How do levitating street performers work?

The mystery of levitation revealed...


If you’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world, then at some point you may have encountered “levitating” street performers.  The “floating man illusion” is usually set up with one or two people.  In both cases, it’s made to look like the performer is floating in mid-air, supporting his or her entire body weight with strength of their hand…

In the one-man version, the mystic will appear to float above a carpet or small garden in the sitting position while holding the top of a rod with his hand.  To the onlooker, he’ll have the strength to do this for hours on end…


Indian yogis claim to have mastered the powers of this “levitation”. In reality, they’ve simply managed to trick unsuspecting bystanders by employing fundamental design principles and little bit of physics.

In short, the floating man illusion is accomplished via the strategic placement of steel rods and plates. And though the performers appear to be defying the laws of physics, the structure is remarkably stable and contains only three parts;  1)  the seat, 2)  the shaft, and 3)  the plate.  Of course, there’s always a rug or garden to cover up the plate, and the street performer would also require long sleeves or baggy clothing to help hide the shaft.

Here’s an image from 22 Words that shows how the one-man version of the illusion works:


The illusion is sometimes presented with two people:  one on the bottom holding a rod up in the air, and another floating on top, holding the top of the same rod.

The visual is quite striking:

Again, the solution is straightforward and very similar to the one-man version.  No secret powers of the mind here – just plain physics.


If you’re still doubting how it works, watch this short video:

How to Levitate 

Now, if you’re looking too fool your friends into thinking you have the power to levitate, and you’re planning on showing them proof with a picture, here’s the easiest way to do it.  All you need is some water (or an existing oil stain), dry pavement, and someone to take the picture for you.

Place the water on the ground to create your “shadow”.  Stand a few inches behind it (you could even lie down next to it).  Have someone take a picture of you from a few feet away.

The effect is striking, and should look something like this:

How to fool your friends into thinking you can levitate
This man is “floating” in mid air. Notice only his torso is actually touching the pavement. His head is slightly elevated, as are is legs below the knees…




  1. Bill Perron

    Michael Shermer is a lackey for James Randi, neither have character or integrity. Exposing an illusion Shermer never created is to be expected by a professional pseudo skeptic who has no concept of intellectual propriety. I’m sure some ignorant folks will applaud the Randibot and his ability to earn his living at the expense of others creativity, but if they really want to applaud they should for the little guy in the orange robe, he entertains and creates a sense of wonder, while the professional pseudo skeptic creates nothing.

    • paul

      Mr Perron is an excellent example of an internet lifeform known as a troll. The odds that Bill Perron is a real, physical entity is probably 50-50. Fortunately most trolls die after posting once or twice.

    • right1_left1

      As far as I am aware James Randi only tries to expose those who claim mysterious supernatural powers for what tjhey do.

      He would not try to expose this unless the fakir made some claim that say he could cure the sick.
      For a fee of course.

  2. Zep

    Bill Perron, what are you talking about? What is this “intellectual propriety” you waffle about? Why are you bothered that a centuries-old illusion has frequently been exposed, and long before Shermer and Randi were even born. You seem to have an utterly irrational personal beef with Randi and Shermer that goes way beyond this little video. Get a grip, unless you are simply trolling.

  3. John

    Yes, Perron is just trolling. Randi and Shermer perform a valuable service, and I find their investigations and findings far more entertaining than the fake psychics and other frauds they study.

  4. binarygirl

    …so what happens when they want to pack it up and go home for the night? Do they have to make sure no one is watching? Also, same question but for when they have to set it up. How do they prevent people from seeing the initial setup? Do they assemble these contraptions on the spot? How long would that take?

    I think that would be pretty interesting to see that process.

    • TheSeer

      I’ve seen the assembly of the one-man version in Krakow. They arrive with a wheeled suticase (I guess the steel plate is heavy) and use a kind of tent to conceal the assembly.

      I guess in a busy tourist city you don’t have to worry about anyone seeing you assemble it because chances are that every few minutes it’ll be a bunch of new folk in the audience.

      • mbk

        A performer pulled this off on America’s Got Talent, walking onto stage (with the plate already in place under a rug), putting the staff in the right place, making some noise, then suddenly jumping up and staying “levitated”.

  5. hhpp

    I think Perron is making a serious point here. Sometimes Shermer’s illusion busting does seem a bit like going to a movie and letting everyone in on the secret that what is on the screen isn’t actually real. Shermer also isn’t above being duped himself (god helmet).

  6. andrew

    Yes Bill there is a Santa Claus, a social construct like all deities. But, many people want to be deceived rather than deal with reality. You can still read fiction as fiction , its when you read so much that you question what is real that is the problem,

  7. Stan

    This is another of those tricks that don’t really “fool” us, but just let us admire the degree of grace it takes to create a solid illusion. I wonder how this would work if, instead of the ‘indian yogi’ camoflage, you used some kind of “IT guys” misdirection. Would it go over better in a modern city?

  8. Bob Brinkman

    I have to wonder if a small bit of chain could be used to suspend the seat, even the slightest, to allow for slight movement of the seated figure. I’d think that slight movement would make the effect even more stunning visually.

  9. April Boey

    Very impressive! A lot of Indian claim to have mastered the powers of this “levitation”. But in reality, they can only managed the trick. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Michael Atkins

      Obviously because a lot of people have been fooled by it. You should always ask yourself first any question you’d pose to another 😛