2 costumed dancers earn a lot of interest

At Towson tax service, passers-by declare strong feelings

April 08, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

The story starts with a kid who needs a job.

Sick of working at the bowling alley, Mike Drisgill was scanning Craigslist for employment. Liberty Tax Service, on York Road in Towson, needed a waver - you know, stand on the street corner and flail your arms to get the attention of passing motorists.

Drisgill, 17, did that for a few weeks, in costume as the Statue of Liberty, but he sensed within the mundane job the possibility of something greater. So he got the tax store to hire his friend Clark Runciman, 16, who on his first day of work brought along a boom box.

There would be no more waving for these two. Instead, Drisgill and Runciman - juniors at Calvert Hall College High School and members of the school's track team - pumped up the hip-hop and dance tunes and, dressed as the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam, put on a dance show the likes of which York Road commuters have never seen.

They kick, jump and cartwheel. They spin, pantomime and make silly faces. If a song mentions a heartbeat, they pound their hearts. Drivers honk in appreciation. Children love it. As Runciman says, "Who wouldn't want to see two guys, dressed up in outfits, dancing on the side of the road?"

Not everyone, it turns out. A few motorists have thrown soda bottles. And one person threw a gallon of milk - completely full. It missed. Drisgill notes, "It's really hard to go 35 mph and hit somebody when throwing something out of a car."

But the show must go on. Drisgill started at the tax service in mid-February, Runciman a couple of weeks later. They arrive at the business about 5 p.m. most weekdays, after track practice.

When Runciman came on board, Drisgill graduated to the Uncle Sam costume. (A couple weeks ago, Runciman asked if they could switch; Drisgill declined.)

They dance from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., in every kind of weather. Rain and snow don't bother them. Ice actually helps with their moves, since they can slide around. The worst is wind, because their hats blow off.

Liberty Tax Service operates 2,700 offices in the U.S. and Canada, and most employ wavers of some kind. The coordinated dancing, however, appears to be rare. The Liberty Tax at York Road and Stevenson Lane opened in January, and franchise owner Cliff Rowland said he initially hired wavers to work one at a time.

"But I made a decision early on to work Mike and Clark at the same time, because they kind of play off each other," says Rowland, adding that the pair bring in more business than a standard waver working alone.

The work isn't all that lucrative - Drisgill and Runciman get $7.50 an hour - but it's more fun than the bowling alley or the hardware store where Runciman also works. At first, they tried dancing to songs with a good beat but no lyrics. That got too hard. They realized lyrics are crucial to provide cues for what to do.

The pair has choreographed routines to a handful of songs, including "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys and "Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang.

On a cold, rainy afternoon, the guys wrapped their boom box in a plastic bag and planted it under a sandwich-board sign offering free tax preparation to active military. They put on one of their handmade dance mixes, turned it up and took their positions on a ledge along the sidewalk.

As "Call on Me" by the Swedish DJ Eric Prydz commenced with a thumping bass line, Drisgill and Runciman nodded their heads to the beat, their arms crossed over their chests. The song picked up and they leapt from the ledge, thrusting their arms into the sky and then down to the ground.

Runciman did a cartwheel as trucks, school buses and cars rumbled by, splashing water onto his green felt costume. No one threw anything, and a few drivers honked in encouragement. But the show is closing soon. Drisgill and Runciman will give their final performance April 15.

Oh, and as for their taxes - they do them on their own.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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