At the annual Western Michigan University China Festival on Saturday, October 7th you can see people perform with one of the oldest toys in the world - the yo-yo.
Historians believe the yo-yo may have originated in China. Though they’re not sure exactly how old the toy is, researchers at Yale say yo-yos are depicted on some ancient Greek vases dated as far back as 500 B.C.
High school junior Jack Liu is the director of a yo-yo club at the Kalamazoo Chinese Academy - a nonprofit that teaches Chinese language and culture.
Liu doesn’t play with the kind of yo-yo we’re used to in the United States. The Chinese yo-yo is very different.
“A Chinese yo-yo, you have two separate sticks - one in each hand and then a string running from each stick in the middle. So you have a stick in your right hand, a stick in your left hand and a string connecting both in the middle," he says.
"Then the actual yo-yo itself, think of it almost as an hourglass but tipped on its side.”
The Chinese yo-yo isn’t attached to the string. So you can do tricks like throwing it up in the air and catching it, passing it from player to player, or even juggling multiple yo-yos at once. Liu says he got into yo-yo after seeing it a Chinese New Year celebration.
“We always like to incorporate it in our Chinese New Year performances because it’s one of the more exciting acts I guess you’d say - a lot of action, a lot of really cool moves that people haven’t seen before," he says.
Today’s yo-yos are usually made of plastic, but the traditional Chinese yo-yos were made of wood.
“They actually carved out parts of the insides of the yo-yos to make that kind of…when you spin them, they actually make this bamboo-like sounding noise to them,” says Liu.
Mei Lin is the operations manager at the Kalamazoo Chinese Academy and also Liu’s mom. She says today’s yo-yos are more flashy.
“These days the yo-yo looks really cool and they have all kinds of designs. They even have lights,” she says.
Lin says one of the things she likes about the yo-yo is that it’s a non-competitive - and sometimes collaborative - sport.
“They teach them physically and mentally because you have to go through a lot of fails before you can do the one trick. So it helps them learn and be able to concentrate," she says.
"This is a very unique heritage for all the Chinese students and also it helps to connect our Chinese community.”
You can see the yo-yo performance at Western Michigan University’s China Festival on Saturday, October 7th.