SCARBOROUGH — Spectators at New York City’s Columbus Day Parade on Oct. 13 will get a break from the usual procession when they’re treated to a performance by 150 students on unicycles.
The cyclists are members of the Gym Dandies, a circus troupe in which over 2,000 Scarborough students have participated since its inception in 1981.
Children ages 8-17 will perform a variety of feats in the parade, which runs along Fifth Avenue. Three lead performers will march before the banner on their 6-foot “giraffe” unicycles, followed by a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on smaller cycles. The latter provide the “cute factor,” according to the troupe’s director and founder, Jon Cahill. Several 36-inch unicycles will dart in and out of the formation, and 30 giraffe-riders will bring up the rear.
This will be the troupe’s second performance in New York; the students also participated in the 2005 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The group has also performed in three National Independence Day Parades, several National Cherry Blossom Festival Parades, the Montreal Bicycle Festival, and the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
On Oct. 7 in the Wentworth Intermediate School gymnasium, about 15 students wheeled around, excitedly practicing their routine. Troupe members rehearsed mounting and dismounting, switching columns, cycling while holding hands with a partner, crossovers and a “flock of geese” trick, in which riders formed a wide “V.”
Fifth-grader Emma Goodwin was excited about the prospect of performing in New York City. According to Cahill, performing on the road is the ultimate goal of most participants.
“During parades, so many people watch you,” said Goodwin, who joined when she was in the third grade. “It’s like being the star of the show.”
Older members of the troupe were practicing too, including Kristina Griffin, 17, and Tim Davis, 17, and they were just as excited about the event.
“I like entertaining people and making people smile,” Davis said.
“It warms your heart, really,” Griffin agreed.
Cahill, a retired physical education teacher, started the Dandies in 1981 with “10 kids and a box full of tennis balls,” he said, when he was trying to find alternative activities for his classes.
He learned to juggle from a dancer who had performed at the school, but learned with the students when it came to riding unicycles. One of his students had received a unicycle for Christmas and was determined to learn to ride it. Cahill was, too.
“It was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever attempted,” he said, laughing.
More kids joined over the years as they saw their classmates develop the skills and realized that they could too, Cahill said.
“It’s really fun to be able to do something most other people can’t,” Cahill said.
Members of the Gym Dandies practice their unicycle moves in preparation for the Oct. 13 Columbus Day Parade in New York City.