The glitzy costumes and the roar of the crowd are fine, but the thing that keeps kids in the Great All American Youth Circus, honing their center-ring skills year after year, is far more intangible: It's that one-of-a-kind rush you get from doing your best.
Ilene Cox says she sees it every time she watches the kids perform.
"It gives them an incredible sense of self-esteem," says Cox, a travel agent whose two teen-age daughters are in the troupe. "When they can conquer something like riding a unicycle--they fall off a hundred times and then finally they can ride for a couple of feet--the look on their faces is great. It's 'I can do this!' "
Based in Redlands, sponsored by the YMCA and billed as the oldest youth circus in America (it was founded in 1929 by YMCA director Roy Coble, who had been with Ringling Bros.), the Great All American Youth Circus (or, Great Y Circus) will perform during the annual Kids Stuff Expo on Saturday and Sunday at the Lion Country Center in Irvine.
Drawn from some 160 company members ages 3 through adult, the 10-person troupe performing in Irvine will juggle, power tumble, ride six-foot-tall unicycles and do other circus stunts in several 25-minute shows each day under the guidance of their director, former circus performer Jon Garrett. Between shows, they will offer free, informal juggling workshops and will paint faces.
Youngsters at the expo also can take a spin in an inline-skate zone, attempt to maneuver an obstacle course or hang out with a tiny Capuchin monkey and a quarter-ton lion named Simba.
High-tech types can play games in a $70,000 "virtual reality pod" or catch a game of laser tag inside an inflated maze. There will also be petting zoos, toy play areas, sports pens and a variety of other hands-on opportunities and entertainments designed to appeal to everyone from toddlers to kids in their early teens. Most of the activities are included with admission, although some, such as laser tag, require an additional fee.
While the kids are occupied, adults can load up on free samples and brochures from representatives of around 100 vendors touting everything from baby food to legal services.
Saturday only, at the Rick Dees Diaper Derby, an event created for the Expo, babies up to 12 months old will compete in crawling "heats" for a $5,000 cash prize. Dees, the longtime host of KIIS-FM's morning show and the internationally syndicated Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, will officiate with the help of his on-air cohorts Vic "the Brick" and Julie K.
Registration for the derby will start at 9 a.m. The heats will start at 10, and the finals will start at 1 p.m. The organizers expect as many as 1,000 competitors, which, as any parent can tell you, adds up to one heck of a lot of Huggies.
Burt Ward, the 49-year-old actor turned entrepreneur who played Robin the Boy Wonder from 1966 to 1969 in the TV series "Batman" and whose curriculum vitae also includes such intriguingly titled films as "Robot Ninja" and "Assault of the Party Nerds," will be on hand both days to autograph photos for the kids and to peddle autographed copies of his book (and we're not making this up), "Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights."
Both afternoons at 2 and 3, Bryton McClure, who plays Little Richie on television's "Family Matters" (and who bears a marked resemblance to a young Michael Jackson, if Jackson had looked anything like his current self when he was a kid), will put on an original musical show intended to boost self-esteem and to discourage kids from getting involved in gangs and drug use.
Kids can grab their own time in front of the camera in free screen tests sponsored by a talent agency in Los Angeles, or at the KinderVision booth, where they will be videotaped as part of a free child identification/safety package.
* CHILDREN'S LISTINGS, F21
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* What: The Kid Stuff Expo.
* When: Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Where: Lion Country Center, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.
* Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to the Irvine Center Drive exit. Turn left at the end of the ramp if you're coming from the south, right if you're coming from the north. Follow the sign to Irvine Meadows and Wild Rivers.
* Wherewithal: $7 for adults; $5 for ages 3 to 16 and 55 and up (for a free child's admission, purchase an item from a participating manufacturer at Ralphs and show the receipt at the expo entrance. Details at Ralphs stores. One per family.) Ages 2 and under get in free. Parking is $3.
* Where to call: (714) 458-3344.