Steve Zieman gets on stage, introduces himself, and tells his audience, “Welcome to ballet class.”
Grins and snickers spread across the room of elementary school students. This isn’t actually a ballet class, but right from the get-go Zieman wants his audience to know that they are in for a fun 90 minutes.
“Kids love to have fun, that’s their job,” Zieman said. “But in the process, if they are learning something worthwhile that they can use in the real world, well, that is good stuff.”
Enter his Magic Bag of Tricks workshop.
Started in 1994, Zieman – an only child – had been working in radio and TV for years before both of his parents fell ill. Then, after leaving the early morning radio program and his teaching position at Wayne State University, he needed to find something that would work with his new schedule. He had done magic for years – he got into it at eight and performed shows throughout college to help pay for school – and Beaumont Hospital was looking for people to help with a new program they were starting. They wanted someone who could teach magic tricks to people who had closed head injuries so that the exercise was done in a way that would be fun for them.
Doing that program at Beaumont Hospital inspired a new idea, one where Zieman could use magic in the classroom, and help kids learn speaking skills, develop their memory techniques, tactile skills, poise, and storytelling skills.
“The idea isn’t to make a whole lot of young magicians,” said Zieman, who lives in Rochester Hills. “It’s to give them these skills. So they are having fun, they’re learning, and when they have to get up in front of a class, or anywhere, they can say they’ve done this before, it’s not so scary.”
His workshop consists of anywhere from eight to 12 effects, and each student gets a bag to take home with all the elements needed to perform their newly acquired skills. During each trick he first shows them how to do it, has them try it in their seats, and then brings one kid up to perform it on stage. All the tricks are done with things most kids are familiar with.
Zieman estimates he goes to about 120 schools a year, as well as libraries, summer camps, and parks and recreation departments. Each workshop tends to max out around 50 kids, who are excited to see what Zieman’s got.
Sometimes though, Zieman will get a kid who will say what he’s doing isn’t magic. Zieman quickly rebuffs that.
“I’ll say, ‘No, it looks like magic, but these are magic tricks. There’s a secret that you know that other people don’t know and you can fool them,’” Zieman said. “Then they get it. I think they figure they are going to come in and start floating or something. We’re not to that point yet.”
While they aren’t flying through the sky or cutting their fellow classmates in half, the kids often walk away with something else: confidence.
“It’s a wonderful thing to think you’re making a difference in people’s lives, especially children,” he said.
Magic also made a pretty big difference in Zieman’s life. Not only does he get to love going to work every day doing something he absolutely loves, but he also met his wife at one of his shows.
“I owe a lot to magic,” he said. “And I try my best to pay it back.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent