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Sept 8 , 2011
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Dueling, Medieval style

By Amber Williams

Check out 14th century entertainment such as jousting, fencing and belly dancing at the Des Moines Renaissance Faire this month.

Remember the Atari? Ah, come on. It wasn't that long ago (OK, it's been a while) when the first home video game system taught kids the general concept of jousting, as the player's character rode on the back of a flying ostrich charging with a long, pointed stick at knights riding on buzzards. It was fun… for about 10 minutes, and then it was back to "Pac-Man."

But, as kids, most of us likely did not consider the origin of the sport. Jousting was once a truly brutal and often lethal sporting event of the 14th century Middle Ages. How fitting, then, that it be re-enacted by professionals at the Des Moines Renaissance Faire. And while it's handled in good fun, and the ruthless gravity of the original event has been tamed, Renaissance Faire entertainment coordinator Greg Schmidt says it's more than just an amusing show.

"Jousting is becoming, officially, a new sport around the country. More and more competitive tournaments are popping up," he said. "We have one of the best jousting troupes in the country in Des Moines."

Joust Evolution, which is run by Kevin Coble of Dallas Center, is considered the Midwest's premier equestrian jousting troupe. Coble, who once toured across the country with the New Riders of the Golden Age, settled in Dallas Center a few years ago because he likes Iowa, according to Schmidt. Now Joust Evolution performs at about five Renaissance festivals a year in Iowa.

"They put on a fantastic show, featuring thrills, spills and real hits — a great mix of risky stunts and professional comedy," Schmidt said.

Joust Evolution will perform three times a day, all three weekends of the Des Moines Renaissance Faire, which starts Sept 3-5 and continues Sept. 10-11 and Sept. 17-18, at Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, located at 4051 Dean Ave.

Also being featured at the festival are a variety of other Medieval sporting events and demonstrations, such as sword fighting, archery, fencing and belly dancing, all of which offer participation from the audience.

"People have been real enthusiastic about it," Schmidt said.

Members of the Des Moines Fencing Club not only perform the sport of fencing continually throughout all three weekends, but they also offer coaching for the members of the public who give it a try. The challenge is to pop the balloon on your competitor's helm, Schmidt said.

"Fifty percent of time the people know each other, but a lot of people step up to the ring alone and fight against the next person in line," Schmidt said. "It's something I've seen at the big festivals in Chicago and Minneapolis for years. It took me a long time to get someone to do it in Des Moines."

Fencing can be a dangerous endeavor, so the festival also offers the Boffer Challenge Ring for kids. For the third year in a row, the Council Bluffs re-enactment troupe, Riverheim, brings their trained knights and soft "boffer" weapons to the challenge ring for the "young warriors."

"Kids use soft, foam swords and bash at each other for a while," Schmidt said. "Kids can step up from the crowd and participate in training or in earning the right to purchase their own boffer sword."

For the females, Danza Mystique lures ladies from the crowd to try belly dancing in both the tribal and exotic fashion with drums, live steel and even a snake during four shows daily on the third weekend of the faire.

Check out all the events and admission prices at CV

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