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Magic is a strange art. For the most part, with the exception of fewer than a dozen performers, the majority of working magicians today make up a large portion of their income by performing for, and lecturing before, other professional and amateur magicians. Think about this for a moment. Do painters paint mostly for other painters? Do ballerinas dance mostly for other dancers? Do opera singers sing mostly for other opera singers? The only other art that I can think of that is so inbred is poetry. Go to a poetry reading and almost everyone else there is a poet, or thinks they are one. And like the magicians who bring their own cards and coins to a magic lecture, many poetry readings begin with an open mike of performers made up from members of the audience.

But no matter. In New York City, we are lucky to have some of the foremost magicians come visit the city and give lectures. I was lucky to catch the wonderful Dani DaOrtiz give a lecture last night at Tannen’s Magic shop. I’ve posted before about DaOrtiz’s brand of magic.

The small store, six flights up, away from public view, seated fifty or so guests, with another dozen guys standing. And they were mostly guys–I think I counted two women in the audience. The room was full of the sound of cards being riffle-shuffled and coins being clinked. This is another odd quirk of magicians; they carry their tools with them wherever they go. It’s as if amateur singers carried their mics with them to a concert. Finally Dani came out, and the finger flinging stopped. Dani is a short heavy-set guy, and immediately projects warmth, friendliness, and casual good humor. He tells us that he is here to share everything with us, because magic is more about relationship than secrets. “What good is it, if it is all for me? I will get fatter and fatter and then explode if I don’t share!” He asks for two volunteers to help him out with his demonstrations, and since I was in the front row, I leaped into one of the two chairs at the side of his table. Another gentleman took the other chair on the other side of Dani, and we were off.

After a nice little opening effect, Dani turned to me and had me shuffle the cards under the table. I picked one card without looking at it, and reversed it in the deck, which was still under the table. Then Dani called for another deck of cards. Of course, in this audience of magicians, there were lots of packs available. One was handed to him, but he rejected it as the wrong color, then another had too many jokers, but he finally found a pack that suited him, and he put the rest of the borrowed decks aside. He asked me to spread my deck face up on the table. As I did the audience could see that the one card face-up that I had turned over was the seven of clubs.

Dani smiled, spread his borrowed deck, and, sure enough, the only card face-up was the seven of clubs. As he was about to return the other unused decks to their owners, he spread both of them as well: the kicker—both of those decks had their respective seven of clubs card turned face up, too.

Next, Dani did one of his versions of ACAAN, that is Any Card At Any Number. The plot is a classic; one that endlessly intrigues magicians. The effect is pretty much what the title implies. A spectator names a card. Another spectator names a number. The cards are dealt, one at a time, onto the table, the spectator counting each one off. At the spectator’s chosen number, that card is dealt face up, and, lo and behold, the card is revealed to be the other spectator’s named card.

Well, many magicians have come up with a way to accomplish that effect, which is often considered by some to be a kind of holy grail. It’s like solving a difficult engineering problem. But the devil is in the details. If you describe someone’s new handling of the effect to a magician, the listener immediately starts an interrogation: Who deals the cards to the table? Does the magician ever touch the deck? Can the spectator really choose any number? How does the spectator choose the card? Are the cards dealt face up or face down? Are the cards on the table from the beginning of the trick? Can it be done impromptu? Do the cards start off in a card case? is there any rough and smooth? Gaffs, gimmicks, wax? And on and on. While none of these “conditions” would be meaningful to the vast majority of laypeople (a magician word meaning non-magician i.e a muggle in Harry Potter speak), to the magician, they are vastly important.

So when Dani announces he is about to perform a magician’s “hands-off” version of the trick, you can bet good money that the ears of every magician in the room perked up. He turned to me with the deck, and had me pick a card. It was the four of diamonds. He turned to Frank and asked him to pick a number from 1 to 52, not too high or too low. Frank picked 30.

Dani announced once again that he was going to perform this effect “hands off.” But despite his promise, he picked up the cards and manhandled them, slapping them, palming them, manipulating them. Then he looked up at us innocently. “Oh, I didn’t mean hands-off on these cards, I meant hands-off on those cards.” And he pointed to a deck on the other side of the table, by Frank. He grinned at Frank and nodded. Frank said this can’t be, but picked up the untouched deck and counted 30 cards onto the table. He turned over the thirtieth card and it was the four of diamonds, the card I had chosen.

As the applause died down, generous Dani asked if we would like to learn how to do the effects we had seen. And, of course, we all shook our heads yes, and pulled our chairs closer.

So he shared, and he taught us. But this post is too long already.  🙂