Monday, October 1, 2007By PAUL BRUBAKER, HERALD NEWS
PATERSON – Barbara Bourdeau Price fought back tears on Sunday looking at old photos of members of the Paterson YMCA Circus Club.
In one shot, Bourdeau Price was a 12-year-old performer frozen in time nimbly balancing atop a precarious tower of girls and unsupported ladders.
"It was such a long time ago," Bourdeau Price said softy, comforted by her husband, Martin, who was at her side.
Bourdeau Price, who traveled from Ocean City, Md., was one of nearly 30 members of the Circus Club who returned to the YMCA's Ward Street building where they used to practice and perform. Years ago, they honed their abilities to dazzle crowds with acts of daring on tightropes and trapezes – not to mention a bit of clowning around on a trampoline.
But at Sunday's modest celebration, memories were the main attraction as graying, slightly less spry Circus Club members pored over boxes of 8x10 black and whites and albums full of snapshots of themselves in their heyday.
"It was a special, special time," said David Lewis, 76, of Erieville, N.Y., who had just completed a 3,100-mile motorcycle tour before the reunion. "It took a little something special to go up in front of a group of people and do these things that before would only be done in a circus tent."
Nicknamed "Bones," Lewis' tall, gangly build as a teenager made his trampoline moves more comical than breathtaking. Lewis ended up making 'em laugh as the club's clown.
Meryl Ann Daly Buono was 16 from Packanack Lake when she joined the club in 1953.
"It was just like to magic to me," said Daly Buono, a former dancer and acrobat. "Here I am in the circus, just an ordinary kid."
Daly Buono recalled the club doing one "home show" at the YMCA's gymnasium, and getting booked for seven or eight shows at Elks Clubs and area high schools every year.
Eventually, Daly Buono joined the Christiani Brothers Circus with her husband, Angelo, where she could often be seen atop an elephant.
John Grubb, who joined the club as a 10-year-old, recalled the interdependence the performers relied on to pull off many of the club's stunts.
"You had to be crazy to do what we did, but it taught us life skills," Grubb said.
Jerry Calkin, who directed three home shows before becoming a physics and astronomy professor at Eastern Kentucky University, said lessons were learned behind the scenes as well.
"You cannot present a two-hour circus show without things going wrong," Calkin said.
"Equipment breaks, the spotlight's in the wrong place, the sound doesn't play. You have to learn to handle it."
"I fell off of everything," said Ursula Pelle, a former dancer and a retired music teacher who lives in Clifton.
"It gave you a certain amount of courage," Pelle said. "There is courage in facing the audience. Will I fail? Will I succeed? That carries through into life."
Not everyone was willing to let their past circus antics fade away.
After the group posed for a photo in the YMCA's gymnasium, Bob Gras whimsically fell to the floor and tried to support Joanne Iacobelli Dikun in an attempt to recreate one of their old balancing routines.
Later, Bourdeau Price, who learned tightwire walking in the gymnasium, said, "It's great to come back."
Although the Circus Club disbanded sometime in the 1960s – there were conflicting accounts among the group on Sunday – Lewis said he was compelled to start holding club reunions four years ago after the death of a close friend and fellow club member.
Now, a search is on for more former members of the Paterson YMCA Circus Club.
Those with any information are asked to call Michael Babyak at 973-361-5594 or 973-927-6300.