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The Magic Of Youth He’s A Wizard At Abracadabra

Mon., March 23, 1998, midnight

Dave Womach Age: 14 Occupation: student

Lights dim. A single spotlight focuses on the red curtain hanging in the basement rec room. Lalo Schifrin’s enduring “Mission: Impossible” theme blares from a pair of speakers stacked alongside a makeshift stage.

Enter the magician. Black tuxedo. Scarlet cummerbund and bow tie. He moves to the tricky five-four beat, hands flourishing faster than the eye.

A deck of cards appears. He cuts them single-handed and then spreads the cards into a fan with smooth precision. The cards vanish, instantaneously replaced by a live, fluttering white dove.

But here’s the real magic of the act: This budding David Copperfield is only 14.

Dave Womach got the abracadabra bug early on.

He thinks he was about 4 when his older brother, Chet, received a magic kit as a gift.

Cups and balls. Mystery cards. A shrinking wand. The usual old chestnuts.

Not to Dave. He beheld the box of wonders and was transfixed. His young heart sensed instinctively that here was enough secret knowledge to reduce an audience to spellbound gasps.

Dave felt the power. He set off on the long journey to become a magician.

“My brother’s always been good at baseball,” says Dave, leaning on the family pool table after his magic show. “I’m OK at it, but this was something I could do better.”

So while friends hit balls and adoringly followed the careers of Ken Griffey Jr. and Michael Jordan, Dave worked on his sleight of hand and acquainted himself with names that are anything but household.

Lance Burton. Jason Byrne. Jonathan David Bass. … The creme de la creme of professional magic.

Dave began haunting magic shops. He read every magic book he could find and spent hour after hour practicing his moves.

He bought his first tux for $100 from a Seattle magician who had worn it when he was 16. He bought three doves - Elvis, Houdini and Fluffy - and put them to work in his act.

It takes considerable effort to train birds for a show business career, as well as some patience. Once while performing, Dave materialized a dove onto the top edge of a fan of playing cards.

A neat effect. Until the bird decided to relieve itself down Dave’s arm.

Nothing up his sleeve? Yeah, right.

Dave joined the century-old Spokane Magic Club last year, becoming its youngest member.

“He is very good,” says Spokane’s Dick Frost, a professional magician and longtime club member. “Looking at his eyes reminds me of how I was when I was a kid.”

Who can say why most people lead drab, predictable lives while only a few free spirits blossom?

Cathy and Dan Womach, Dave’s mom and dad, have a firm theory on this subject. Far too many of today’s parents, they contend, have so regimented their kids’ lives that children have no time left to explore options on their own.

Soccer teams. Little League. Ballet, swimming and music lessons. Modern parents have become chauffeurs, shuttling their children to and from this practice and that recital.

“It took a lot of work to keep our children unbusy, leaving them plenty of time to play together quietly without interruption of friends, TV, Nintendo and learn-to classes,” Cathy says.

“The end result was not only a special bonding of brothers, but their ability to enjoy being alone and use their wonderful imaginations.”

The Womachs keep a reminder of this philosophy posted in the kitchen of their north Spokane home. It is a column by child development specialist Nancy Nurss, who argues against America’s busy-kid syndrome.

“More recently,” she writes, “our society seems to be saying, ‘Learn to dance, learn to read, learn to swim - all before the age of 5. Hurry.’ “Therefore, children’s lives become tightly scheduled with lessons, rehearsals and other organized experiences. One would think such children would never have time to be bored, but oddly enough, that’s exactly what an overly busy schedule can lead to.”

If someone tried to force a child into becoming a magician, it probably wouldn’t take. The craft requires too much dull repetition to develop skill. Frustration would set in.

Dave found magic on his own. His love for it gave him the drive to endure the torture.

He is a perfectionist, which helps. A sloppy magician won’t fool anyone.

Few 14-year-olds would have the courage and poise to perform solo in front of an audience. But this polite, unassuming boy has performed for his Salk Middle School classmates. Dave, an honor roll student, printed his own business cards and hires out for birthday parties and other special events.

Sure, he would love to become the next Copperfield. He’s just too modest to wish it in print.

Dave’s latest accomplishment is putting together a choreographed act to the “Mission: Impossible” music. He plans to perform it this summer in Los Angeles at an international magic competition.

He’s got the suit. He’s got the doves. He’s got the talent. …

The only thing Dave needs to make it a true magic show is maybe a scantily clad assistant. Nothing misdirects an audience like a scantily clad assistant.

“Uh, uh,” says Dave nervously, shaking his head. “I’ve got a girlfriend. I don’t think she’d like it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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