By ALLISON KAPLAN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
CAN'T GET YOUR KIDS TO SIT STILL? No problem. Send them to mannequin school. At Manne-Kids in Motion in St. Paul, Minn., 6- to 11-year-olds learn to strike a pose -- and hold it. There's no scratching, kicking, giggling or talking allowed. When you move, it's got to be robotic. This is no lighthearted game of freeze tag.
Believe it or not, kids like 6-year-old Hailey Voyles of Apple Valley, Minn., willingly sign up for this torture. "Sometimes," she says, "you just want to be a mannequin and see what that's all about."
Besides, standing still as a statue pays well. There's quite a call for live mannequins to perform at conventions, corporate parties and store openings. The good ones earn as much as $250 an hour. Starting pay is more like $15 an hour.
Edina, Minn., is one of the country's major sources for live mannequins, since model-turned-mannequin Loren Daniels founded Mannequin in Motion Inc. there in 1988.
She and her staff of mannequins have worked everywhere from boat shows to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where Daniels posed as the Statue of Liberty for six hours without a break.
Lately, Daniels has been getting more requests for child mannequins. "People are always looking for something different," she explains.
Daniels partnered with the Caryn International modeling school in St. Louis Park, Minn., which has access to dozens of pint-sized clients.
"It's harder than you think it would be," says 8-year-old mannequin-in-training Linsey Patten. "If I have an itch, I just scratch it fast."
Not fast enough. "Mannequins never have itches!" Daniels reminds the students, when she catches Linsey rubbing a palm across her freckled nose.
Patten is dressed like a rock star, in purple tights, a fringe T-shirt and oversized peace-sign necklace. The kids are told to come to class in costume. Dressing up gets them in the mood to act, Daniels says, and that's what being a mannequin is all about.
So Pippi Longstocking and Dorothy in ruby slippers pose as animals while electronic music beats in the background. When knees start to jiggle and elbows begin to droop, the group is told to gather at one end of the runway and freeze.
"Now, why are we posing?" Daniels asks.
"Um, because we want to be mannequins?" offers a 7-year-old vampire, Alea Berube.
Daniels moves on. "What is slating?"
"It's where you say your name and that you represent Caryn International," Alea jumps in again, forgetting that mannequins don't raise their hands.
"And what is important?"
"Don't put your fingers in your mouth!" says Indiana Jones, 11-year-old Peter Kruse.
Learning to freeze
Caryn International hopes parents will shell out $300 so their kids can learn to freeze, ideally with hands tipped invitingly toward a promotional item. But seven young wannabe models handpicked by Daniels have been invited to participate in this free trial Manne-Kids class. Daniels looks for maturity, attention span and direct eye contact.
The goal of the trial is to see if it's possible to keep a pack of squirmy kids still for long stretches. Stakes are high, since Daniels has professional requests for child mannequins. She makes that clear to the youngsters, and she believes they can handle the pressure.
"My job is not to give artificial encouragement if I don't see potential," Daniels says. "I try to establish with them, and especially the parents, that this is a profession. Parents have a big responsibility to explain that, too."
The fact that people get paid to play mannequins is news to many parents, who brought their little darlings to Caryn International hoping to place them in Target ads.
"I don't know if he'll have a future in mannequins," says Kay Kruse, Peter's mom. "But it's fun to find out. It's a novelty that has a lot of potential."
Peter, who says he wanted to try modeling and acting because everyone tells him he's a good-looking kid, was hired by Daniels to pose at a corporate holiday party in Minneapolis.
"I didn't pay attention to anyone in front of me," Peter says of his first gig. "I just tried to do my best."
In addition to mannequin training, Peter takes acting and modeling classes. He says he'd be happy as a mannequin or a movie star. That attitude could change if he gets a call to star in the next "Star Wars" film, his ultimate fantasy.
But even then, the fact remains that he earned his very first paycheck by posing as a butterfly for two hours straight.
And without once scratching his nose.