Magic Trick: The Dancing Sailor

This is a trick which may always be relied upon not to fall flat, and should be introduced whenever the audience has had a good dose of serious tricks administered. The feat consists in taking the rude effigy of a sailor, cut out of a simple piece of cardboard, which may be freely and minutely examined by the company, and, standing it on the floor, to cause it to remain there, and to dance according to the directions of the performer, without any visible means of support becoming evident. The sailor can be very easily manufactured in an hour or so, out of a piece of fairly thick card. The trunk and head should be cut out of one piece, with the arm, from the shoulder to the elbow, protruding at a considerable angle. The forearm is jointed on, as are also the legs, which must be in two pieces. The joints may consist of thread, and should be very loose. The design may be varied according to the fancy of the maker, but he will be safe in giving to the cheeks and nose an extravagantly rubicund hue, and the mouth a humorous turn. The hat should be on one side, the trousers broad at the bottom, and the feet large, and turned outwards, and slightly upwards. When the jointing has been done, it is as well to cover the whole figure with thick paper, on both sides, in order to obtain a smoothness of exterior. In pasting on this paper, care must, of course, be taken that the joints are not touched by the adhesive matter employed, or they will not work properly. The whole figure, to look sufficiently imposing, should stand quite 15in. high; but if it be intended to dance it upon the table, then 12in. is sufficient. Effect is everything in conjuring, and a great deal may be lost by having things just a size too small.

In performing the trick, the conjuror brings forward the sailor, whose appearance, if properly designed, should at once create amusement. He is given for examination, and the performer then retires to the stage, bending, as he does so, the arms of the figure at the armpits slightly backward from the body. He then proceeds to show the company that no threads or wires are anywhere about. This he does by slashing about in every direction, high, low, and on either side, with his wand. As a matter of fact, no threads or wires are within his reach, so he cannot do wrong; but a thread does exist in connection with the trick all the same. It should be a fine silk thread. Invariably use silk for everything, as it is both stronger, finer, and more durable and pleasant than cotton. If two assistants are available, there should be one on each side of the stage, holding the ends. When the performer is doing his slashing around, the thread is simply held as high as possible, the expedient of standing upon chairs being resorted to by the assistants, if necessary. It is very often the case, however, that the aid of only one assistant is possible or advisable. The thread must then be fixed on one side of the stage, at the proper height from the floor, a few inches of elastic being first tied on to counteract the effect of any unpremeditated jerk, which might easily prove disastrous to the trick. The elastic, being thick in substance, must be out of sight. If the dancing is to be done upon the floor, then the thread must be affixed about an inch higher than the armpits of the figure (to allow for the drop in the centre of the thread), and allowed to lie upon the floor, except when in actual use. If the dancing be done upon the table, the assistant must do the best he can, and the performer use judgment in the way he sweeps with his wand. When the assistant receives his "cue" from the performer, which may be done in a thousand different ways, he lowers the thread, and holds it taut. The performer then places the figure directly over it, allowing the thread to pass under the armpits. As these have been pressed back, the thread will pass across the front of them, and across the back of the figure. The assistant must watch the figure narrowly, so that no motion whatever is given to it. A rehearsal or two is all that is necessary to make it appear that the figure stands of its own accord, and without aid, upon the floor. Any swaying motion will tend to destroy this illusion. The rest of the trick follows as a matter of course. If music be at hand, the performer has a lively air, such as a hornpipe, played, or, in the absence of any instrument, the performer must needs whistle. In any case, he keeps time with his wand, and looks approvingly at the figure, talking to it occasionally. The assistant need jerk but very slightly at the thread to cause the figure to dance, and he can easily vary his motions to fast or slow. The legs of themselves assume various steps, which many of the company will think to have been brought about by design. Once or twice the performer passes his wand over and before and behind the figure whilst it is dancing, to show that there really is no connection. If it be dancing upon the table, a borrowed hat may be held in front of it, and the figure made to advance upon it and dance upon the crown. This, besides being additionally diverting, indirectly does away with any suspicion, which might excusably exist, as to the presence of mechanism within the table. When the assistant and performer are well together, all sorts of tricks may be indulged in. The figure may be made to dance inside a hat; and I have even seen a skilful performer twirl an umbrella between it and the floor, the sailor continuing his hornpipe merrily and unconcernedly all the while.

If the performer chooses to add to the humour of the situation, he may, if the figure be dancing upon the table, take it by the head (it should never be touched elsewhere) and lay it down, saying that there has been dancing enough. He then turns to the company, and commences to say something, as if about to explain a new trick, when the figure suddenly starts up and commences dancing with great vigour. The company laugh, and the performer goes to the figure to lay it down, this time with the wand placed across it to keep it quiet. So soon as he begins to speak to the company, however, up starts the figure a second time, the wand rolling off on to the floor, the dance being renewed with fresh energy.

When the trick is to be brought to a close, the assistant holds the thread firmly, and the performer, seizing the sailor by the head, lifts him off. Now, if I had not directed both sides of the figure to be covered with paper, a very great risk would be run of the projections at the joints catching in the thread. Properly covered on both sides, everything is smooth, and so there is nothing to catch. The figure should be instantly brought forward to the company for re-examination.

In a small way, i.e., before children, the figure may be made to dance between the legs, the thread being attached to the legs. (See To Cause a Stick or Poker to Stand on End.) The slightest movement of the legs in an outward direction will give motion to the figure, the feet beating time with the air, whether played, hummed, or whistled, so as to cover the action. The country public-house conjuror affects this phase of the trick.

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