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First-String Yo-Yo Performer Sees Toy on the Upturn

January 27, 1994|IRIS YOKOI

During normal business hours, Don Harrison is a mild-mannered insurance agent.

But come leisure time, the 32-year-old Torrance resident becomes a man with his hands full, as he unleashes his passion for what many consider a childhood pastime.

"I'm a yo-yologist," he says, using a term coined by another yo-yo enthusiast.

Harrison performs impressive yo-yo tricks for community groups and teaches local youngsters and senior citizens how to master the toy. "Anyone can yo-yo," the South Bay native says. "I can sit down with you and in a matter of minutes, you can learn a couple of tricks." He says he seldom charges, adding that his love for the device and his desire to educate the public about it are motivation enough.

The yo-yo's popularity goes up and down, Harrison likes to say, but the toy has reportedly been around for ages. Although its origin is unclear, history indicates the Greeks had yo-yos 2,500 ago, says Dale Oliver, a Seattle resident who is chairman of the board of the newly formed American Yo-Yo Assn.

The toy caught on in the United States in 1928, Harrison says, when marketing expert Don Duncan hired performers to travel around the country demonstrating and promoting it.

Harrison became engrossed in the yo-yo at the age of 8, after learning from his father about the old-time demonstrators and their amazing skills.

Today, only about 25 yo-yo performers nationwide make it their profession, and only five of them, including Oliver, make a living at it by performing and teaching full time.

Still, Harrison says, the yo-yo seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity because of its simplicity and relatively low cost (from $3 for a basic plastic model to $75 for a high-performance wooden one).

In his appearances, Harrison does tricks with more than one yo-yo--feats that require using both hands. "It's almost like juggling, with eye-hand coordination," he says.

But when he teaches, he sticks to the basics, trying to ease the frustration of the novice. Harrison, who has three young boys, says, "So many kids give up after getting their string in a knot. They just need a good teacher."

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