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December 2, 2011

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Practice makes perfect

MAGICIAN Dale Salwak says his acts always start with music.

Known as "The Gentleman of Magic," the American says simply: "Music suggests magic to me, most of my pieces start with a song. I hear songs or beautiful lyrics and I imagine cards flying."

He credits his mother, a piano teacher, for this as he grew up listening to a lot of classical music.

Last month, Salwak appeared in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, at the West Lake International Magic Competition. During the final show of the competition, Salwak performed his classic magic - flying cards, conjuring coins, and turning a purple scarf into a silk flower.

During his lecture to young Chinese magicians, he made a stack of cards into a fan with one hand. Some magicians in the audience stared in wonder and exclaimed "What a good fan!"

Salwak says it takes practice, a great deal of practice.

"I practice everyday," he says. "I've never stopped since I was five years old. Even when I'm sick, I still practice. Every magician has to fall in love with practising or rehearsal. We are not on stage to fool audiences, but to please them. Whether you are working in front of one person or an audience of 1,000, you always need to get everything ready."

The 62-year-old has had a successful career. He is the talent chairman for the International Brotherhood of Magicians annual convention and owner of America's prestigious Chavez School of Magic, which boasts such alumni as David Copperfield.

But few who have seen him perform his repertoire of tricks probably realize that Salwak is also a professor of English literature at Citrus College in southern California, where's he lectured for the past 39 years. He earned his PhD in the subject at the University of Southern California. He's also published 23 books - 20 about English literature, three related to magic.

"I am very curious and I just want to know everything," he says. "I think if you are passionate about something, you learn quickly." Of his philosophy on life, he says: "People need to learn how to manage themselves, and then they manage their family, and country, and world."

Salwak says he got hooked on magic at the age of five when he met Mr White, a magician who happened to live close to his Massachusetts home. Mr White showed him how to "vanish" a rabbit in a mini "house" one day.

After the show, when the other kids ran for ice cream, Salwak stayed behind and asked the magician to teach him a trick. Mr White taught him how to turn a red scarf into a yellow one.

After that day, Salwak says his curiosity got the better for him and he wanted to learn more. Without a teacher, he studied from the book "Magic for Boys." The book only introduces tricks, so Salwak and his mother had to figure out how they worked by guessing and practising with the magic props he bought.

"I used to be very shy, but magic made me forget myself, and I dared to perform. That's one of the real wonders of magic to me," he says. Salwak adds he took the Chavez School of Magic's two-year correspondence course when he was 14. It comprised 17 different sessions. It took about a month to master each lesson.

"That was a real turning point for me," Salwak says. "It made me become a professional artist, and it taught me so much about presentation magic, which gave me a focus. After that point I could just learn new tricks."

His work at the Chavez School of Magic started as an instructor, but in 1978 he became the owner and director of the studio's West Coast division when the previous owner Marian Chavez died.

He says he helps other magicians polish their acts and allows them to see themselves through the audience's eyes. "I have been at it so long that when a performer walks out on stage, I can tell within a minute whether or not he knows how he is being seen," Salwak once said on La Verne Online.

His reputation started to grow after he performed at Magic Castle in Hollywood, where he still performs twice a year, a week at a time. In his youth, he performed four shows a night, seven nights a week.

He has appeared at every convention for magicians in America, and on American TV shows, as well as variety programs in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Holland and China.

He has received numerous awards such as the Award of Merit from the Academy of Magical Arts, Jack Gwynne Award for Excellence in Magic, and has been twice-nominated Stage Magician of the Year at Magic Castle.

In 1972, he started lecturing as a professor at Citrus College. Salwak has published a book at a rate of more than one every two years, including his latest, "AfterWord: Conjuring the Literary Dead."

The magician says the one thing he never does is mix magic in his classes.

"I keep magic and teaching separate, there's something not quite ethical about mixing the two," he says.

While his students may occasionally wish for a trick or two, Salwak realizes the common link in his two professions - people.

"They both require the ability to enchant people and to give people pleasure," he says. "A performer needs to connect with the hearts of everyone in the audience just like a teacher needs to connect with his students."


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