Students in Dennis Dobies’ magic class use their sleight-of-hand tricks to break the ice just about anywhere
“Pick a card,” Bill Petty tells me. “Look at it, but don’t show it to me. Now put it back in the deck.”
I do as I’m instructed. He cuts the deck, does a bit of a shuffle, snaps his fingers, and magically pulls my card out of the deck. “That your card?” he asks with a devilish grin.
Petty isn’t a magician. He’s a Storey County deputy sheriff. But he’s always been interested in magic, and when he got wind of this beginning magic class at Truckee Meadows Community College’s Meadowood Campus, he went for it.
“I thought it might be a good way to approach kids or people with problems,” he says. “It might make my job easier.”
He’s still learning, but after just five classes, he’s good enough to stump me with his card trick.
“Doing what I do for a living, you have to project to people that you know what you’re doing at all times, even if you don’t,” Petty says. “So I guess in a way I’ve been doing magic for years.”
Dennis Dobies teaches this TMCC class, which is now in its third semester and gaining in popularity. Dobies is a retired educator and school principal from Hawaii who’s always been interested in magic. Once he learned his first trick at age 45, he was hooked. He began incorporating magic into his dealings with school children, and he would do tricks with the kids at recess to break the ice.
Once he retired and moved to Reno, he began doing magic shows and started a program that uses magic to get kids interested in reading.
“I’ll put bouquets of flowers in books, to show how books are fun. Or we’ll talk about biographies and use books about Houdini.” He knew magic could help people do their jobs better and relate more easily to others.
“No matter what your vocation, you can use magic as a tool to motivate and set a relaxed atmosphere,” says Dobies. “Dentists can use magic to put patients at ease, or teachers and administrators can get students to engage in activities with the use of magic.”
Dobies pitched his idea to TMCC and was pleasantly surprised when the college agreed to let him teach a class. People from all over Northern Nevada have participated, and the class has done so well that in the fall, in addition to another beginners’ course, TMCC will add a second, intermediate course as well. Classes, which earn TMCC credit, run five weeks, meeting once a week for three hours per session. The beginning course covers basic tricks involving cards, paper, rope, coins and silk scarves.
“There are four things I hope students get out of this class,” says Dobies. “One, I hope they learn and understand that magic is an art form. It’s difficult, but when a trick is done well, it’s a beautiful thing. Two, to learn basic tricks. Three, to be able to transition what they learn into their home or work life. And four, I want them to have fun.”
During a sort of “Show and Tell,” several members of class volunteer to show off what they’ve practiced at home. Not only can they do the tricks, but they also have witty banter while they do them. I’m impressed.
“Even with you here, to come up and demonstrate these things, that’s real progress,” Dobies says. “We’ve really gelled as a group.”
Confidence really does seem to grow here. Crystal Montecinos can vouch for that. A University of Nevada, Reno employee, Montecinos heard about the class and thought, “That sounds so silly I have to do it.” She figured it would be a good way to entertain her nieces and nephews, but it’s helped her personally in ways she didn’t expect.
“I was nervous and shaky about getting up in front of people at first,” she says. “But we’re all like little kids in here. The crowd’s been fun. It’s not hard to get up in front of people anymore.” Montecinos plans to take the intermediate class in the fall, and she’s been performing tricks for her husband, her coworkers and her 6-year-old nephew, who thinks magic is pretty cool. She even keeps a deck of cards in her car, to practice tricks while sitting in traffic.
“It’s been such a blast!” says Bill Petty. “I look forward to coming every week. We all bonded right off the bat, and it’s great because no one picks on you when you make a mistake.” It’s true. A visitor who has dropped in for one session is even encouraged to perform a scarf trick. The crowd cheers when he’s done.
Rick La May thought the class might be a fun thing he could do with his 11-year-old son, Bryce. “As your kids get older, they play computers, they watch TV, and they don’t ever leave the house. So I found this, and it’s been fun.” The La May men work together in class, and although Rick admits he rarely practices on his own, he loves the effect it’s had on his son.
“I did some tricks for four of my friends, and they were speechless,” says Bryce. He’s very confident and mature for 11. Magic comes naturally to him, and he’s a hit in class. He wants to take the intermediate class and maybe even do some magic shows. “It helps you meet people, and it helps you learn how to talk to people and overcome shyness. You could take a napkin at the dinner table, rip it up and put it back together. If you learn a trick, you can do it anywhere, so it helps you socially.”
“Now, if you could only make your big brother disappear, right, Bryce?” jokes Rick.
There’s no minimum age requirement for these classes, but Dobies insists that children who want to attend must do so with their parents. “Where else do kids and parents spend three hours of uninterrupted time together? No TV, no computers? It’s a wonderful thing to see that.”
One student in the class, a teacher, performs his disappearing rabbit tricks for children. Another student, a family therapist, uses magic with children who feel they can’t do something, to show them they can. A shy engineer blends magic with her technical skills to perform for others, even relaxing enough to joke as she performs.
And before I go, I’ve learned how to make a silk scarf appear from a dollar bill. I’d share the trick with you, but I’m sworn to secrecy.