History of Exhibition Groups

Lee Bjella, 2015


In the ancient times in Sparta and Athens, a part of a military man's training included exhibition gymnastics. The choreography was a military dance. Dignitaries judged this "Naked Art". The Sparta groups emphasized the setting of records and were very strict. The Greeks had a philosophy in their exhibitions that emphasized music and gymnastics which made them more creative. In the early Middle Ages, gymnastics was all but extinct. It wasn't until the later Middle Age years of about 1000-1500 that it came back. Physical education was strenuous and militaristic and the eventual goal was knighthood. The late 1700's through the 1800's showed a resurgence of mass drills and activities in Germany, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Sweden. Hjalmar Frederick Ling started a gymnastics movement in Sweden in the mid 1800's. Hundreds of students would participate in a mass floor exercise drill.

When Germany's Friedrich Jahn's three disciples Frollen, Beck and Leiber, came to America, they developed exhibition programs. These were meant to entertain and to increase the interest in gymnastics. In the first year over 10,000 people were members of these Turnverein organizations, who were mainly German immigrants who wanted to be a part of an organization that gave them a national unity as Germans, and as Americans. Jahn wrote a manual in 1816, German Gymnastics. He instituted the mass exhibition programs, which became common in Turnvereins.

ericThroughout the 1800's and 1900's many groups traveled throughout America performing acrobatics. Here is our own Eric Hughes performing with his group the "Aristocrats of Balance" during the 1940's. (Eric is on the right. Photo courtesy of Eric Hughes.)





There were a number of exhibition groups that performed at various high schools. Dr. Hubie Dunn at WSU (1947-1962) for 15 years, put on exhibitions during their spring break - as many as three a day. When he left he noted that he had been to over a 100 schools and that he had been to all the schools that sponsored competitive teams. Correspondence from Everett High School athletic director Jim Ennis, in 1951, to the WSU athletic director thanked WSU for the exhibiton given at the high school. Many boys high school programs were started because of the influence of exhibition teams such as the WSU and UW teams.

Eric Hughes at UW, held exhibitions as early as 1950 and for over 20 years had presented countless shows. In one school year alone, his group presented 48 public performances.

For more than 25 years George Lewis' groups from the Seattle YMCA had presented exhibitions before hundreds of audiences in the Seattle area. Jack Henderson of the Fauntleroy YMCA in West Seattle sponsored an exhibition group that conducted gymnastic performances from 1949 to 1970.

Jim Hicks from Vancouver, Washington, from 1942 to 1958, served as City Recreation Director and also Assistant Director of Physical Education for the Vancouver Public Schools. He held what was known as "Team Shows" - mostly tumbling and trampoline shows. His performers have appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show and Ed Sullivan Show as well as in movies. His daughter was a national competitor in 1958.

In 1951 Paul Pugh, an English teacher, initiated a tumbling group at a junior high in Wenatchee. Over the years this group developed into a performing circus, out-growing the school and moved to the local YMCA. The circus only used "home talent" and the performers were all children.

school exhibitioners



School exhibitioners
- photo from old yearbook

The Kennewick Balancers
- photo from old yearbook

WSU Exhibition team, 1917 (Athletic Director Bohler and Former Coach Osthoff included)
- photo from WSU brochure from 1917.