Alabanza learns to use diablo, develops passion


Valerie Kibler

Junior Nina Alabanza throws the diablo while demonstrating a trick they learned for the musical.

Maya Waid, Editor-in-Chief

Junior Nina Alabanza never dreamed of joining the circus. But learning a circus trick is exactly what she did for this year’s musical performance.

“The diablo, also known as the stringless yo-yo or Chinese yo-yo, originated in ancient China as a performance art. [The diablo is] this double bell shaped thing [and] it’s pretty heavy. It spins really fast and the gyroscopic force keeps it still. You hold it by the sticks and with the strings you can move it around and do a bunch of tricks with it,” Alabanza said. 

Alabanza first became involved with the diablo when they volunteered to learn to use the diablo for the musical production, ‘CHICAGO!’

“I actually got into it totally not knowing what it was. [The directors] sat us all down for [the] musical and told us we were going to put on a circus act for one scene and [asked us] who wanted to do what. Everyone was like ‘I can do the splits’ or ‘I can walk on stilts’ and I was like ‘wow I can’t do any of that,’” Alabanza said. “Gibson asked us who wanted to learn the diablo and I was like ‘I do’ having no idea what it was but I [volunteered].”

When Alabanza first started to learn how to use the diablo, they found a love for it right away.

“I borrowed [a diablo] from Gibson and it fell so many times in the first three hours. It took three hours just for me to keep it spinning. My original plan was to learn how to keep it spinning, throw it, toss it and catch it and [learn] the easy tricks,” Alabanza said. “I knew I just needed to do it for the musical and do this one little trick for the one scene but the more I started doing it the more I fell in love with it. Something about it is just very soothing. [I love] the rhythm of it and the balance. It is really fun for me so I got way more into it than I needed to.”

Alabanza worked with fellow cast member, senior Micah Wickline, to learn how to manipulate the diablo in the way that was needed for the musical. 

“When I first started, Micah Wickline knew how to diablo for a little bit from a band thing, so he tried to teach me to keep it spinning. Neither of us could. I got the concept down [though] so I went home and kept practicing it and kept getting it spinning. At the very beginning, Gibson did a few tricks like the trapeze and he tossed it and I wondered if I could try that. I started trying it until I got it. After I learned the really basic tricks I started going online and watching videos to learn the more complex stuff,” Alabanza said. 

Although the diablo was something completely new for Alabanza, they did not experience many challenges. 

“Learning the tricks for the musical wasn’t difficult, it was very baseline and very simple. The most challenging part about learning it was just the time it took because it is really all muscle memory and you have to feel it. You can’t logically think it through and then just perform it, it has to be a feeling that you have when you are holding the stick,” Alabanza said. “I would spend hours outside just practicing stuff and it has fallen on my face several times, which hurts.”

Although Alabanza spent a lot of time preparing for the musical performances, they were still nervous when it came time to perform their tricks on stage.

“[Performing it at the musical] was relieving but also nerve wracking. In fact, it wasn’t until our third night performing that I actually successfully did my tricks. All of the stuff that I learned, I could do with my eyes closed because it was super easy for me. I would practice it and get it right and then go up on stage and perform it. Every night before the performance I would say to myself ‘You are not going to drop the diablo.’ Then, the third night we performed, I didn’t drop it, I successfully caught it behind my back. I got cheers and that was really nice,” Alabanza said. 

Although Alabanza did envision themself becoming so passionate about the diablo, Alabanza values the skills they have learned throughout the process. 

“I totally would have never imagined myself getting so involved with this kind of thing. Just having this super small and niche skill, that I know how to do and hardly anyone else has any experience with. It’s so cool [because] I can just bring it with me,” Alabanza said. “Last week, I went to a theater competition for one act and there were like six other schools there and during a lunch break we were all in the cafeteria and I got it out and there was a crowd of people around and it was so much fun. Just having that little skill that you wouldn’t even think about if you knew me as a person adds a lot more depth to my character.”