What exactly is sleight of hand?

Ask a Magician, a series of blog posts answering your questions! – Issue XI

Sleight of Hand!

I think Dan is trying to sneakily ask about the secrets of magic with this question. That’s OK, I’ll give you a little clue. He asks:

What exactly is sleight of hand?

walkaround magicianAs I understand it, sleight of hand is simply skillfully performed moves done with the hands usually to entertain people. It’s used by pickpockets, cardist, pen spinners, coin rollers and it’s especially associated with close up magicians, and when performing card magic, coin magic, etc, I do of course use sleight of hand – wait! scratch that, it’s all done by magic, of course.

Actually. that’s a good point. I’m happy to talk about sleight of hand of my blog here, but generally, when I’m performing I wouldn’t use the term, even if other people call me a sleight of hand magician. The reason I stay away from the term during my performances is because sleight of hand is part of the method (the secret). I’ve said before on my blog that obviously I’m not doing the type of magic that warrants burning me at the stake, but I still like to keep up the illusion while I am performing. Otherwise, magic just becomes a puzzle to be figured out, rather than a mystery to be experienced.

There’s a common misconception that sleight of hand magic is difficult. We call the moves ‘sleights’ and actually they range in difficulty. Sure there are some knucklebusters (really difficult moves) but others are as simple as cutting the cards – yes, if you can do that, or shuffle the cards, you can do sleight of hand.

The other major misconception is that the magic is sleight of hand. Actually great magic is a tapestry of many skills. Sleight of hand may or may not be part of that. Some of the other techniques might be movement, psychology, people reading, personality, storytelling, etc. I always encourage the magicians I mentor to consider the whole range of their skillset. Sleight of hand magic can be fun to watch (we call it eye candy – boy, you’re learning a lot of lingo today) but I always think that without an emotional or intellectual hook it is just like candy, shortlived and easily forgettable.

Fancy seeing a little sleight of hand magic. Here’s a video where I am performing some moves, but hopefully you’ll see there’s some personality in there too. That’s what makes it more fun. People like people more than things, right?

Got a question to contribute? I would love to hear it! Leave a comment, or click here to email me.

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