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Posts Tagged ‘clown’

Photo: Dave Shafer.
Rodeo clown and “barrelman” Brandon Dunn.

When my husband worked in Minnesota, the colleague who ran manufacturing was in his free time a bull rider. He seemed impervious to danger and injury, but he was young. Eventually, he was obliged to retire.

As dangerous as bull riding is, those in the know might tell you that the role of rodeo clown is more so.

W.K. Stratton says at Texas Highways, “This was one of the rodeo axioms my mother taught me as I was growing up. … Always respect rodeo clowns: They’re the best athletes in the arena, and they save lives.

“[That] perplexed me when I was young. Clowns were the guys who strutted around dusty small-town rodeos in ragged outfits while carrying out groanworthy banter with the event announcer. Sometimes they performed tricks with dancing burros or hoop-jumping dogs. Other times, they might drive around in a tricked-up old car with an exploding muffler and a radiator that could spew water like Old Faithful.

“The athleticism of rodeo clowns was lost on me until I got older and realized their work is just as dangerous and exciting as the bull riders they’re employed to protect. Working in teams, their job is to distract an enraged bull from attacking the rider who’s just been catapulted to the dirt. The clowns working on foot — as opposed to manning a barrel — have come to be known as bullfighters. …

” ‘A human’s instinct is to run away,’ says Weston Rutkowski, of Haskell, one of the best bullfighters in the business. ‘That’s the worst thing you can do in this particular sport. A bull’s got four legs. We’ve got two. So they’re going to run you down in a straight line.

‘You have to be ready to move in the moment a rider starts to fall off. If you don’t come in until they hit the ground, you’re four steps late.’

“While their job has little in common with the matadors of Mexico and Spain who share the ‘bullfighter’ name, rodeo bullfighters must also overcome basic safety impulses. …

“Bullfighting runs in the family for Brandon Dunn, a rodeo clown from the North Texas town of Petrolia. Dunn fought bulls until injuries from a car wreck in 2003 robbed him of his speed. Now he entertains audiences as a clown and barrelman, working in tandem with his 17-year-old son, Brendall Dunn, a bullfighter. The father-son team works about 20 rodeos a year.

“ ‘It got to where I was put together by bailing wire and duct tape, and I just couldn’t fight bulls anymore,’ Dunn says. But that didn’t dissuade Brendall, who worked his first rodeo at age 12. Brandon says he has coached his son carefully.

” ‘There’s a mental maturity you have to reach, no matter how athletic you are,’ he says. ‘We would bring him up with some slower and older bulls and transition him to faster bulls. Now he’s fighting anything that comes out of the chute.’ …

“As a hotbed for rodeos, Texas has produced a prominent line of influential clowns. Ralph Fulkerson, a bull rider from Midlothian, 25 miles southwest of Dallas, changed the game when he switched to bullfighting in the 1920s. He developed a cornball humor act that involved his mule, Elko. After numerous injuries, Fulkerson came up with a way to protect himself by introducing the clown’s barrel to bull riding. His first barrels were made of wood reinforced with metal. Fulkerson would draw the bulls away from the bull riders and toward the barrel. Then he’d hop inside the barrel and allow the bull to bang away at it with its horns. …

“The sport went through a radical change in the early 1990s when [Tuff Hedeman, a four-time world champion bull rider] and other top bull riders broke away from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) to form the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). The speed as well as the bucking and spinning ability of the bulls increased dramatically.

“Bullfighters have adapted accordingly. At some rodeos, the trappings of the rodeo clown have disappeared. Bullfighters’ work has become so refined that it developed into a sport itself—freestyle bullfighting, in which bullfighters show their stuff while challenging real fighting bulls. The Bullfighters Only (BFO) tour showcases their skills — no bull riders involved. … Judges score fighters on technique and wow factors, including leaps over the bull.

“The jalopy-driving rodeo clowns of my childhood in the 1960s would be dumbfounded by what occurs at BFO events. These bullfighters practice acrobatics reminiscent of the Minoans: They’ve been known to jump completely over a bull and perform flips. Though some of the participants wear clown makeup in homage to the past, freestyle bullfighting has an X Games vibe.”

See some great photos at Texas Highways, here. And if you are interested in the rodeo life, try getting a copy of the wonderful Chloé Zhao movie The Rider.

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Maybe I could be a clown. One of my brothers has clowned for years, mostly at his church in Wisconsin. He really enjoys it.

This story by Elianna Bar-El story at Good magazine makes me want to know the same satisfaction medical clowns get from helping sick children. But clearly, it takes lots of training.

“On a recent visit to Wolfson Medical Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel, Yolana Zimmerman is met with audible sighs of relief.

“ ‘Great! You’re here! We need you,’ says a nurse.

“Zimmerman is not a medical doctor. In fact, she casts quite a contrast to the typical image of a doctor with her pink leggings, cupcake apron, and eyelet bloomers — not to mention the underwear on her head and the stuffed monkey in her hands.

“Yolana ‘Yoyo’ Zimmerman is part of a team of medical clowns called Dream Doctors. The pioneering organization started in 2002 with three medical clowns at one hospital and today facilitates the work of more than 110 clowns across 28 hospitals in a country increasingly recognized as the vanguard of medical clowning. After this past April’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, for instance, the Israeli government sent an envoy from Dream Doctors to Kathmandu to work with affected children. As you might expect, the medical community is taking notice of the tiny nation’s zany medical practitioners. …

“ ‘Medical clowning has developed in Israel in a different way than anywhere else in the world,’ says Professor Ati Citron, creator and director of University of Haifa’s Medical Clowning program. ‘Medical clowns were absorbed into the medical system as part of the staff.’ …

“Walking into [a] hospital room, without missing a beat, Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. ‘Is that a good book?’ Yoyo asks. ‘I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?’ The father looks up at her, grinning in surprise. In the same moment Yoyo doubles over with genuine laughter, igniting a cacophony of noises from a squeezable rooster in her apron. …

“In Israel, medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures, including accompanying patients to CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation. Clowns in Israel also work solo to initiate a more interactive, one-on-one relationship with patients. … Dream Doctors, which works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa … also hosts monthly workshops for the clowns where medical staff provide them with a range of medical knowledge and training on hygiene, vaccinations, before-and-after procedures for entering a room, role-playing, case studies, and more.”

Read all the details at Good.

Photo: Ziv Sade

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It’s hard to read about the deprivations of refugees, especially the children and especially in winter. That’s why I appreciate hearing about any kindness extended to them. National Public Radio recently had a story on the kindness of Clowns without Borders.

Laura Secorun-Palet writes, “On a cold November morning, 300 children gather in a soccer field in Zaatari, a Jordanian village next to the country’s largest refugee camp. …

“Today the children are not lining up to collect food coupons or clothes from NGOs: They are here to watch the clowns.

“On the ‘stage’ — a space in front of a velvet curtain covering the goal — a tall, blond woman performs a handstand while doing the splits, while two other performers run around clapping and making funny faces. As the upside-down woman pretends to fall, the children burst into laughter.

“The performers are circus artists from Sweden …

“Clowns Without Borders is a global network of nonprofit organizations that, for the past 20 years, has been spreading laughter in the world’s saddest places. The group’s most recent annual report says more than 385 artists performed 1,164 shows for its chapters in 2012 in 38 countries, both in the developing world and for refugees and other disadvantaged children in Western countries.

” ‘It’s very important to give kids a chance to be kids again,’ explains Lilja Fredriksson, one of the Swedish performers.” More here.

Another way to help refugees is through the wonderful Minneapolis-based nonprofit American Refugee Committee.

Photo: Bilal Hussein/AP
Lebanese clown Sabine Choucair, a member of “Clowns Without Borders,” performs for children in June at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern town of Chtoura, Lebanon.

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I was first drawn to Joseph P. Kahn’s story about clowns in children’s hospitals by the cute pictures — and the fact  that my brother sometimes performs with a clown troupe at his church.

But what I especially appreciated learning from the article is that hospital clowning today is not just about getting a laugh out of a sick kid, important as that is. It’s also about giving children a little bit of control — to point out that the clown is doing something wrong, for example, or even to say the clown is not welcome and should go.

Kahn writes, “For hospital clowns Joyce Friedman and David Levitin, no two tours of duty are quite the same. Which is just how they like it.

“During rounds at Boston Medical Center, Friedman (a.k.a. Frizzle) and Levitin (Toodles) showed off their improv skills room by room, careful to assign an active role to each young patient they visited.

“At the bedside of 10-year old Cheyanne, the pair held a mock marriage ceremony, prompting Cheyanne to exclaim, through her oxygen mask, ‘You forgot to exchange vows!’ …

“Handed a joystick, a child might be encouraged to ‘control’ the clown as he or she chooses. Another patient, nervous or scared, might not want a visit at all. Either way, something positive comes from the encounter.

“ ‘Being empowered is really a key component of the healing process,’ says [Children’s Hospital endocrinologist Dr. Michael] Agus. ‘The more passive you are with an illness, the more challenging it is to heal.’ …

“Whatever a patient’s age or condition, said [clown Cheryl] Lekousi, she and her colleagues focus on the positive, even in the bleakest situations.

“ ‘Our message to the kids is, we’re a witness of you, of your childhood,’ said Lekousi.”

More here.

Photo: Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Christopher reacts to the entrance of Cheryl Lekousi (a.k.a. Tic Toc).

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