January 23, 2006
By MARLYN MARGULIS
For the Courier-Post
Dennis Michael Dowhy walked on stage at
the Assumption School auditorium in Atco carrying a magic comedy
table. The table quickly lost a leg and the children in the
audience burst into laughter.
From then on, Dennis Michel (Stage
Name) had 170 pairs of eyes and ears giving him rapt attention.
It isn't surprising that the magician
from Waterford most enjoys performing for children. The
entertainer has been interested in wizardry since he was a young
boy, when he first watched a magician perform at a school
"There is the wonderment,
silliness and fun when entertaining children," says Dowhy
after his recent performance at the Catholic elementary school.
Although his career path took him in a
different direction when he became a firefighter, Dowhy has been
a professional magician for more than 30 years. His specialty
has been entertaining children whenever he had time off from his
Last September Dowhy, who is now
retired from the Camden Fire Department, founded New Jersey's
first chapter of KIDabra International, an association of family
and children's show performers that began in 1991.
"KIDabra members are professional
children's magicians who help each other improve and share
ideas," explains Dowhy, who is chapter development
coordinator for the international association.
The new chapter boasts 15 members, five
of whom are full-time, professional magicians.
"Most magicians don't know how to
entertain children," Dowhy says. "KIDabra members show
them how to have fun with their audiences, how to get the kids
involved as a group and individually as assistants. The best
magicians empower children by involvement and
During his childhood, Dowhy read every
book on magic he could find.
When he was 18, he joined the former
Houdini Club of Philadelphia and served in numerous officer
He performed part time while attending
college and even through the years he was a Camden firefighter.
When he was performing at a charity
show for the Cerebral Palsy association in the early 1970s.
Dennis recalls. "I had no idea what this organization was
about," he admits. "Entertaining children requires
their interactions to the magic tricks I perform. I started out
by asking them to say "abracadabra' when I had counted to
three. I counted, but got no response from the children. It was
then I realized these handicapped children's minds were active,
but their bodies and voices could not immediately react to their
thoughts. In the middle of the show, one child loudly screamed
out, "kidabra!' and his mother started crying. After the
show, I found out she cried because her boy hadn't spoken in six
years. You never know what effect you'll have on an
Dowhy first heard of KIDabra in 2002
and formed a local chapter. The new local KIDabra chapter trains
members to perform the "Rabbit In the Hat Puppet"
trick, how to develop shows for daycare, preschool and
school-age children and how to present library shows.
And here's a little secret he tells.
"When a magician entertaining
children and messes up, he does it intentionally," Dowhy
notes. "His motive is to interact with the kids and create
laughter. A magician wants to have the kids catch him making a
mistake. For example, I hold a flower and it starts to wilt. The
kids yell, "Look, it's drooping.' When I look at the
flower, it is perfectly straight. Also, each child has a logical
explanation about how a trick is done. I always present magic to
the kids in a fun way."
Dowhy's most successful trick is a
"snake" in a basket.
"A child selects a playing card
and puts it back into the deck, which is next to the
basket," he says. "I cause the snake to come out and
open its mouth. The card that was selected is in the snake's
Paul Ricci, who is principal at
Assumption School, appreciates Dowhy's volunteer work with
"Dennis has been involved in
school activities for several years, running a chess club and
magic club for our children," Ricci says. "He is a
natural teacher who works well with the kids because he loves
what he does. They get excited about watching him perform and
learning how to do the tricks. He is also the Webmaster for our
school and parish."
Donna Horn, a member of the new KIDabra
chapter, feels Dowhy not only teaches, but also "energizes,
motivates and inspires chapter members to improve and refine our
Dowhy's special bond with the children
at Assumption School seems to carry over to all his
"It is a great feeling knowing
when someone gives of themselves to please others, it comes back
tenfold," he says. "This is what entertaining children
does for magicians. Seeing the joy in their faces and their
laughter calms the soul and banishes the daily stresses of
Marlyn Margulis is a freelance writer.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org