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Home / Sleight of Hand

Arcadia High School Student Teaches Card Tricks to Help Others Cope with Pandemic

Spencer and his ‘magic’ cards. | Photo courtesy of Spencer Cheung

By May S. Ruiz

We’re in lockdown – until the foreseeable future. For the past seven months we’ve been indoors either remote learning, teleconferencing, or chatting with friends on Zoom. We’ve been playing video games or watching movies on cable. Some of us are probably bored out of our wits.

If, like me, you’re barely hanging on to your sanity, I suggest taking this opportunity to learn something you’ve never tried before that might be useful or entertaining. Lately, people have been making sourdough bread and posting their progress online. It apparently takes a great deal of patience, practice, and a certain amount of luck, to make a perfect one.

But if baking isn’t your thing, how about learning magic card tricks? Spencer Cheung, a 17-year-old Arcadia High School senior, has created a YouTube video to teach you what he knows. Via email, he tells me how he became an aficionado.                           

“From childhood, magic has always been a part of my life,” discloses Spencer. “For example, whenever I did good in school, my mom would take me out at night, reach her hand out to a star, and it would magically turn into a sticker of a shiny, gold star. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that the sticker was already in her hand. My mom performed magic every night by making something seemingly impossible, well, possible. And I’ve been interested in magic since. But it was when I saw a clip of Shin Lim doing magic on YouTube that I decided to pursue it as a hobby. It absolutely blew my mind and, for hours, I sat by the computer trying to figure out how it was done. From there, I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Spencer continues, “I didn’t take any courses in magic – most of my repertoire has been self-taught. However, I did get some tips from older members of the surrounding magic community that I know. It took around a year to properly pick up magic, but I think a turning point for me was when I got second place in ‘Arcadia’s Got Talent Competition.’ After successfully performing a trick in front of an audience of close to a hundred, I truly felt comfortable with my art and, from then on, was able to have the confidence to perform anywhere for anyone. I also have had the pleasure of performing for a bigger audience during the pandemic through a free Zoom magic show a few weeks ago.

“When the pandemic hit Southern California in mid-March and Governor Newsom ordered a lockdown, I thought I’d help fight the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging others to stay home and learn to do magic card tricks. That way, what they will be spreading is the joy of magic! So on YouTube, I have created an extensive series of 43 videos which teaches all the fundamentals a beginner will ever need in sleight of hand.

“When I was starting out, I was often lost because there was no clear path to follow that would help me properly learn magic. Thus, I created my channel to give others the sense of direction that I never had. Furthermore, I believe that magic is one of the best hobbies to build confidence and foster self-expression. It is also something that can be practiced and enjoyed by all ages.”

Spencer played varsity tennis. | Photo courtesy of Spencer Cheung

Magic isn’t the only activity Spencer is busy with. He says, “Before lockdown, I played varsity tennis for Arcadia High School. I’ve been playing tennis for five years and I have achieved a high ranking of top 100 in Southern California in 2019. During social distancing, I’ve been playing piano for the Certificate of Merit program, practicing some tennis, learning how to play the ukulele, and self-studying French.”

Like most students, Spencer isn’t too thrilled with distance learning. He reveals, “It has affected my studies as all of my classes have turned virtual. While it hasn’t really influenced the material or the rate at which I learn, it has hindered my ability to ask questions and develop a real bond with my teachers. I am an extroverted and inquisitive person who usually thrives in an in-person environment, but because of distance learning, the extra barrier of a screen and a mute button makes it much harder to truly connect with my teachers and properly engage with the material.”

Spencer is in the midst of college applications – a crucial period in a high schooler’s life. I ask if the lockdown has made the process more complicated than it already is and if he’s able to confer with his adviser/college counselor.

“Most of the process is typically online, so inputting personal information and essays are still the same,” assures Spencer. “The only part that is complicated is writing about activities that you haven’t been able to engage in because of COVID. For me, the biggest upset was that I couldn’t accomplish my full duties as president of the Arcadia Magic Club which I founded at my school. Also, the lockdown does make it exponentially harder to tour colleges in person, but virtual tours are a safe and informative alternative.

“Given that Arcadia High School is such a big school, with over 3,000 students in total, students’ main form of communication with their counselors have been over email. Thus, many Arcadia students are used to speaking with their counselors over email and the lockdown hasn’t changed much.”

As to what he’s going to pursue in college, Spencer says, “As of now, I plan to major in political science because as a member of my school’s We The People Constitution Team, I have learned the importance of civic education and the significant role that politics play in the pandemic and our everyday lives. However, I am also interested in economics and other business-related fields because my father is an accountant. Regardless of major though, I hope to study abroad during my college years. I love traveling and exploring different cultures which is also the reason why I am currently learning French and plan to learn many other languages in the future.”

In the meantime, Spencer will teach us how a deck of cards can add some magic to our daily life.

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