This week's cover story, "Spin City!," lets you in on the daily work lives of some of Denver's hundreds of sign twirlers. While some might be surprised to know that the rules go beyond picking up a sign and occasionally moving it, the reality is that the job comes with frequent regulations and distractions, not the least of which is litter thrown by pissed-off passersby. For the tips of the trade, Westword spoke to sign boss Brian Galyon about what works for Motion Advertising.
Just over a year ago, Galyon launched the Colorado-based business with the goal of making it the exact opposite of many of its national peers, at least in terms of professionalism. He remembers the first twirler he ever saw (a dirty and unmotivated LA spinner) as categorically unimpressive, influencing him to base his business on polite, unpierced youth. Today, all of his employees are enrolled in courses in either high school or college, though 21-year-old operations manager Nico Lujan (the spinner in the videos below) plans to use his business degree when he stays with the company after graduating next year.
Below are some of the tips Galyon gives his employees:
5. Don't sweat the angry stuff. It's predictably common for strangers on the street to shout insults or -- worse yet -- throw objects at twirlers for fun or frustration. But Galyon insists his employees also earn compliments (and AArrow's earn phone numbers). Those who take the negative to heart won't last long on the job. "People do yell as they drive past, things like 'Loser!,' but I just think to myself that I'm outside listening to my headphones and working on my body at the same time," says Galyon, who occasionally fills spinning shifts at Motion. "I'm listening to my favorite tunes, and the views all over Colorado are great. The more fun you have, the more people driving by are going to notice you. So what if they're not always nice?"
4. Be professional, and be prepared. At Motion Advertising, Galyon doesn't require a strict costume, instead asking his employees to be presentable but comfortable. Because they are taught to perform in conditions including strong wind, Motion spinners practice in all situations and are expected to dress for them, too. Don't wear anything in which you can easily be blown away, he advises.
Here, Lujan takes on Mother Nature during a battle with the wind:
That said, all of his employees are covered by a $5 million liability insurance policy should weather or traffic wreak havoc. "I've found that all my customers would rather see us spin in khaki pants and a white polo or something than Liberty Tax's costume, and I feel the same way," says Galyon. "I just want to bring a professional approach to it, and I want all of my twirlers to be safe."
3. Stay in shape, and practice your moves. Denver's twirlers aren't just holding up pieces of paper or poster board. Made from plastic and vinyl, typical human directional signs can average anywhere between six and fifteen pounds, which makes carrying them and tossing them across hours-long shifts tiring tasks. In order to last, spinners should build their upper body strength and practice their twirling tricks. One way to do this is by attending practices -- which Galyon plans to make mandatory soon -- or by taking home a sign to replicate the moves in YouTube videos.
"After four or five hours of waving a sign that weighs up to fifteen pounds, it's tiring," Galyon says. "The main goal is to remain active so that you're constantly using and building your muscles and training your body to adapt. If you drop the sign, that's OK. It's really all about teaching your body what it can handle."
Page down to see another video and the top two tips. 2. It's OK to be a little (or a lot) wacky.The best sign spinners are. It takes a distinct personality to enjoy performing, for the public and near traffic, with a sign taller than many twirlers. It also takes music. (Lujan prefers Kanye West and Jay-Z.) "You should have an outgoing personality and be somewhat goofy by nature," says Galyon, who uses the hiring process to weed out those who don't match this criteria. "You shouldn't mind being out there and being seen. It's a highly visible job, and people see you every time they drive by, so I love when people get excited and break it down with dance moves. You can teach spinning moves, but you can't teach excitement."
Lujan shows how it's done:
1. If you don't move it, you lose it. Strangely, the greatest difference between highly regimented companies such as Motion Advertising and AArrow Advertising and others on the scene is the amount their employees move and the number of tricks they can perform. And at Motion, if an employee is caught standing still, that spinner is fired on the spot. "The most essential thing is to understand that you need to be active with the sign," Galyon says. "If you aren't, you could just stick a stake in the ground and it would be motionless and the same as you. People gravitate toward what grabs their attention, and you don't deserve any and won't get any if you're just holding the sign still in front of you."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Video: Sign twirlers show off their most popular tricks (without hurting themselves)."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.