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Spin City

Never mind the return of the Jets -- The Winnipeg Yo-Yo Club is back in town

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Photos by BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
FROM LEFT: Jean Relleve, Quinn Mudry, Amanda Hebert, Leon Spivak and Geoffry Wolk show off some yo-yo moves in Newbridge Toy Store.

BORIS MINKEVICH Enlarge Image

Photos by BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FROM LEFT: Jean Relleve, Quinn Mudry, Amanda Hebert, Leon Spivak and Geoffry Wolk show off some yo-yo moves in Newbridge Toy Store.

Just in time for the holidays, the consumer website www.Green-Label.com put together a list of the 10 most iconic toys of all time.

It included most of the usual suspects -- Lego, Silly Putty, View-Master and Barbie. The panel of judges also reserved a spot for a decades-old plaything currently enjoying a resurgence at a toy store in West Kildonan.

For the past 10 months, yo-yo enthusiasts have been hooking up at the Newbridge Toy Shop every Wednesday evening for a good old-fashioned play date. The Winnipeg Yo-Yo Club is the brainchild of Newbridge owner Twyla Motkaluk, who opened her throwback-of-a-store at 1791 Main St. in August 2012. (The name Newbridge is a take on the nearby Kildonan Settlers Bridge, which a lot of long-time residents in that end of town still refer to as the "new bridge.")

If you haven't picked up a yo-yo lately, the ones in Motkaluk's glass display case may throw you for a loop.

"The yo-yos people can buy nowadays come in all kinds of shapes and wild colours and are made out of a variety of materials, like aluminum and titanium," Motkaluk says, noting the styles she carries cost anywhere from $10 to $250. (Motkaluk doesn't disagree when a scribe opines any yo-yo that comes with a $250 price tag should be able to do its own tricks.)

Earlier this year, Motkaluk and her husband/business partner Vince Gatti attended a toy fair in New York City. There they came across a display promoting an American firm called Yo-Yo Factory, which markets state-of-the-art yo-yos featuring accoutrements such as ball bearings and counterweights. One of the people working the booth was Ann Connolly, a three-time winner of the National Yo-Yo Contest -- a U.S. competition that serves as a stepping stone for the World Yo-Yo Contest. (Every August, the World Yo-Yo Contest draws close to 500 contestants from 22 countries. Entrants compete in a variety of divisions and perform dozens of mind-blowing manoeuvres set to music -- none of which is called "walk the dog.")

"Anne is just this super-engaging person who smiles 24/7," Motkaluk says. "It didn't take long for her to convince us to start stocking our store with her yo-yos."

Soon after Motkaluk's initial shipment from the Yo-Yo Factory arrived, she went online to do some research. First she learned there was a national governing body called the Canadian Yo-Yo Association. Then she discovered that although there are a dozen or so yo-yo clubs spread across the country, there were none between Regina and Toronto.

"Needless to say, the association was super-happy to hear from us; by starting a club in Winnipeg, we were able to complete all the pieces to their puzzle," Motkaluk says, mentioning she even has one member from Dryden, Ont. who drives in as often as possible to take part in the weekly get-togethers.

Club nights run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. There is no charge to attend. Members range in age from grade-schoolers to a physician in his early 30s. Lots of times, parents arrive to drop off their children, but wind up sticking around and participating, too.

Ordinarily, the group kicks things off by watching videos of yo-yo professionals -- yes, people make a living at this -- performing their latest feats on YouTube. They slow the videos down and study them frame-by-frame. Then they try to emulate what they've just seen.

"Obviously, some people are more experienced than others. But the nice thing is, everybody we get is really good about helping coach one another," Motkaluk says. "In the real world 17-year-olds probably aren't supposed to kibitz with 10-year-olds, but in the yo-yo world, it's a totally different scenario."

Jean Relleve found out about the club a few months ago after spotting an ad for it on Kijiji. The 18-year-old Canadian Mennonite University student now shows up regularly, armed with a carrying case that holds a dozen or so yo-yos.

"Before I started coming here, I mostly just practised on my own at home," Relleve says, noting each yo-yo in his satchel is geared towards a specific stunt. "But coming here and yo-yoing with other people is fantastic. It's great to have a place where people speak the same language as you; you don't feel so alone with your hobby."

It turns out the Newbridge gang is picking up where another Winnipeg yo-yo club left off more than 50 years ago. A few months after the Winnipeg Yo-Yo Club was up and running, Motkaluk was paid a visit by an elderly gentleman who regaled her with tales of how Winnipeg was once a yo-yo hotbed, back when the classic, wooden Duncan models were all the rage in the late 1950s and early '60s.

The man told Motkaluk about teenagers who used to get up on stage at downtown movie theatres during scheduled intermissions and take turns performing tricks for people who were waiting for the second feature to start.

"Some of the kids were sponsored by different yo-yo companies, apparently, and he said the action would get pretty intense sometimes, from people trying to out-do each other," Motkaluk says.

The mother of two doesn't expect too many heated battles when the Winnipeg Yo-Yo Club hosts its first major competition a few months from now.

Not long ago, Motkaluk was contacted by a representative of the Canadian Yo-Yo Association. He wanted to know if she would be interested in helping host a regional championship in March or April.

"Duh, yeah," she told him.

Entrants will be required to perform a predetermined set of disciplines, as well as a freestyle routine set to their favourite tunes. The top three finishers will automatically qualify for this country's national championship, which will be held in Vancouver next September. (You won't have to be a yo-yo club member to compete, but you will have to register ahead of time, Motkaluk says.)

Obviously a toy store isn't the best venue for a tournament of that magnitude, so Motkaluk is currently shopping around for alternate digs. She will be meeting with officials from The Forks in a few weeks and once she solves that part of the equation, she will begin twisting arms in an effort to lock up a few celebrity judges.

As for the club, well, it's getting to the point where Motkaluk may have to relocate it, too. The Newbridge Toy Shop isn't particularly large and when 15 or 20 people are looping yo-yos this way and that, accidents will happen. ("Don't worry - it's a company camera," a Free Press photographer says after almost getting drilled by an errant missile.)

"I was thinking about maybe trying the Burrows Resource Center (on College Avenue); it's a much bigger space than we have here," Motkaluk says, mentioning things got a bit dicey a couple of weeks ago when a pack of 10 Brownies came in to shop on the same night yo-yo club was in full swing. "We're also thinking about starting a satellite club in Ste. Agathe; there's a big group of kids there who yo-yo, I'm told, so that might be in the cards in the new year, too."

For more information on the Winnipeg Yo-Yo Club, go to www.newbridgetoyshop.com and follow the links.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2013 A1

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