TMCC’s Dennis Dobies teaches more magic than Albus Dumbledore

Photo By Victoria Weiser

Eager to impress attractive young women, I asked Dennis Dobies to teach me a card trick. He agreed, showing me the first trick students learn on the first day of Magic I, a class he teaches at Truckee Meadows Community College.

The setup goes like this. You take a stack of cards with the four aces on top, face down. Then cut the deck in half, putting the top with the aces on the left, and the bottom on the right. Then cut the left deck again, continuing to keep the aces on the far left. Move to the right deck, and cut it however you want. Now, you’ll have four stacks of cards sitting in front of you, with the four aces on the top of the stack on the far left.

Starting on the right, you bury the top three cards from the stack and spread the next three evenly over the tops of the other three stacks. You repeat the process for the rest of the four stacks. Right before the reveal, you’ll have three random cards on top of your ace-stack. Bury them, and spread the four aces, still face down, across the stacks.

Ask your victim to turn over the top card on each stack, and watch their amazement at finding the four aces.

Hocus pocus!
For the fifth time in six years, Dobies will bring magic to TMCC. The former elementary school principal and current magician will teach three levels of magic, a discipline he believes can help almost anybody.

He describes a former student, TMCC biology professor William Mehm, who uses his magic skills to challenge his class to think about the differences between science and illusion. Evidently, it’s not really possible for David Copperfield to turn an elephant into a kumquat.

Dobies also describes how, as a principal, he used magic tricks to break down the inherent fear many small children have for strange adults. Even a trick as classic (and potentially cheesy) as pulling a coin from behind the ear of a first grader, he says, breaks down barriers.

Dobies has used his magic to promote reading. He showed me a trick where knots appear and disappear on ropes.

“You see this trick,” he’d say to students while performing several seemingly impossible tasks with a rope. “You can go into the library and learn how to do it yourself right now.”

Librarians, Dobie says, often called him back a few days later to report their libraries completely stripped of magic books.

The first class, Magic 1, teaches nothing but tricks. Dobies focuses on card tricks, paper tricks, basic vanishes, rope tricks, silk scarf tricks, and most difficult, coin tricks. If they want to make the tricks look good, he says, students should spend a lot of time practicing them, preferably in front of a mirror.

Magic II, Dobies says, focuses on building a routine. This doesn’t mean learning every magic trick the world has ever seen. On the contrary, he says many of the most successful magicians out there do very few tricks in their routines. They just do them very, very well.

“A professional does a few tricks for thousands of people,” Dobies says. “An amateur does hundreds of tricks for one person at a time.”

Magic III focuses on getting people to care about the tricks—stuff like building up a sense of amazement, getting the audience to laugh and perfecting general showmanship. Stiff, boring magicians with excellent technique and good tricks seldom go anywhere.

“There are lots of DVDs available by great magicians teaching routines to people,” he says. “Many try to become that [particular magician]. You can’t do that—you have to establish your own personality and performing character. Just like singers … all performing arts.”

However, while showmanship remains essential, getting the magic itself challenges all magicians.

“None of this comes easy,” Dobies says. “Even the simplest tricks are hard. You just can’t get good without practice.”

He explains why he puts up with all the practice involved in one of his rope tricks, one in which he first makes three different size ropes equal in length, then joins them all together to make one continuous rope. Most impressive, he did it all right in front of me, letting me pull and tug on things as he went.

“I’m obsessive,” Dobies says. “It drove me crazy until I learned it. I like it because you can put everything out for examination. Last part took almost 10 years. When you find something you like, it’s not work when you put the time into it.”

Klaatu barada nikto!
In another trick, Dobies turned a nine of clubs card blue, let me pick a jack of diamonds off the deck, and changed the blue nine of clubs into a blue jack of diamonds.

I have no idea how Dobies did that, although he implied sleight of hand played a big part.

Dobies takes a normal deck of cards and turns them blank. I figured out how he did this, but the illusion is cool enough, and the skill involved formidable enough that I’m not going to spoil it for you.

One thing Dobies hopes to accomplish for his students is to give them the skills to combine elements into new tricks. Many of the magic skills, he explains, can build upon each other into bigger and more spectacular tricks.

“The stuff I do with my rabbit is the same stuff Siegfried and Roy do with tigers,” he says. “Except my rabbit has never bitten me on the neck and dragged me across stage.”

In addition to the class—which is not for credit—Dobies also does independent shows around Reno-Tahoe.

Former student Mehm and Dobies currently collaborate on shows about visual illusion. Mehm does the science part while Dobies does the magic.

“We’re just coming up with a new one called ‘Music and Magic,’” Dobies says. “He plays the piano, so we’re going to show how music enhances magic and magic enhances music. It’s all about the senses.”

While Dobies got into magic as a lark, he’s found a life’s passion. Having seen some of his tricks and admired his magic material-stuffed garage, I can’t help but think he’s found a worthy pursuit.

“I love magic, I think about it all the time. … I subscribe to three magazines and read stuff on the internet, I’m always thinking magic.”