Conjuring tricks with playing cards became popular around the 19th century. At that time, simple card flourishes—such as the Charlier Cut, Riffle Shuffle and Thumb Fan—were often performed by magicians as a way of demonstrating sleight of hand. It involves the use of hands to create cuts, displays, fans, patterns and sequences through the use of playing cards. Various armspreads, cuts, shuffles and springs can be used. The intent is to create a captivating motion and beautiful display. The effects are limited only by the types of cards used, the imagination, and the degree of manual dexterity of the performer. The presentation is typically neither “illusionary” nor purportedly “magic”; rather, it is more like juggling, mime, or similar entertaining activities.

The art form of card flourishing, commonly referred to as cardistry, grew out of simple flourishes used in close-up magic by magicians in the 1990s to early 2000s. Chris Kenner's notable two-handed Sybil cut from his 1992 publication Totally Out of Control has carried great influence and gave birth to a series of advanced flourishes which today represents the foundation of the performance art. Sleight of hand pioneers Dan and Dave popularized cardistry on the world stage with their instructional DVD releases from 2004 and 2007. Journalist Kevin Pang of Vanity Fair characterized the art of card flourishing as, "It's yo-yo tricks performed by cardsharps with the street cred of a Parkour video. There's a name for it: cardistry.

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