An Homage to Juggling


If you thought this post was going to be about how to effectively juggle too many responsibilities, you would be wrong. It’s literally a post about juggling.

Juggling is one of my favorite things to do and to watch. Since I have not had the time to do much juggling over the past few years, I’ve resorted to living vicariously through some of the great videos that are available for watching online.

I thought I’d use this post to share some of my thoughts about juggling, my experiences, and some of my favorite online juggling videos. This post is likely much more useful/interesting to me than anyone who might read it, since it will serve as a place I can go back to again and again (and again) to watch these videos, all from one web site. If anyone is aware of any other great juggling videos, please feel free to share them with me in the comments.

I taught myself to juggle when I was in high school, and I was hooked immediately. There were several aspects to juggling that appealed to me. There was the great sense of accomplishment, after hours of practice, when I finally nailed a new trick. For the numbers guy in me, there was an easy way to measure progress. Once you mastered three ball juggling, it was time to move on to four balls, and then five. It was the same with clubs (although I never really got to five clubs). There were the endless possibilities of what you could do with three balls or clubs, and there was certainly room for a lot of creativity.

It was also a nice ice breaker in college; I’d be at a party, and one of my friends would tell someone I did not know that I was a juggler, and so of course I was expected to perform on demand. I think juggling also helped a great deal in terms of bringing out of my shell, since I was quite introverted in high school (OK, nerdy would be a more apt description, long before nerdy became kind of cool).

I actually entered a talent show competition in college (I think there was a total of only five acts, all the others were musical). I still remember the group that won that talent show. It was a couple of 10 year old kids, the Cramer Brothers, who were just phenomenal playing the fiddle. They knocked it out of the park playing the “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. Despite their prodigious talent, all they wanted to do backstage was watch me do different juggling tricks. I just did a search on YouTube, and it didn’t surprise me at all that they are still performing. In this video, I am guessing that the guy in the red shirt was probably one of the Cramer Brothers that won that talent show competition almost 40 years ago; it’s nice to see that he is passing his talent down to his son.

My other juggling highlight in college was the chance to juggle with Penn, of Penn and Teller. Back then, before they became PENN and TELLER, they were part of a sort of vaudeville troupe known as Asparagus Valley Cultural Society. Much like Penn and Teller today, it’s hard to describe exactly what type of show AVCS did. But there was no doubt that a key part of the show was the opportunity for Penn to show off his world class juggling skills.

After the show, AVCS invited the audience to stay afterwards and meet them, so naturally I stayed, and convinced a few of my friends to do so as well. When it was our turn to meet them, one of my friends pointed at me and said “He juggles too.” The best analogy I can think of is that such a statement would be like me touring Bill Gates’ mansion and saying that I live in a house too.

Anyway, Penn got quite excited and asked me if I would like to pass some clubs with him. I had never passed clubs before, but he explained the basics to me, and when we gave it a try, it went quite badly. I think I dropped every club he threw to me. He was then kind enough to ask me to show him some of my juggling, and he handed me three balls. At this point, my hands were shaking uncontrollably, and I could barely juggle the three balls, dropping those as well. He said good job, but it clearly was not. As a result of that experience, I’ve always had great admiration for Penn (and Teller, who just stayed off to the side without saying a word). I even had the chance to see the AVCS show when it came to Philly later that year, but this time I opted to keep my juggling abilities to myself.

My next brush with fame was in grad school. I decided to start a juggling club at Carnegie-Mellon, and somehow word about the club reached someone at the local YMCA. The director of the Y contacted me and said he had gotten a request from the local Evening Magazine TV show, and they wanted to do a segment on juggling. He asked if I would be interested, and so I thought, here’s my shot at 15 minutes of fame. The segment lasted about 90 seconds, and it involved me trying to teach the reporter how to juggle. Fortunately she was a quick learner, and the segment turned out be a successful from that perspective. Somewhere in my house I have a video clip of the show, and if I can find it, I’d love to post it online.

Anyway, after grad school, the amount of time I devoted to juggling began to drop, but my love for juggling was a strong as ever. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great local Philadelphia jugglers (the Amazing Larry V, the Give and Take Jugglers), and see the ultimate juggling-based performance troupe of all time, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, perform live a few times. If you’ve never seen them (or even heard of them), it’s an amazing, but very different, kind of show.

For a while, I used to take time on the first day of classes in the Fall semester to take my students outside and teach them how to juggle. I stopped when I heard a girl after class on her cell phone say “Hey Dad, guess what? We learned to juggle today in our accounting class!” I’ve often tried to picture the reaction on the other end of that conversation, and in my mind it goes something like this “This is what I’m paying $40,000 a year for?!” I haven’t done it since, although Villanova did start a juggling club a couple of years ago, and I’ve gone to a few of their weekly get togethers, but not nearly as often as I’d like.

So that concludes my personal history with juggling, so now it’s time to share some great videos.

The first video shows the power of team juggling, and really makes me wonder about how much time must have been spent perfecting these routines. Simply incredible.

The next video is of a young woman juggling five basketballs… with her hands and feet. One of my favorite parts is at the very end, where she shows a little bit of attitude right before shutting off the camera. I can’t even imagine what inspired her to learn such a routine.

Next is Peter Irish showing of a variety of challenging and entertaining juggling routines.

The following is one of the most popular juggling videos on YouTube. It features Chris Bliss juggling to some classic Beatles songs. It’s amazing what you can do with just three balls.

Since juggling and comedy often go hand in hand, no set of juggling videos would be complete without a comic juggler. One of the best such acts currently performing in Las Vegas is Jeff Civillico. I had the chance to see his act at Villanova, and it was an impressive display of juggling along with some great one-liners and physical comedy. As an interesting bit of trivia, Jeff went to high school with my oldest son.

No homage to juggling would be complete without highlighting Anthony Gatto, considered by many to be the greatest juggler of modern times. The video below is an excerpt from a routine he performed as part of Cirque du Soleil. How someone could perform such a long, difficult routine without a single drop is mind boggling.

And finally, I think the perfect way to end this is with a video of the great WC Fields performing a juggling routine, including his famous cigar box juggling.

I think after watching all of these juggling videos, I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be doing this weekend…

*I want to send a note of thanks to David Kanigan who posted a clip from the first video above to his blog this week, which inspired me to write this post.


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