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Dazzling troupe on unicycles comes to ShoWare Center
Growing up in the Bronx, Kim Anthony "Kip" Jones was exposed to many influential artists and athletes.
A New York Knicks fan, Jones enjoyed basketball but preferred a different sport.
Gifted athletically as an emerging gymnast, the adventurous teen soon would discover the opportunity to combine the sports and perform on a brightly lit stage.
On a whim, Jones accompanied a friend to a unique tryout off the New York streets.
"They were playing basketball on unicycles," Jones recalled, "so one afternoon I tried out. ... I fell in love with it ever since."
Jones proved to be a quick study on one wheel and made the team, joining the King Charles Troupe – an acrobatic act with deep roots in traveling show circles – at the age of 15.
Thirty years later, Jones remains a primary player in the touring troupe.
"It is one of the most rigorous schedules out there for a performer," Jones said while preparing for a show in Everett last week. "But at the same time, you get to see some parts of the country some people never get to see in their lifetime."
The troupe's high-energy and comedic routine of basketball on unicycles comes to Kent's ShoWare Center this Labor Day weekend – part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus presents Barnum Bash showcase.
Eight performances span Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Jones, 46, has become one of the leading spokesmen for the Las Vegas-based troupe, a nine-member group of performers of various backgrounds and ages. Many, like Jones, grew up in the Bronx, and many, like Jones, jumped at the chance to perform and travel the country.
A carefully scripted act of agility and balance, the troupe exhibits a wide range of skills on unicycles, ranging from slam-dunks, dribbling, passing and jumping rope. The show is complete with hijinks, improvisation and funny antics.
"If you have to sum it up, it's organized chaos on unicycles," said Jones, a third-generation troupe performer. "The routine (is difficult) because we have eight other riders weaving in and out of one another.
"I would probably say the precision is frightening," he said. "To the audience, it might look like we're getting ready to crash ... but it's actually a careful, precise routine that's choreographed."
The routine has changed and evolved over time. Jumping rope is part of the picture, something Jones does extremely well. He recently accomplished a record-setting 164 single jumps on a unicycle while Double-Dutch jump roping, according to RecordSetter.
The troupe evolved from one man's vision. Jerry King wanted to utilize the unicycle as a tool to keep kids involved in something decent and constructive.
King was just a kid when he sneaked into the circus in Tampa, Fla., to watch "The Greatest Show on Earth." All he remembered seeing was a man riding a unicycle on a high wire and the elephants.
As King became older, he fulfilled his dream by teaching his 6-year-old son, Charles, to ride the unicycle.
King established a unicycle club and laid down certain rules to follow, such as discipline, direction and Christian principles, and the man became an inspiration for others.
In 1968, King's troupe demonstrated unicycling and basketball passing skills to then Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey producer Irving Feld.
It soon became a hit, a part of the big show for many years.
Today, Jones and his teammates carry on the tradition and the spirit of the troupe, representing King's original ideas.
While Jones' crew performs throughout the country, other units of the troupe have taken the act around the world.
"It was King's vision to use the unicycle as a tool to help discipline and teach direction," Jones said. "To King, what's important is how you conduct yourself off the (floor) and how you treat others."
Jones understands his role and place in time with the troupe. He acknowledges he is more showman than a pure, sneakers-to-the-floor basketball player. But that's just fine with him.
"I probably play it better on a unicycle than I do it on my feet," he said.
• Event: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus presents Barnum Bash. Acts includes the King Charles Troupe, Mighty Dmytrio, Motorcycle Mania, Epic Asian Elephants, Wheel of Steel, and Hand Balancers.
• Venue: ShoWare Center, 625 W. James St.
• Performances: Friday (7:30 p.m.); Saturday (11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.); Sunday (1 p.m., 5 p.m.); and Monday (noon, 4 p.m.).
• Tickets: Prices range from $20-$80. Tickets for kids ages 2-12 are available for select performances for $10 each, including the noon and 4 p.m., Monday shows. Military personnel and their families are $10 each at the 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday shows and the 5 p.m. Sunday performance. Order at www.showarecenter.com.