgiving holiday. Others here in town and elsewhere will be watching to catch a glimpse of the group on television, though Cahill said he has not received any guarantee of airtime.

He said it is appropriate the parade is happening this year, the Dandies’ 25th, in which there are three seniors who have been in the group since third grade – longer than any of the other Dandies.

Those seniors, Cassaundra Kapinos, Sarah Morin and Dana Bennett, will feature prominently in the parade, with Bennett and junior Brandon Baines leading the group while juggling clubs atop their unicycles, Cahill said.

Junior Kaycee Stevens, a world-class unicycle competitor who has parlayed his skills from the Dandies into medals in international competitions, said this parade is bigger than the ones in Washington, D.C., because there is more television coverage and it is better known among the public.

Cahill said he will keep going with the group, building on this event and heading for more. “I don’t intend to stop in the near future,” he said, noting that despite his retirement, “I still get to work with kids.”