SCARBOROUGH — The Scarborough Children’s Circus, The Gym Dandies, is hoping to raise $15,000 to perform in the Independence Day parade in Philadelphia.
The unicycle troupe, founded in 1981 by former Scarborough gym teacher Jon Cahill, has performed in some of America’s most prestigious celebrations, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Presidential Inaugural Parade and the National Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C, said the organization.
“Scarbrough is the only town where it’s normal to see kids riding unicycles,” said the group’s program director, Dave Sloatman.
Sloatman said the trips are always educational for students, adding it will be an amazing opportunity for students to ride by Independence Hall on the Fourth of July.
Sloatman said the group, which is now part of the town’s culture, started when several students asked Cahill to teach them how to juggle. “It started with a bucket of tennis balls,” Sloatman said of the group, which has grown to 200 members. “We’re a school within a school,” he said.
Cahill later taught himself how to ride a unicycle so he could teach students.
The group juggles and performs routines on unicycles as high as 8 feet. Fifty children participate in the performing level of the group, and range in age from 9 to 18. More than 3,500 students have participated in the program since its inception.
“These kids are doing things that most people can’t even imagine doing,” said Sloatman, adding the older kids mentor and help younger students. He said the group is not competitive individually, but fosters competitiveness among the students to continue to improve.
He said the group teaches the lesson that impossible-seeming things can be accomplished through hard work.
Students practice weekly from October to April, and the schedule is designed to not conflict with other team sports schedules.
The Gym Dandies have recently appeared at the Memorial Day Parade in Scarborough, the Standish Summer Spectacular Parade, and numerous school appearances. They are also an annual favorite at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, which they are invited to every year, said a press release from the organization.
According to the group, there are no tryouts, no one is ever cut and no one is ever turned away, regardless of ability to pay the registration fee to join. Rather, the kids help each other along, mentoring each other and cheering each other on, from juggling and spinning Diablos to riding 8-foot-tall, three-wheel unicycles while juggling clubs.
Sloatman said several former Gym Dandies have moved on to work in the entertainment industry as actors and musicians. He credits some of their love of performing and entertaining an audience to their experience in the Gym Dandies.
The Gym Dandies, a circus group based in Scarborough, is raising money to perform in Philadelphia July 4.