TASC Special Ops: Stringing cultures together through yo-yo

TASC Special Ops rehearses before the team’s performance at Filipino Culture Night on Feb. 7.

By Abrar Al-Heeti

The performers pause onstage, holding two wooden sticks in each hand, the connecting rope balancing an hourglass-shaped plastic piece made of two connected discs. With a regular upward-downward motion and flicks of the wrist, the discs fly in the air, around the backs of the performers and back and forth between them. This is Chinese yo-yo.

Chinese yo-yo isn’t just a toy for members of the Taiwanese-American Students Club Special Ops, a University performing group underneath TASC, a registered student organization. For members, it carries cultural importance and identity as they seek to connect with their traditions and roots on campus.

TASC Special Ops has been performing Chinese yo-yo for more than 10 years. While there are 12 total members who practice together at least once a week, only six perform. Special Ops is often invited to perform at cultural shows and events on campus as well as across the country — recently performing at a Lunar New Year festival in Indiana.

Many of the members grew up in areas of the U.S., where there are a large Chinese or Taiwanese population. There they learned Chinese yo-yo, along with other cultural activities.

Some members learned to yo-yo from Chinese school — a weekly program for children that features Chinese lessons followed by an hour of extracurricular activities, which also included ping pong, calligraphy, badminton and cultural dances.

These activities were not only a source of entertainment, but they also instilled a sense of pride within the students.

“Chinese yo-yo serves as a way to identify myself with my culture,” said Eddie Lu, captain of Special Ops and junior in Engineering. “It is very popular in Asian countries, especially in Taiwan.”

Lu said Chinese yo-yo also taught him the art of discipline and patience, citing the many hours it takes to perfect a trick.

“Most recently, I learned how to juggle three yo-yos at once, (which) took me six years of practice just to be able to do,” Lu said.

Lu and Jason Pao, member of Special Ops and junior in Engineering, used to watch Chinese yo-yo performances as children, hoping they would one day perform on stage too. Pao would ask his mother to video tape the performances so he could watch them again later and learn the tricks.

When Pao started his freshman year at the University, he began looking for a Chinese yo-yo group but had no luck. It wasn’t until he coincidentally ran into Lu halfway across the globe that he learned about Special Ops.

“That summer when I went to Taiwan, I met Eddie,” Pao said. “We realized we both went to the same school, and I joined the next year.”

George Cheng, senior in LAS, had not only heard about the group before coming to the University, but he had set out to find it almost immediately after arriving on campus.

“My freshman year on Quad day I came out specifically looking for TASC Special Ops because I heard about them by going on YouTube,” he said. “I started yo-yoing when I was in eighth grade. Then after going on YouTube to look for videos on more yo-yo tricks, I found UIUC and saw they had a team.”

While the performers get a sense of satisfaction from entertaining crowds and representing their culture, they said there is also a sense of self-fulfillment that comes with performing Chinese yo-yo.

“It’s more like a cultural awareness thing,” Pao said. “For me, it’s a big part of my life.”

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