The main attraction at Countdown to Craziness may have been the stars on the basketball court, but student performer Felix Kung and his yo-yo drew some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Duke’s annual basketball showcase spotlighted several student performances before the debut of the men’s basketball team Saturday night. Among these, junior Felix Kung stood out with a performance of Chinese yo-yo that captured the curiosity of the audience at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“You don’t see Chinese yo-yo performed that often, and he’s incredibly good, so it was exciting to see,” said sophomore Amanda Hedgecock.
Some students were already aware of Kung’s unique talent with the Chinese yo-yo, also known internationally as diabolo, as Countdown was not his first time in the spotlight. After a well-received performance at an event hosted by a cultural student organization last year, an admissions officer asked Kung to perform at Countdown, an offer that he excitedly accepted.
With more than 50 performances under his belt, Kung said Cameron gave him his largest audience to date. Prior to Saturday night, his largest audience was at last year’s Lunar New Year event, attended by approximately 400 people. Kung acknowledged that the Cameron crowd—numbering several thousand—made him a little nervous, which may have resulted in a couple of errors here and there.
Kung said he has been performing yo-yo for many years. Born and raised in Warren, N.J., Kung was introduced to diabolo at the age of six at a summer camp for Chinese Americans. He was absolutely mesmerized and soon found himself taking lessons at Murray Hills Chinese School. In high school, Kung represented Murray Hills in competitive play against Chinese schools across New Jersey, placing as high as third in the state for single competition and first for duo events.
“When I first picked this up, it brought me so much happiness. I thought doing these tricks were so cool,” he said. “When you teach people, you see that same level of excitement and passion in their eyes.”
Whether it was the scrimmages of the title-winning basketball team, the introduction of a pair of Nobel Prize-winning scientists or the performances of several a capella groups and dance teams, the recurring theme of Countdown was the importance of teamwork. Kung, however, operates as a one-man team.
“After each performance, I actually feel pretty lonely because it’s a one-person act. Other people, they think it’s cool—then they just go home after,” he said. Kung said that if people were interested, he would enjoy forming a club to teach people.
At his Chinese school, Kung taught diabolo for six years. He continued to teach diabolo at DukeEngage Zhuhai as part of an effort for Duke students to bring their passions to a more rigid school system.
As impressive as his skills are, he acknowledged that he is not the best at performing and even recalled the days he would get blown out of the water in his early days of competition. There are still tricks he has yet to learn. He even claimed one of the reasons he shines is because there are so few diabolo players on campus.
“It’s kind of strange that almost nobody has even heard of this before,” Kung said. “People have told me I should go on “America’s Got Talent” or whatever—I have not seriously thought about that. I mean, there are plenty of people who are better than me.”
Senior Rebecca Brenner said Kung’s passion was evident in his performance Saturday.
“It speaks to the average Duke student that everyone has something they’re passionate about, and sometimes it’s really unusual,” Brenner said. “It was great to be able to see his passion because it’s something you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
Kung noted that he would enjoy performing in future events on campus, but explained that a professional career in yo-yo is not an option. Although he expressed interest in continuing to perform, the computer science major said medical school may be in his cards. Whatever hand is dealt to him, he will continue to perform with his yo-yo.
“It has been a pretty big part of my life,” he said.
Claire Ballentine and Samantha Neal contributed reporting.
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