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January 20, 2018
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Phagwah Parade moved to April 14
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Jan 20, 2018 | 181 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parade officials discuss the changes with members of the NYPD.
Parade officials discuss the changes with members of the NYPD.
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The Richmond Hill community will be celebrating the annual Phagwah Parade this year, but it might be a little later than expected. While the spring festival, also known as Holi, will be observed on March 4, the Organizing Committee of Phagwah Parade 2018 announced that the parade will take place on Saturday, April 14. Speaking at Villa Russo Catering Hall in Richmond Hill on Monday, the committee members explained that while they tend to schedule the festival as closely to the observed day as possible, the cold weather has proven difficult over recent years. “In years past, cold weather on parade day would cause much discomfort to the participants, who would either stay away or leave the event much earlier than they would have liked,” said Naidoo Veerapen, co-chair of the Phagwah Parade and member of the Federation of Hindu Mandirs. “The extremely cold weather conditions during the 2017 parade forcibly brought the issue to the fore again.” Each year, thousands of people take part in the Phagwah Parade. But last year’s freezing temperature posed a risk to attendees, those on the floats, and artists performing at the post-parade concert in Phil Rizzuto Park. Veerapen explained that to put on the parade, which is one of the city’s biggest street events, takes a lot of planning and money. Furthermore, the event is attended by people who travel from other areas with a rich community of West Indians, such as Toronto or Florida. In order to have a festival that everyone can enjoy, the committee reached out to the various organizations who put on the event for their approval on the delay. “It is well known that Richmond Hill is home to the largest Indo-Caribbean community in the United States, and we are proud to be able to contribute to the cultural diversity of the greatest city in the world by organizing and implementing a public celebratory event like this parade,” Veerapan said. “The Phagwah Parade has acquired its own identity and is the main cultural expression of our people in New York City,” he added. “We should not allow poor scheduling to stifle its important contribution to the city’s cultural landscape.” The parade, now in its 30th year, will feature 30 floats and a cultural show. Organizers hope that Mayor Bill de Blasio can attend the festival this year. Councilman Eric Ulrich said the event is a joyous reflection of the West Indian heritage. “This is an event that I certainly look forward to, I’ve only missed one when I was deathly ill and couldn’t make it, but it’s a very inclusive, happy celebration of West Indian culture,” Ulrich said. “Everyone’s working well together, and I think they are going to put together the best parade that many people have ever seen.” One of the most colorful events in the city, the Phagwah Parade will feature a range of bright cultural outfits and costumes representing the Hindu religion and Indo-Caribbean culture. The post-parade show at Phil Rizzuto Park will feature colored powder seen both in the air and on people. Captain Brian Bohannon of the 106th Precinct said people should not be encouraged to throw the powder as the floats are descending down Liberty Avenue, but “it’s quite alright” if individuals put powder on themselves once they are in the park. The 102nd Precinct commanding officer, Captain Courtney Nilan, who worked at the parade in the past, added that the police are there to help out, “not there for enforcement but rather to keep the peace and make sure everyone has a good time and is safe.” The parade route will be the same as it was last year, with the floats stepping off at noon from 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue. It will continue to Phil Rizzuto Park, where the cultural show will take place.
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The Acrobat Who Flies High in the Sky
by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jan 19, 2018 | 404 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bobby at home in a tree.
Bobby at home in a tree.
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Bars are made for tightrope walking.
Bars are made for tightrope walking.
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Swings remind Bobby of trapezes.
Swings remind Bobby of trapezes.
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“Why walk when you can fly?” Bobby Hedglin-Taylor answers his own question by starting to scale a giant London Plane tree in Ditmars Park. This probably isn’t a good idea. Anything could happen. He could fall. He could reach the top. He wonders, momentarily, whether it’s illegal to climb a park-property tree. It’s too late to worry. He jumps to the top of a park bench so he can grab the lower branches. He looks upward. It’s nice to say hi to the sky, but he’d rather be in motion. Let’s go to the swings! They remind him of the trapeze, his aerial apparatus of choice. But before he gets to them, he climbs to the top of the junglegym’s tree house, hangs upside down from the rings (the metal is freezing cold on his bare hands so he doesn’t stay suspended long) and does a swift tightrope walk across a horizontal bar in his sneakers. “I’m a conspicuous person,” he says. “I’m designed to stick out — I’m a redhead.” He’s stating the obvious, but it’s probably a safe bet that given the series of stunts he executed in his impromptu park performance, Bobby’s hair is not what watchers will remember. About his hair – it’s clown curly and carrot color. His close-cropped cut keeps its playfulness in check. Bobby, a mass of muscle who describes himself as a shy person, is an aerial sequence designer, an up-in-the-air teacher/trainer and sometime performer and actor. He’s also the director of STREB’s trapeze academy. Creative types come to him for help doing everything from making fake nooses for haunted houses and music videos to safely planning stunts, like hanging a little girl upside down from her ankles while she plays the violin. “My favorite call ever went like this: ‘Bobby, we want you to dress as Austin Powers and climb down a 60-foot rope and introduce Sheena Easton,’” he says. “People come to me with the impossible, and I make things happen.” During the summer, he teaches dance, gymnastics and circus arts at the all-girls Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan. Twelve-year-old Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was one of his students. Now, she calls herself Lady Gaga. You’ve seen his aerial work in Broadway’s 2012 revival of “Pippin,” as well as in regional theatre productions. You’ve also seen his teaching at work in a variety of venues. He was, for instance, the tightrope trainer for the 2012 Broadway musical “Chaplin.” As an actor, he has shared the stage with a number of stars, including Lauren Bacall, Bebe Neuwirth, Kathy Lee Gifford and Kirstie Alley. And he was one of 17 acrobats who flew in harnesses 75 feet up to the roof of Madison Square Garden at an astounding 18 feet per second during the 2012 New Year’s Eve performance by the rock band Phish. “When I’m on the trapeze, my body is my paintbrush and the air is my canvas,” he says. “It’s floating, it’s freedom, and it’s reminiscent of my childhood home, where we used to swing on tires tied to trees.” The home he’s referring to was in Marshall’s Creek, Pennsylvania, an isolated area where Bobby and his extended family lived on the top of a hill. “My great-grandfather bought land there,” he says. “And his 19 children and their children all lived there. I was surrounded by relatives. My grandmother lived across the street. We’re Sicilian, so we called it Macaroni Hill.” Bobby’s mother and father worked two jobs. The family grew its own food in the yard, which was populated by ducks, chickens, goats and turkeys. “My older brother and I used to take a salt shaker outside and eat the tomatoes off the vine after school,” he says. “We left the remains on the vine. For the longest time, my mother thought groundhogs were doing it.” The house was filled with music, and Bobby got hooked on musical theater after he saw “West Side Story” on TV. He was three, so he didn’t really understand the plot, but his baby body grooved to the moves. By the time he got to high school, entertainment was uppermost on his mind. He learned ballroom dancing as he started studies at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. “Male dancers were needed for this ballet theater in town,” he says. “I couldn’t dance, but they taught me, and they put me in musicals.” It was a scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy that brought Bobby to New York City. The trapeze was not something Bobby ever considered, but when he had his first lesson – for a stage production that didn’t get off the ground – he never wanted to come down. “It was like a dance in the air,” he says. “And I continued to take lessons on my own.” In addition to his conventional stage work, Bobby performed under big and not-so-big tops for 17 years. “When I’m teaching, I tell my students that ‘the circus is inside you, but you have forgotten it.' You just have to make yourself remember,” he says. This is also something he has said, more than once, to his husband, David Taylor, a former singer/dancer/actor who now is an accountant. “He did try the trapeze one time,” Bobby says, astounded that his partner didn’t want to continue to play in the air. Although injuries have turned the trapeze against him, Bobby has higher goals. “I want to create a Broadway show based on flight,” he says. “Astoria Characters Day: The Second Annual Family Reunion” is September 23. Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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Local author discusses new work, “Soular Return”
by Crystal Wolfe
Jan 19, 2018 | 245 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodside resident James Duignam, a health and wellness coach, recently published his new book, “Soular Return: Soulutions for Body, Mind, and Soul.” “I decided to write the book in May 2016 when I was steered in that direction by a number of events, one being attending a conference for writers at Tarcher Perigee,” he said. Likewise, the school were he studied to become a health and wellness coach, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, offered graduates a program called “Launch Your Dream Book,” which helps a person write a book in six months. “I signed up for the program and began writing my book at that time,” he said. “It was good to write about the seminal events that shaped my life, such as overcoming depression and the breakup of a relationship,” he added. “Sharing my experiences with others has assisted in my healing.” In the fall, Duignam held a book-signing event at Project Life Center in Woodside. “Project Life Center supports women and artists and offers different events to the community,” he said. “It was the ideal location for the book launch.” “James Duignam has crafted a marvelous, personal blueprint on how to raise your own self to its highest plane,” said fan Richard Price. “I would greatly recommend using this book to reach your highest physical, spiritual and soulful heights.” “Some people who read the book say they are more aware of their ego and the mechanics of it,” Duignam said. “The ego being the false or separate self, which is the cause of our suffering, whereas the soul is our true self and source of our joy and oneness with all. “The most important thing the reader will glean from the book is to understand the human being from a body, mind and soul perspective, and realize we are a spiritual being having a human experience,” he added. “There is more to us than meets the eye.” Duignam also wrote an ebook in 2013 called “Why Meditation Works: A Glimpse inside Your Mind and Brain.” You can purchase his books on Amazon or his website at jamesduignam.com.
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Queens communities talk officer-civilian relationships
by Meghan Sackman
Jan 19, 2018 | 183 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, the first Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) meeting since the passing of the Right to Know Act took place in Long Island City. Police officers, community members and elected officials sat down to discuss what could be done to improve police-civilian relations. The Right to Know Act, passed late last year, encourages transparency and accountability between members of the NYPD and the public. The law requires a police officer to clearly state his or her name, rank, command and phone number when making a stop. The officer also has to state his reason for the approach. The CCRB divides complaints into four categories: force, abusive authority, discourtesy and offensive language. In 2017, the agency received 769 complaints in Queens. Sixty-two percent were related to abusive authority. Many of these complaints are unsubstantiated without video evidence. Many of the speakers were concerned with the familiarity between police officers and members of public housing developments. “They’ll bring [police] in from the Bronx, Staten Island, people that are not familiar with our communities, and they bring whatever mindset with them,” said Karen Dennis. “So they’re not really connecting. We don’t really know who the officers are in our community, and sometimes that shows up very negatively.” Vanessa Jones spoke about how the local police conducted a planned raid on her housing development, Astoria Houses, on the first day of school. It was described as traumatic for the children who witnessed it. When the community expressed their outrage, the police actually came out and apologized and tried to make amends by organizing a family fun day for the development. “We do have good officers, and even when I mentioned that they came into our community to do that raid, they did make amends to that because we were outraged when they did that,” Jones said. Jones went on to discuss how children see police in uniform getting away with doing things they know is wrong, and how it makes it difficult to look up to or respect them. The community member also offered some concrete solutions. “They just need to be more engaging, they need to get involved with the young people,” Jones said. “Come into the community and sit and chat with them. That would make a big difference.” Other speakers at the meeting were concerned about why this relationship is so shaky in the first place. Jonathan Logan,vice president of the Cambridge Heights Civic Association and member of Community Board 13, expressed his concern that implicit bias is the underlying issue when it comes to police-civilian relations. He spoke about how this was evident at the height of stop-and-frisk, how racial profiling played a part in this issue, and how quotas that are imposed upon police officers are causing harm to innocent people. “Conversations and dialogues that focus around how interactions should be between the public and the police, they’re kind of tuned in on how civilians should act when they are confronted with the police,” he said. “I think that’s somewhat of a reverse narrative, whereby I think that the real focus should be on how the police officers should interact.” Officers from the 108th and 114th precincts were also present at the meeting. Officer Diaz from the 108th Precinct spoke about his relationship with his community that he has been working with for the past 13 years, as well as solutions that should be initiated in areas with these issues. “My experience around the neighborhood, speaking from the 13 years I’ve been here, it’s been good,” the officer said. “More community meetings where the police and the community members of specific neighborhoods where they are having problems should be held, I wholeheartedly agree with that.”
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