Published Date Written by Timothy GillisThe Gym Dandies are going to Washington, D.C. to perform in the inaugural parade.
The Scarborough after-school group that practices circus arts has been selected to participate in the Washington parade celebrating President Obama's inauguration on Jan. 21, according to a press release. A group of 41 kids from Maine will ride six-foot unicycles in formation during the 57th Inaugural Parade.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," said Jon Cahill, founder and director of the Gym Dandies. "We've been in some big parades before, but this is really an historic event."
The Gym Dandies is made up of students aged 8-18 who practice circus arts such as unicycle riding, stilt walking, and juggling. Cahill founded the group when he was a physical education teacher in 1981 in Scarborough.
"If I could put every kid in this state on a unicycle I would do it," Cahill said between practices this week. The group trains every day after school, with Wednesdays and Thursdays reserved for their performance level group, featuring six-foot high unicycles and other specialty acts.
Cahill, now in his 32nd year, said "We've had more than 3,500 kids since we started." The group is about more than riding unicycles, although that would seem to be more than enough. "They also juggle, and ride two and three-wheel Giraffe unicycles," he said.
Looking to clarify how a unicycle could have more than one wheel, Cahill explained that the Giraffe vehicle has only one wheel touching the ground; the wheels are designed to spin upon each other in a vertical arrangement. In the three-wheel model, the rider pedals forwards on the top wheel, which spins the middle wheel backwards and the bottom wheel forwards. In the more difficult two-wheel Giraffe, the rider has to pedal backwards to go forwards.
David Grover and Shamus Malia are two of the highlighted unicyclists who will be performing on three-wheeled Giraffe unicycles as part of a forty-one-member Gym Dandies unit. The entire team is pretty stoked to be selected to perform in the national event.
"The talented groups chosen to participate in the Inaugural Parade reflect the spirit, values, and diversity of our great nation," said President Obama. "Vice President Biden and I are honored to have them join us in the parade," according to one press release.
Participants in the parade will follow the traditional route down Pennsylvania Avenue from 4th Street past the White House. President Obama and Vice President Biden, along with their families, will watch the parade from the reviewing stand across from Lafayette Park.
Cahill and his group had to plan on being picked. If they waited until the announcement to make travel plans, they never would have made it in time.
"We had everything in place ahead of time to be ready for the parade and public inauguration, including hotels, travel plans, etc.," Cahill said. "If we didn't get picked, we would have done all that work for nothing. So I'm doubly pleased."
Organizations wishing to participate in the parade submitted online applications to the Joint Task Force — National Capital Region (JTF-NCR). The deadline for submissions was Nov. 30. Applications were reviewed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee with the assistance of the JTF-NCR, including members of several of the military bands, who used their expertise to help assess the presentation skill of marching bands, musical acts and drill teams, the press release read.
"It's going to be an exciting day," said Cahill, who spent Wednesday's practice getting photos taken of all the group's members to send to Washington for security checks. Security at such an event is tight, obviously, he added.
The Gym Dandies Children's Circus of Scarborough Schools is the largest continuously operating children's circus in the U.S., according to their application for the parade.
They have performed at more than 80 schools, countless community events in the New England region, and many nationally significant events, bringing the wonder of the circus with the enthusiasm of young performers to young and old alike, the application read.
The unit performs various formations while proceeding forward along the parade route. When the parade comes to a halt, the group performs special in-place routines. The unit routinely changes from two files to eight files depending on the width of the parade route without increasing the over all length of the formation. This change in formation provides spectacular curb appeal for the spectators as the unit moves along the parade route.
The group included a video of their past performances, including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005, the largest and tallest unicycle ensemble ever to appear in NYC, and in the National Independence Day Parades in Washington, D.C. in 2000, 2004, and 2006, when they were a featured appearance.
The group is about so much more than spinning their wheels, however.
The Gym Dandies Children's Circus has received state and national recognition as an exemplary program for children, including being nominated for the National Education Association "A+ Award for Excellence in Education" and for winning the Maine Governor's Council on Physical Activity "Contest for Communities Award 2000" for breaking new ground in physical activity programming for youth.
They were first-place winners in the novelty unit division category, West Virginia Strawberry Festival Parade in 2009 and the "Peoples Choice Award" at the Rockland, Maine Lobster Festival Parade in 2010.
As the Gym Dandies prepare to impress the president, Cahill sees the opportunity as one that will remain forever with the young unicyclists.
"It will be something they will always be able to look back on with pride," he said.