The Kinderman waits for about 200 kids to plant their bottoms on their puffy, nylon jackets on the floor of a converted barn in Columbia.
For now, they keep their distance from the big man in the black derby, suspenders, high-tops and cummerbund. But they can't stop staring at this cross between Raffi and Don King.
"HELLO, I'M THE KINDERMAN," John Taylor announces, as a drum machine beats throughout his 45-minute show. He sings, "I'm very glad I came today, I'm very glad I came."
Then he moves his body, an apparatus victimized by hotel food but still graceful. He sucks in his gut, then lets the beef out. The kids love this move. They inch closer to him. If he threw his cummerbund to the crowd, the kids might faint.
John "the Kinderman" Taylor is a 58-year-old song-and-dance man from Baltimore who dreamed of a dance career in New York but who wound up in Columbia teaching "the Hustle" to Oprah Winfrey and other disco trainees.
And when disco died in his arms, John Taylor reinvented his flashy self. He became the Kinderman, a larger-than-life children's performer who comes to a school, fair or home near you about 500 times a year.
He's at the Preakness Festival. He's at Artscape. He's at the Maryland State Fair. He's everywhere, trailed by a pack of pre-school groupies who sing and move and even sign to his show specifications. They pay at tention to him. He pays attention to them. They love him. He loves them.
The Kinderman is king -- king of the Village of Oakland Mills. It's 38 degrees in Columbia and no matter what the street names bucolically imply (Time Sweep Lane, Basket Ring Road, White Acre), it's a dreary day.
A line has already formed for the Kinderman's 10 a.m. performance in the silo of the Other Barn, an old barn renovated for children's shows by the Oakland Mills Community Association. He'll do two more shows the same day and earn $450.
"We had to add a third show," says events coordinator Nancy Shirey. "He's so popular. It's amazing. It really is."
Susan Kopins watches her 3-year-old son groove to the Kinderman. "I wish I was this entertaining at home," says the Baltimore mother. "For the kids to sit here and do nothing, well, it wouldn't work," she says.
The Kinderman knows it too; he keeps his foot on the accelerator. "Friends, Friends, Friends, 1, 2, 3, All my friends are here with me," the Kinderman seemingly sings a couple hundred choruses of this. Then he asks only the girls to stand.
"Girls you are on television. Fix your hair! Put your makeup on! Girls put on your deodorant," he says, teasing them into singing the "Friends" theme song. The girls do their part, and he sits them back down with a wave of his hand.
Boys, boys!!! "Fix your hair! You are on television. Boys put on your deodorant. Boys -- more deodorant!"
The boys laugh, sing and sit. Everyone is paying attention. OK, a couple of kids emit those screams heard when a fox rips open a rabbit. But most of the kids hang on the Kinderman's every verse.
Early dreams of dancing
Long ago he figured something out about kids and himself.
"Everybody wants attention and acceptance," Mr. Taylor says at his Columbia home. Growing up in Baltimore, he haunted the old Royal Theater where you could watch four dance shows for one quarter. All the popular dance companies from New York would tour in Baltimore. At age 6, he remembers looking up at the stage and seeing one guy surrounded by 20 dancers. The male dancer wore sequins and white gloves and white shoes and socks. Young John Taylor had a vision.
"That's me!" the boy thought.
It was settled. He would some day dance in New York because if you can make it there, well, you know.
But his mom, who owned a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, told her son to get an education first. So, her boy graduated from Douglass High School, then Morgan State University and later studied dance therapy at Goucher College. He taught art in Catonsville and worked 18 years in the Baltimore County public school system.
"I never knew teachers didn't make any money," Mr. Taylor says, remembering when he made only $9,000 a year.
By this time, his dream of dancing professionally in New York or any other place had rusted. He did come close in 1971 when he auditioned for the European touring company of "Hair." Mr. Taylor says he passed the audition but refused to take off his clothes for the nude scene in "Hair."
"What would my mother have thought?" he wondered.
Then, in 1978, his life changed. He started teaching social dancing in Columbia -- including something called the Bump. John Taylor discovered something about this trendy dancing business: It paid well. He taught "the Bump" to 80 people at $3 per person. The math was wonderful.