Yo-Yo Ma ... and Dad

February 21, 2019

LEOMINSTER -- If you’re among those who can barely get a yo-yo to go down and up the string just once, the performance by John and Rebecca Higby at Leominster Public Library on Wednesday was a revelation.

The husband-and-wife team, who have appeared on national TV and performed around the world, showed off a dazzling display of tricks in front of a crowd of more than 100.

Beginning with tricks everyone has heard of, like “Walk the Dog” and “Around the World,” the couple, who live in Amherst, gradually worked their way up to lesser-known routines with names like “Elevator,” Seasick” and “Pinwheel,” during which the toys appeared to defy the laws of physics by spinning, twirling and flying around the two performers.

One trick required John to completely let go of the string and still somehow manage to catch the yo-yo in the air and complete the routine.

The couple’s moves were choreographed to music by artists including Van Halen, Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen.

The team’s improvisational comedy skills were also put to the test. During one trick, John’s yo-yo inadvertently detached from the string and rolled across the floor. “Dog off the leash,” he quipped.

Why are audiences so fascinated by watching by watching yo-yo routines? Rebecca thinks it’s because everybody has tried to use one, and thus can appreciate how difficult it is to do it well.

“It’s a skill toy, so it’s not the kind of thing you can just pick up and start doing,” Rebecca said. “You have to really practice.”

She said she and her husband have had to convince some audience members that the yo-yos they use have not been gimmicked in any way.

“They’re pretty standard,” adding that mastering one takes “lots and lots of practice.”

The couple, who were assisted during the performance by their 9-year-old son, Theodore, showed off some of the yo-yos they’ve collected from around the world, including a square yo-yo from Italy.

You could say their act had everything, including the kitchen sink, which was represented by a yo-yo fashioned from a pair of drain coverings.

Yo-yos were not the only deceptively simple toy on display. At one point, Rebecca showed off her hula-hoop skills by keeping three of the toys in constant motion around her neck, legs and arms, all while dancing to the music of Beyoncé.

During the finale, she managed to keep 20 hula hoops spinning around her body at the same time.

Other impressive feats included a bit where John used a yo-yo to light two matches and knock a penny off of the ear of an adult volunteer.

Don’t try that one at home.

Follow on Twitter @Landry17Stephen.