Monday, January 23, 2006
By MARLYN MARGULIS
For the Courier-Post
Dennis Michael Dowhy walked on stage at the Assumption School auditorium in Atco carrying a magic comedy table. The table quickly lost a leg and the children in the audience burst into laughter.
From then on, Dennis Michel (Stage Name) had 170 pairs of eyes and ears giving him rapt attention.
It isn't surprising that the magician from Waterford most enjoys performing for children. The entertainer has been interested in wizardry since he was a young boy, when he first watched a magician perform at a school assembly.
"There is the wonderment, silliness and fun when entertaining children," says Dowhy after his recent performance at the Catholic elementary school.
Although his career path took him in a different direction when he became a firefighter, Dowhy has been a professional magician for more than 30 years. His specialty has been entertaining children whenever he had time off from his firefighting duties.
Last September Dowhy, who is now retired from the Camden Fire Department, founded New Jersey's first chapter of KIDabra International, an association of family and children's show performers that began in 1991.
"KIDabra members are professional children's magicians who help each other improve and share ideas," explains Dowhy, who is chapter development coordinator for the international association.
The new chapter boasts 15 members, five of whom are full-time, professional magicians.
"Most magicians don't know how to entertain children," Dowhy says. "KIDabra members show them how to have fun with their audiences, how to get the kids involved as a group and individually as assistants. The best magicians empower children by involvement and interactions."
During his childhood, Dowhy read every book on magic he could find.
When he was 18, he joined the former Houdini Club of Philadelphia and served in numerous officer positions.
He performed part time while attending college and even through the years he was a Camden firefighter.
When he was performing at a charity show for the Cerebral Palsy association in the early 1970s. Dennis recalls. "I had no idea what this organization was about," he admits. "Entertaining children requires their interactions to the magic tricks I perform. I started out by asking them to say "abracadabra' when I had counted to three. I counted, but got no response from the children. It was then I realized these handicapped children's minds were active, but their bodies and voices could not immediately react to their thoughts. In the middle of the show, one child loudly screamed out, "kidabra!' and his mother started crying. After the show, I found out she cried because her boy hadn't spoken in six years. You never know what effect you'll have on an audience."
Dowhy first heard of KIDabra in 2002 and formed a local chapter. The new local KIDabra chapter trains members to perform the "Rabbit In the Hat Puppet" trick, how to develop shows for daycare, preschool and school-age children and how to present library shows.
And here's a little secret he tells.
"When a magician entertaining children and messes up, he does it intentionally," Dowhy notes. "His motive is to interact with the kids and create laughter. A magician wants to have the kids catch him making a mistake. For example, I hold a flower and it starts to wilt. The kids yell, "Look, it's drooping.' When I look at the flower, it is perfectly straight. Also, each child has a logical explanation about how a trick is done. I always present magic to the kids in a fun way."
Dowhy's most successful trick is a "snake" in a basket.
"A child selects a playing card and puts it back into the deck, which is next to the basket," he says. "I cause the snake to come out and open its mouth. The card that was selected is in the snake's mouth."
Paul Ricci, who is principal at Assumption School, appreciates Dowhy's volunteer work with students.
"Dennis has been involved in school activities for several years, running a chess club and magic club for our children," Ricci says. "He is a natural teacher who works well with the kids because he loves what he does. They get excited about watching him perform and learning how to do the tricks. He is also the Webmaster for our school and parish."
Donna Horn, a member of the new KIDabra chapter, feels Dowhy not only teaches, but also "energizes, motivates and inspires chapter members to improve and refine our magic performances."
Dowhy's special bond with the children at Assumption School seems to carry over to all his performances.
"It is a great feeling knowing when someone gives of themselves to please others, it comes back tenfold," he says. "This is what entertaining children does for magicians. Seeing the joy in their faces and their laughter calms the soul and banishes the daily stresses of life."
Marlyn Margulis is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org