That ‘Dancing Fred’ is downright quackers

This is the story of how a 9-to-5er from Lawndale just couldn’t find hap­pi­ness in his of­fice cu­bicle. Now, as a tour guide, he’s hap­pi­er than a Duck in the river.

Trip Ad­visor, the on­line rat­ing ser­vice for travel and tour­ism, re­ceived a post in mid-Ju­ly from a vis­it­or who hailed from Jer­sey City and entered this en­thu­si­ast­ic re­ac­tion to his ex­per­i­ence on a Phil­adelphia Ride The Ducks tour:  

“… ‘Dan­cing Fred­die’ was Great!!! He thor­oughly in­formed us about Phil­adelphia and al­lowed us to en­joy at the same (time)! … he not only showed us the his­tor­ic­al areas but also showed us the loc­al areas such as the best place for Philly cheesesteaks and where the best area is for kids/adults. I re­com­mend it for ANY­ONE who wants to have a good time while do­ing a little learn­ing along the way.”

For Fred Bly­weiss, a North­east res­id­ent from Lawndale who leads tours as “Dan­cing Fred”, a pos­it­ive re­view like that feels as ex­cit­ing as earn­ing a rave no­tice on Broad­way. With char­ac­ter voices from Elvis to “The Stooges,” flashy red-white-and-blue ac­cessor­ies and bound­less en­ergy, “Dan­cing Fred” nev­er “ducks” a chance to en­ter­tain his guests with wack­i­ness dur­ing their city tours along the Delaware River and around our his­tor­ic neigh­bor­hoods.

There are his in­ter­act­ive puns:  ldquo;Who knows why we nev­er ring the Liberty Bell any­more? That’s right: be­cause it’s ‘quacked,’ of course!”

He even finds ways to get riders in­to the act: “At the end of the tour we all dance to­geth­er to the ‘Y-M-C-A’ song.  But I show them that I like to do the ‘D-U-C-K’!”

This gradu­ate of Coun­cil Rock High School and Penn State Uni­versity ori­gin­ally ma­jored in theat­er but switched to a de­gree in ad­vert­ising, per­ceiv­ing that “a re­spons­ible guy had to have a kind of ‘reg­u­lar’ job,” as he ex­plains it. He even took a second col­lege de­gree in graph­ic design, hop­ing that would sat­is­fy his need to be cre­at­ively em­ployed. 

But sit­ting be­hind a com­puter was too con­fin­ing for a man who was a kid at heart. Years of vari­ous oth­er day jobs paid the bills but left him feel­ing like “I was dy­ing in­side.” He plugged in­to his cre­at­ive en­er­gies while per­form­ing in com­munity theat­er and non-paid com­edy gigs. But to make a liv­ing as a per­former, he needed to find an em­ploy­er who could use his fa­cil­ity with funny voices, would value his sunny nature and, yes, even en­cour­age his corny jokes.

Be­com­ing a tour driver for Ride the Ducks was the an­swer to a lifelong yearn­ing to make a liv­ing as a pro­fes­sion­al en­ter­tain­er.  

He re­calls his Ride the Ducks au­di­tion this way:  ldquo;I was sup­posed to down­load some facts from the tour and per­form them in a per­son­al­ized way. But I some­how couldn’t get the script. So I wrote a com­mer­cial as a kind of ad­vert­ise­ment for my­self.  And I used about ten dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter voices, like Ker­mit the Frog, mak­ing guest ap­pear­ances say­ing why they should hire me.”

Fred got the job in 2008 and worked his way up from tick­et sales, to deck hand, through tour guide and now — hav­ing passed his com­mer­cial drivers li­cense — a driver/tour guide for the sight­see­ing com­pany.

Since he is not one of Ride the Ducks’ qual­i­fied cap­tains, when his tour group ar­rives at the Delaware River start­ing point he steps aside and a cre­den­tialed boat cap­tain takes the helm.  But that’s ac­tu­ally Fred’s fa­vor­ite part of the ride — he’s now able to fully face his guests, chan­nel his “pir­ate per­sona,” and he even has time to go dan­cing in the aisles.  

“People can choose a lot of ways to tour the city,” ex­plains Fred. “They can take a double-deck­er bus. Or a horse and car­riage ride. They can walk with a guide or they can ride our Ducks.  I think they choose the Ducks be­cause, frankly, it just looks fun. And then I love to make the ex­per­i­ence just as much fun as they ima­gine it will be.”

Which is just fine with “Dan­cing Fred.” That ex­per­i­ence works both ways.

“I found a job where I can have fun too. That’s my goal,” he said. “I need to be in­ter­act­ing with groups all the time.  I’m happy when I make oth­er people happy. We say our job is to make ‘quack-tast­ic memor­ies.’  What could be bet­ter for a guy like me?” ••

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