Infinite Diabolo club practices ancient Chinese art


Graphic by Julianne Cruz

Diabolo is a popular Western art that materialized from the Chinese yo-yo. Infinite Diabolo club has been introducing students to this activity since 2019.

Caroline Zhou and Ginger Speer

Richard Montgomery High School (RM) is known for the cultural diversity of its students and the Infinite Diabolo Club, a unique club seeking to expand the practice of the diabolo, is a prime example of this diversity. 

The diabolo is a popular Western art form that originated from the Chinese yo-yo, an integral aspect of Chinese culture that has existed for more than 350 years — since the Ming Dynasty. According to the Harvard Chinese Yoyo Club, the second oldest toy in the world is, in fact, the Chinese yo-yo.

Its Chinese name is kongzhu, meaning “hollow bamboo,” because the Chinese yo-yo was originally made from bamboo and has a hollow center. Modern-day Chinese yo-yos and diabolos consist of two discs connected to form an hourglass shape and are spun or tossed using a string attached to two rods. They come in a variety of sizes and make a special buzzing sound as they are spun, which is said to symbolize the “awakening of spring,” according to Beijing Tourism.

During the Chinese Spring Festival, Chinese yo-yo performers can be found everywhere on the streets of Beijing. As diabolo spinning is a form of exercise that can generate heat, it has become a favored pastime and hobby for Chinese citizens who live in the Northern parts of the country where it is cold.

Members, led by senior Carolyn Lee at the far right, performed in the 2019 International Night (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Lee)

Playing with the diabolo involves all parts of the body and improves hand-eye coordination, making it a beneficial exercise for people of all ages. Nowadays, the Chinese yo-yo is known for not only being a form of exercise and a fun toy but also as a traditional and distinctive performing art. 

The Infinite Diabolo Club at RM encourages students to learn the art form so they can appreciate and connect to Chinese culture. It also provides an opportunity for those of all skill levels to learn and improve their diabolo skills.

The current president and vice president of the Infinite Diabolo Club are seniors Carolyn Lee and Josh Goozman, respectively. Both have been involved with the club since 2019 when the club was formed.

“When I first started learning, I was only eight years old, so I’ve basically been practicing yo-yo for almost ten years,” Lee said. She won the Mid Atlantic Eastern regionals Chinese yo-yo championship in 2017 with her sister and placed in second as a soloist in 2019. “My inspiration was actually during the summer between freshman and sophomore year [where] I went to this competition for Chinese schools and met a friend there [who] told me all about the yo-yo club that she had at her school. I realized that I wanted to do the same, so that was exactly what I did.”

For Goozman, it was Lee who got him into diabolo in middle school. “My interest first started back [then], but I’ve been enthusiastically part of the club since 10th grade,” he said. 

Both leaders encourage anyone at RM to try out the Infinite Diabolo Club. “I wanted people to have the opportunity to be able to learn not only a skill but [also] something cool that you could show to your friends and something that you will never forget how to do,” Lee said. “If anyone wants to [gain] leadership skills while learning something cool, then definitely join us in the Diabolo Club.”

The club leaders organized a performance at the RM International Night in December of 2019 where five participants showcased their skills together. Another performance they were planning for in March 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. “International Night itself is a very big bonding experience for us because we obviously practice a lot for that and get to know each other very well [through it],” Goozman said. 

New members can learn diabolo through those who are more experienced. “We welcome members of all levels from beginner to advanced, and we basically start from the ground up,” Lee said. “We train them, and we have equipment that we’re willing to lend out at our club meetings during lunch.”

Goozman reflected on his experience learning diabolo. “At the beginning, I thought it was impossible, [and] I thought there was no way to learn this because it looks so complicated, especially when you have Carolyn showing you, who can do all these complicated things,” he said. “But once you start doing it, especially when someone’s teaching you, it’s not actually that hard, so you can impress people and make them think that you’re doing these super complicated things when it’s not even that difficult.”

To encourage new members, Lee shared the wisdom she had acquired through her years of playing diabolo. “When you’re on stage, the entire floor is yours … the lights are shining on you and you have nothing to lose when you’re out there. You can literally toss the yo-yo, the sticks, the strings into the air, and when it comes crashing down and you miss, it doesn’t matter because no matter how many times you [drop] the yo-yo, what matters is how many times you pick it back up,” Lee said. “It has taught me so much more than just being confident in yourself, but also perseverance and building a team, since that’s what I was able to do back in my sophomore year when we performed for RM International.”

You can impress people and make them think that you’re doing these super complicated things when it’s not even that difficult.”

— Josh Goozman

Follow the Infinite Diabolo Club at @infinite.diabolo on Instagram. The email list sign-up link can be found in the account’s bio, and the club email for any questions is [email protected]. They meet up once a week on Thursdays during lunch in the gym and new members are welcome to show up whenever possible.

“Just come and try it,” Goozman said. “You can come for one lunch period and we will convince you how fun and easy it is. We can teach people with no skills, and by the end of lunch you can be throwing, catching and doing some tricks.”