A conversation with Mike Bogdan | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A conversation with Mike Bogdan



When he's not working at a children's party-and-play zone or hitting the books as a chemical engineering student, North Sider Mike Bogdan yo-yos. After snapping his wrist to set a RPM yo-yo spinning at 237 mph., Bogdan reflects on the ups and downs of his hobby.



When did you start yo-yoing?

I got started when I was 7, when I was in the hospital for nine days for inner-ear surgery. My brother got me a yo-yo book and a couple yo-yos, and I taught myself every trick in the book while I was there. The most advanced trick in the book promised something like "when you can do this trick you're well into the world of yo-yodom" and I was like "I'm getting there!" That trick was the flying trapeze, and I just sat there doing it and doing it until I could consistently land it


You must have an affinity.

I learned how to juggle in one day, to yo-yo in a week. If it involves manual dexterity, I'm all over it instantly. When I was about 9, I went to a yo-yo contest at a toy store. They had a guy from Duncan [Toys] out front yo-yoing. I yo-yoed and was so much better than the guy they sent from the factory. That was the first time I realized that I could yo-yo much better than your average camper.


You've previously supported yourself yo-yoing.

With my wife, we sold yo-yos at kiosks in two malls. I did performances -- at schools, events, parties, for the Children's Museum and the International Children's Festival. I taught yo-yo at the Sweetwater Center for the Arts, taught a class for middle-school kids on the physics of yo-yos.


Almost every kid at some point seems to pick up a yo-yo.

Anyone can do it; it's little and cheap. And, it's a cyclical thing, a fad -- it comes and goes. Right now we're in a downswing, but I think we're swinging back up. The last big yo-yo craze was in 2000 -- and that was a long phase because of new technology like adding ball bearings, or the centrifugal clutch. That yo-yo was called "The Brain" and there's absolutely no doubt that that's what drove the sales. The Brain was a great tool for learning; with some high-tech device, it introduced a lot of kids to the yo-yo. When things are easier to do, more people get into them.


Is a high-tech yo-yo expensive?

You can spend $350 on a yo-yo. For $3, you can get a basic plastic yo-yo with a fixed metal axle. The main thing that increases the cost is the materials like more expensive metals -- either cast, extruded or milled aluminum; some very expensive ones are bi- or tri-metal yo-yos with other metals in them to stack the deck in the mass department. The other big thing in the cost of yo-yos is the ball bearings, to make them sleep longer. You can buy a $200 ball bearing -- it's ceramic, sealed and torqued out. It will spin all day. But really only an expert can tell the difference between these expensive yo-yos.


When you do demonstrations, what's the most popular trick?

It's never the hardest trick to do. Probably dog bite, where you make the yo-yo stick to your pants leg. No matter what you can do or how advanced you get, people always ask, "Can you walk the dog? Can you rock the baby?" And it's because that's what they could do.


Are you always yo-yoing?

With me and some of my friends that yo, it's like smoking. We'll have a yo-yo with us always. When I'm nervous or bored, I pull out the yo-yo. When I was doing it for a living, I'd wear them on my belt and when I walked from the car to the mall, I'd just start yo-yoing. Then people would start looking at me, and I'd be like, "Oh damn, I'm doing it again."


Now you just yo-yo for fun?

We're in a downtime, but when they become popular again, I'll jump right back into it. The last time yo-yos were really popular, by the end of the craze I was sick of them. No matter how much you love to do something, when it becomes your profession, it's still work. Right now, it's pure and fun.

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