Video: The Pickpocket a Salsa

With illusionists such as Teller and Philippe Petit, neuromarketer Patrick Renvoisé and psychologist of perception Daniel Simons to reinforce the idea, I've come to appreciate over the course of many festivals just how malleable human attention is.

In recent New Yorker article, master pickpocket Apollo Robbins described his method for shaping perception as "surfing attention." The range of disciplines he has studied such as ballroom dancing was truly impressive - as was his method of getting physically close to his mark during a performance.

Both are described here. Enjoy:

In pursuit of his craft, Robbins has ended up incorporating principles from such disparate fields as aikido, sales, and Latin ballroom dancing. He is a devotee of books like Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” and has also immersed himself in the literature of criminal lore....

'When I shake someone’s hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left,' he said, showing me. 'The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I’m finding out what kind of a partner they’re going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them.'

Robbins needs to get close to his victims without setting off alarm bells. 'If I come at you head-on, like this,' he said, stepping forward, 'I’m going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that’s going to make you uncomfortable.' He took a step back. 'So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I’m in your space.' He demonstrated, winding up shoulder to shoulder with me, looking up at me sideways, his head cocked, all innocence. 'See how I was able to close the gap?' he said. "I flew in under your radar and I have access to all your pockets.'

Learning how magic tricks are done is often disappointing, because it’s not really magic. With Robbins, though, effect and method are one and the same, and seeing how he accomplishes his thefts is just as impressive as witnessing, or failing to witness, the acts themselves.

As a necessary precursor to creativity and innovation, it's the cross boundary, discipline-spanning connections the festival strives to make. I hope you'll plan now to attend this year's festival, September 24 - 27.

Stay curious!