Latin Dance & Richiardi

In case you missed it, The New Yorker published a wonderful piece a month or so back on pickpocket Apollo Robbins.

 In pursuit of his craft, Robbins has ended up incorporating principles from such disparate fields as aikido, sales, and Latin ballroom dancing

Robbins demonstrated his method on me. “When I shake someone’s hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left,” he said, showing me. “The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I’m finding out what kind of a partner they’re going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them.

– Green, Adam. “A Pickpocket’s Tale: The spectacular thefts of Apollo Robbins” in The New YorkerOnline.

(Emphasis mine.) One other side note: if you are reading The New Yorker piece for the first time, don’t miss the associated video which has been less heavily linked to online.

Salsa dancing, latin ballroom dancing.  Hmm… What other magician had a history in ballroom dancing?  Richardi, Jr. (Aldo Izquierdo Colosi).

According to Richiardi’s Magicpedia entry, “After his father’s death in the United States, he saved up enough money to move back home to Argentina (where most of his father’s illusion were stored). He attended military school and studied singing and dancing.” Some additional references showing Richiardi’s dance background:

 He has 25 years of theatrical experience since he has been a singer and dancer in his father’s magic show since he was six years old…

Most of the show is in pantomime. Richiardi and his assistants run out on the stage and they dance throughout the show in the manner of a modern interpretive ballet. I must stress that his dancing and positions are at all times suited to the music and has an easy grace although it is completely masculine and in keeping with his characterization of a charming young “miracle-worker.” As an entertainer, Richiardi, Jr. is very much like Sammy Davis, Jr., and as a dancer he is very much like Gene Kelley whom we see in motion pictures. Actually, Richiardi, Jr. presents his magic on the stage as it might be presented in an Hollywood musical film.

– Furst, Arnold. “Richairdi Jr:, A Review of his show at the Royal Theatre, Portsmouth, England” in Genii. Vol 20, No. 9 / May 1956. Pp. 354-357. AskAlexander (Login required).


An interview in which we learn that he was also an “amateur bullfighter”!

P.: You did something that very few magicians ever do: you took lessons in singing and dancing. Renowned critic John Simon, whose word is almost gospel, said; “you bring theatre to magic”. What made you do that in that time . . . it’s some time ago and you were so young!?

R.. Well, because I thought that this was the time to bring something new to magic and I could sing, I knew .. . if I tried. I could dance too, because I was an amateur bullfighter and that would give me movement and the style. So I wanted to do magic different to my grandfather and to my father. Well, since I am not a hypnotist, I am not a ventriloquist, so what could I do new in magic? Music, dancing, singing and girls I did, at that time a very beautiful magic show

– Interview with Peter Pit at the Magic Castle on November 7, 1981.  Published as an obituary in “Richiardi – The Man – His Magic” in  Genii. Vol. 49, No. 4 / October 1985. Pp. 245-250. AskAlexander (Login required).

And Jeff McBride, explaining Richiardi’s influence on his magic:

When I was growing up, watching magic acts in the 70s, basically magicians didn’t move. There wasn’t a lot of dance, other than Richiardi who put that kind of Latin fire in his movement and a lot of these adagio and kind of flamenco Latin poses in his show.

– Jeff McBride, interviewed by Eugene Burger in “The Showmanship Interviews” Genii. Vol 74, No. 5 / May 2011, Pp. 60-63. AskAlexander (login required).

I feel Richiardi’s broom levitation, in particular, displays the influence of his roots in Latin dance.  Have a look at this (unfortunately very low quality) clip of the Richiardi levitation (at beginning and end).



I subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary word of the day e-mail.  “Alakazam” was the word selected for March 1.

 alakazam, int.

[‘Used as an exclamation imparting supposed magical power, as when performing a trick. Hence in extended use, connoting any sudden transformation or happening. Cf. abracadabra int.’]

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌaləkəˈzam/,  U.S. /ˌæləkəˈzæm/

Forms:  19– alagazam,   19– alakazam,   19– alakazap,   19– alakazoo,   19– alakazoop,   19– alakazot.

Etymology:Apparently an arbitrary formation, invented to sound like a word in an unspecified foreign language, with the intention of creating an air of exoticism and mystery. In use as a magical exclamation perhaps approximately suggested by abracadabra n., although compare discussion below.

Earlier currency is suggested by the following (facetious) use in a street name:

1881 Daily Evening Bull. (San Francisco) 6 Aug. 1/5 Camp Capitola. Description of a New Seaside Resort in Santa Cruz County… The party who laid out the streets..gave vent to his facetious bent in naming them. Glancing at the names..are seen Fishbone avenue, Alagazam street, Rat Tail alley and Soda Water avenue.

Compare also the following earlier examples, in which this expression (in various spellings) is used facetiously with relation to the use of foreign words and phrases in English linguistic contexts with the intention to impress or to create an air of sophistication:

1884 Hawaiian Monthly May 119/2 At this point the conversation was interrupted by the tones of a deep, rich bass voice belonging to a gentleman, who sat directly behind the alagazam idiot: ‘Asinus, asini, asiniorum’.

1896 N.Y. Tribune 24 May 17/6, I ain’t had a square meal sence Been fillin’ up on Charley horse rusies, sooflay de allakazam, an’ all them French dishes.

The form Alagazam is also attested earlier in popular music, earliest as the title of composition first released as a ragtime piano score and subsequently published with lyrics:

1902  A. Holzmann ‘Alagazam!’ Cake Walk, March and Two Step 3 The theme and title of this composition suggested itself to the writer during a trip to the South where he saw a colored regiment, who, while marking time during drill..were uttering a peculiar refrain which sounded like—Alagazam! Alagazam! Alagazam! Zam! Zam!

1903  A. Holzmann Alagazam. Song. 5 Zam Zam Zam was the title they gave him Zam Zam Zam our mighty Alagazam.

With the explanation given by Holzmann for the title of his piece compare the later composition by Harry von Tilzer and Andrew B. Sterling entitled Alagazam to the Music of the Band (1915). With forms showing apparently arbitrary variation in the final syllable (as alakazoop, alakazoo, etc.), compare the following comic song, where a different alteration of Alakazam (apparently presented as though the name of a foreign country, state, or city) features in each successive verse (The Countess of Alagazoop, The Countess of Alagazip, etc.).

1904  R. Cole Countess of Alagazam 3 They christen’d a girl somewhere in the world, The Countess of Alagazam.

It has been suggested that the expression arose in the medicine shows that toured America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although contemporary evidence to confirm this appears to be lacking.

Used as an exclamation imparting supposed magical power, as when performing a trick. Hence in extended use, connoting any sudden transformation or happening. Cf. abracadabra int.

In quot. 1902 as part of an extended magical formula.

1902 Sun (Baltimore) 30 Mar. 12/1 It was a wishing-spell, and whoever repeated it could be anywhere or do anything he desired… It read like this: ‘Alakazam Bazazza Ki! Hickory Dickory Dock. Omega Om Opeeka Pi? O Donnerwetter Hoch!’

1904 Philadelphia Inquirer 28 Apr. 9/5 ‘Alagazam’—To make your eyebrows heavier apply daily with a small brush a lotion of olive oil..bay rum..quinine.

1920 El Paso (Texas) Herald 10 July (Comic Section, Katzenjammer Kids), I am Professaire Dopo Ze Hypnoteest! I get your lettaire!.. Alakazam! You sleep! When you wake up you are good leetle boys!

1930 Daily News (N.Y.) 2 Mar. (Final ed.) 35/1 ‘Alagazam’ a term in wide use among members of a profession which has long sickened reputable physicians and honest druggists, not to mention the general public.

1951  in Newslet. Amer. Dial. Soc. Sept. 22/1 The whirlwind courtship of Elmer Sitts… With Elmer and Gladys it was just slam, bam, Alakazam! Timber! This is it!

1988 N.Y. Post 21 Oct. 10/1 Sit down with these guys and—alakazam!—you’re in the Broadway world most folks thought was long gone.

2009 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 30 Oct. a23/1 He is unlikely to be judged kindly by subway and bus riders if they do not see—alakazam!—quick improvement in fraying service.

Most of these first uses have little to do with magic until 1902. Interestingly, the spelling is predominantly “alagazam”. Presumably, Magician Mark Wilson cemented the alternate spelling into common use due to his  marketing strategy of his show sponsor.  In his words:

Here is how the name “Allakazam” came about. Certainly, the tie-in with the “Wizard of Oats,” who magically created All Stars, was a natural for a magic show. To strengthen that association, “Allakazam” was incorporated into the show’s name. The word Allakazam itself has a magical connotation. The Wizard sang in the commercials …”Kelloggs All Stars, Allakazam. What a wonderful wizard I am.” Now that was a direct tie-in with that new product. Even more specifically, Allikazam was written with two lower case “l”s. This was to position the “K” as the center letter … AllaKazam. In that way, whenever the word AllaKazam was seen graphically, such as when it appeared at the top of the street sign-post on our primary set, it had the giant Kelloggs “K” logo as the middle letter.

– Wilson, Mark. “The Inside Story. Number 5.” In Genii. October 2003/Vol. 66, #10. P. 24. Ask Alexander (login required).

The logo in question can be seen at 1:00 and 1:26 here: