Created | Updated Jul 30, 2012
Juggling can best be described as the art of stylishly throwing many objects into the air and then failing to drop them. This gravity-defying pastime has been documented as far back as Ancient Egypt, with references in the Talmud and Nordic legends bearing witness to its popularity throughout the ages.
What constitutes actual juggling is debatable. A fairly safe definition would be the throwing and catching of three or more objects in some form of sequential pattern. However, this definition is often extended to include activities such as bounce juggling, contact juggling and a variety of other forms of ballistic skill, such as cigar-box catching, devil-sticks, diabolos, yo-yos and balancing long strangely-shaped objects on parts of the body while doing one or more of the above. Generally speaking, anything that happens when groups of jugglers get together can be claimed to be juggling, especially if it occurs late in the evening in a pub (for some reason, tricks involving pieces of string and matches are often exceptionally popular, right up to the moment you get thrown out).
Juggling patterns come in three basic forms:
- The cascade - the traditional clown-type juggle where the juggled objects form the pattern of a figure-of-eight on its side.
- The shower - where the objects follow each other round in a vertically-oriented circle, being thrown in an arc and then passed quickly from hand-to-hand at the bottom.
- The fountain - where two or more objects are juggled in a circular pattern in each hand.
Typically, odd numbers of objects are juggled using either the cascade or shower technique, with even numbers performed using either the fountain or the shower.
As well as different types of juggling patterns, there are also distinct types of jugglers. These split into three main groups:
- The 'numbers' juggler - who is always determined to juggle just one more object than everybody else.
- The 'technical' juggler - who is quite content with 3 (or 4 or 5...) objects but is always looking for a new trick to do with them.
- The 'lazy' juggler - who is just looking for stuff that's easy to do, but looks really impressive.
This last type traditionally forms the market for items such as fire-clubs, giraffe unicycles and chainsaws, where all that is required beyond their existing juggling skills is a total lack of common sense and the willingness to sacrifice limbs for their art.
One thing which all three groups tend to hold in common is the frustration of performing to an audience who watch politely when someone heroically juggles seven balls in front of them but go wild for someone who can eat an apple while juggling. As a general rule, perspective-performing jugglers should remember that the most complicated tricks are often not the most impressive and vice versa. (Still, if you do see someone juggling seven balls, be very impressed. It will have taken them a considerable amount of time to learn!)
If you're looking to perform, it is vital that you quickly acquire a large selection of bad, corny jokes which can be used to pad out your act and generally make up for a total lack of talent. These can be acquired either by stealing them from other jugglers (not recommended for chainsaw jugglers) or stealing from comedy magicians (easier, since you've got fire-clubs and they just tend to have packs of cards). Of course, if you're really talented you could make some up yourself.
Once the basics of solo-juggling have been mastered, using both clubs and balls, the exciting world of club-passing is open to the student, where you have the enviable thrill of hurling rapidly spinning clubs at your fellow juggler and dodging (or catching, whichever seems more sensible) their returned throws. You will also get to learn the strange codes employed to describe juggling patterns. Make sure you both agree on code meanings before you start, and employ the traditional 'showing of the armpits' ceremony before commencing the pattern to ensure that you both at least start at the same time. Other techniques tend to end up with clubs bouncing off foreheads, but, of course, that's all part of the fun.
Starting to Juggle
If you're looking to start learning to juggle I can offer a few quick tips.
Start with one ball. This might not sound very challenging yet, but it will help. Hold both your hands flat and palm-up in front of you, about a shoulder width apart. Throw the ball from one hand to the other in an arc. If you imagine a rectangle in the air in front of you with the two bottom corners over your hands and the top edge at eye level, the ball should head roughly along its diagonal before dropping down into your other hand. If you caught it, repeat, throwing the ball back. Try and avoid having to move the hand you're catching with too much - your throw should be accurate enough so you don't have to. Repeat this a few times, ideally till you can do it with your eyes closed. Now, either launch yourself as a speciality juggling act (but make your pattern very good) or move on to step 2.
Time for a second ball. Don't panic. Hold one ball in either hand. Throw one ball in an arc towards your other hand (as described in step 1), but this time, just as it reaches the top of its arc, throw the second ball in another arc underneath the first ball, back towards your first hand. Don't try and catch them at first, but listen to the way they hit the ground. Ideally you should hear two distinct thumps as the first ball lands and then the second, with each ball landing under the opposite hand. Sounds of breaking glass, dogs whining or ornaments crashing to the ground indicate that you're probably throwing too hard, or do not have sufficient space. Try again, but this time try and catch the first ball after you've thrown the second. Now try again but start with the opposite hand. You may find it helps to count, one, two as you throw each ball to get the pattern fixed in your mind. The balls shouldn't collide if you make a scooping motion inwards when throwing the ball; you throw from inside the place where you catch. If that last sentence didn't make any sense, just keep experimenting - you'll get there in the end because when your balls keep bouncing off each other, you'll see what I mean. Once you can catch both balls starting with either hand, try and keep the throw/throw, catch/catch pattern going, starting with alternate hands each time and stopping for as little time as possible. Now you're ready for the big one.
Believe it or not, if you've done step 2, you're virtually there. Pick up the third ball. Hold two balls in one hand and one in the other. Breathe deeply. Throw one ball (from the hand holding two) in an arc, as in step 1. Now, you're in the same position as you were with two, just that both your hands are still holding balls, not just one, so, pretend you're still juggling two and throw the second ball back across in an arc before catching the first one. Now throw the third ball back across in an arc again, catch the second and repeat. That's it! You're juggling!
The balls should be travelling in a big curly m-like pattern, peaking at about eye level. If you find the timing difficult, try saying 'one, two' or 'right, left' as you throw each ball. The balls should also travel in a level plane in front of you: throw them straight up. If you find that you're throwing them forward or back during your pattern and are running around the room chasing the balls (a common occurrence among new jugglers) try juggling in front of a wall. A few bruised knuckles later and you'll get the idea.
Once you've got the hang of the cascade the world is your oyster. There are lots of three-ball tricks which are variations on the cascade, and you could try to master the shower, where all the balls circulate in front of you. Then move on to fruit, umbrellas, bowling balls and eggs (always fun that) and you'll be juggling fire-clubs while unicycling backwards on a tightrope before you know it. Remember, though, to keep the old juggling adage in your mind: don't try this at home. Go round to your neighbour's house and let them clean up the mess.