At age 62, Toby Towson has a new career - the alphabet dancer assembly show.
The former Blue Mound and Michigan State University gymnast and professional dancer performs at schools in the Maryland/Washington, D.C., area, twisting his body into alphabet shapes.
"The alphabet comes to life through this dance and the physical demonstration excites the audience and brings creativity, humor and delight throughout the performance," praised Wendy Hillard of the Wendy Hillard Foundation.
Towson, his wife and three children live in Boonsboro, Md., 90 minutes from the White House. He recently finished a series of nine shows for the Washington County public schools and looks forward to performing in a park this month in Gaithersburg, Md., where he helped coach Olympics gymnast Dominique Dawes.
Introduced to gymnastics by the Rev. Harold Sheriff and his wife, Virginia, Towson was a Blue Mound Gym Club member during the Hali Sheriff days in the 1960s. Hali, 14, headed for the Olympics, and her father and mother were among those killed in a plane crash on June 15, 1966.
"At the time Hali died, nobody knew how good children could be in gymnastics," Towson said. "She was the first brilliant child gymnast on this planet. Now kids do it at age 10, 11, 12. The sport would have been different if Hali had been in the Mexico Olympics."
Towson went on from those beginning days to become a six-time national gymnastics champion and professional dancer with 22 years of experience in New York City. He was the original Barkley the Dog on Sesame Street and has performed his unique acrobatic dances throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
He has coached nationally for nine years and is a national level judge with USA Gymnastics.
Arthritis shortened his gymnastics career and he moved to Maryland and became a public school teacher. Now retired, he said: "I can't run or jump much but I still can do a cartwheel." Towson has survived major brain surgery and a total hip replacement. The brain surgery followed after Towson fell asleep while driving and hit a semi truck.
Married for the second time in his 50s, Towson and his wife, Kathy, are the parents of a daughter, Ella, 5, and twin daughters born last year, Anya and Eva.