In its general sense, juggling can refer to all forms of artful or skillful object manipulation. This includes most prop-based circus skills such as diabolo, devil sticks, cigar box manipulation, contact juggling, and hat manipulation.
However, this page focuses on the stricter definition of juggling - the art of repeatedly throwing several objects into the air and catching them in the hands. Jugglers refer to the objects they juggle as props, the most popular being specially made balls, beanbags, rings, clubs, or bouncing balls. Some performers also use "dangerous" objects such as knives and fire torches .
To distinguish this kind of juggling from other circus skills, it is sometimes called Toss Juggling.
Origins and History 1947 B.C. – 1947 A.D.
- Main article: History of Juggling
The act of juggling pre-dates any recorded history so the exact origins will never be known. The earliest known record of juggling, from the 15th Beni Hassan tomb of an unknown prince, shows female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Juggling has also been recorded in most other early civilizations including China, India, Greece, Aztec (Mexico) and Polynesia.
In Europe, juggling was an acceptable diversion until the decline of the Roman Empire, after which it fell into disgrace. Throughout the Middle Ages most histories were written by religious clerics who frowned upon the type of performers who juggled, called 'Gleemen', accusing them of base morals or even practicing witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in market places, streets, fairs or drinking houses. They would perform short, humourous and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some king’s and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy and story telling ).
In 1768 Philip Astley opened the first modern circus. A few years later he employed jugglers to perform acts along with the horse and clown acts. From then until the modern day, jugglers have found work and have commonly been associated with circuses.
In the 19th century Variety and Music Hall theatres became more popular, and jugglers were in demand to fill time between music acts, performing in front of the curtain while sets are changed. Performers started specializing in juggling, separating it from other kinds of performance such as sword swallowing and magic. The Gentleman Juggler style was established by German jugglers such as Salerno and Kara. Rubber processing developed and jugglers started using rubber balls. Previously juggling balls were made from balls of twine, stuffed leather bags, wooden spheres or various metals. Solid rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls lead to ball spinning. Soon, in North America, Vaudeville theatres employed many jugglers, often hiring European performers.
In the early to mid 20th century, variety and vaudeville shows started to decline in popularity due to competition from motion picture theatres, radio and television. The International Jugglers' Association was formed in 1947 to support professional jugglers. Their annual conventions became a focus for not only professional but amateur jugglers. Since the 1950's there has been a huge increase in the numbers of amateur jugglers compared to performing professionals leading to a very distinct juggling culture .
The word "juggling" derives from the Middle English "jogelen", to entertain by performing tricks, in turn from the Old French "jogler" and the Latin "ioculr", to jest, and "iocus", a joke.
Modern Juggling History 1950-2005
The growth of juggling as a hobby
Until the early 1950s, juggling was only practiced by performers. Since then more and more people have begun juggling as a hobby. The International Jugglers' Association began as a club for performing jugglers but soon had non-performers joined up and started attending the annual conventions. Jugglers started meeting together regularly to practice and socialise. These groups formed into juggling clubs, and currently there are clubs for jugglers in almost every city and large town in the western world.
Juggling has become a relatively popular hobby because so many people find so many different reasons to learn how to juggle. These include:
- It is fun to learn
- It looks impressive even if you aren't very good at it so is great for showing off
- It can help relieve stress
- While it is initially easy to pick up, juggling is challenging and no matter how good you get there is always more to learn
- It can help improve reflexes and hand-eye coordination
- It has been "proved" to increase the size of your brain
- Some jugglers claim it makes them more attractive to the opposite sex
- It can be used to keep fit (often combined with jogging,which is called joggling )
- please add other reasons here
The majority of hobby jugglers can be split into one of two groups. The first are those who learned to juggle at university or college juggling clubs. These people are invariably mathematicians, scientists and computer programmers. They like juggling because it can be very structured and it can be analysed and modeled easily by maths and physics. Juggling has established itself a very useful model for researchers studying motor skills and learning techniques. The second group are from the counter culture or alternative culture scene. They enjoy juggling because, while it can be very structured, it can also be as free as you want it to be, with a virtually infinite scope for individual personal expression. Fire juggling is a common appeal.
Since the 1970s, "Juggling For the Complete Klutz", a book by John Cassidy that is sold with a set of three beanbags attached, has probably introduced juggling to more people than any other single source. Another reason for the increase of people who can juggle is that many businesses and schools have employed professional workshop leaders to teach various circus skills.
Modern Juggling Culture
Since the late 1980s a large juggling subculture has developed, almost completely unknown and unrecognised by the general public.
- Clubs/societies/workshops - most cities and large towns have juggling clubs where anyone is welcome to learn and share skills. Many universities and colleges have juggling or circus skills societies. There are also many community circus groups that usually aim to teach young people and put on shows. The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of most juggling clubs.
- Magazines - Kaskade is the European juggling magazine, published in both English and German. Juggle is the official publication of the IJA and focuses on the North American scene. Juggling Magazine is published in Italy. Newton Las Pelotas is published in Argentina for the latin American readership.
- World Juggling Day - is the second or third Saturday in June. There are events organized world wide to teach people how to juggle, to promote juggling or for jugglers to get together, and celebrate.
Most countries, states, cities or juggling clubs hold an annual juggling convention. These are the backbone of the juggling scene, the events that regularly bring jugglers from a wide area together to socialize, attend workshops and watch shows. The attendance of a convention can be anything from a few dozen to a few thousand people.
The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of all conventions in the past and future.
Conventions can be split into three distinct types, though all call themselves "Juggling Conventions"
"One Day" - Small, regional conventions that can actually last up to two or three days. These usually attract between 50 and 250 people, have workshops throughout the day and a show in the evening of the main day. At these conventions accommodation and food is not provided. They are usually held in sports centres or universities. Some notable one day conventions are:
- Chocfest - in York, England
- Juggle This - in New York, New York
- Shefcon - Sheffield, England
- please add more here
"Festival" - These last three to ten days and can attract between 150 and 5,000 people. Most attendees camp, pitching tents within the convention site, and this is covered by the cost of attendance. Onsite there are usually food tents, bar tents, various sports halls or large bigtops for juggling space. During the day there can be shows, workshops, games, parades and exhibitions. Every night there is entertainment provided in the forms of professional shows, open stages, Late night stages, live music, parties and more. The largest festival style conventions are held in Europe. Some notable festival style conventions are:
- The European Juggling Convention - The worlds largest convention visits different European countries each year. The first EJC was held in 1978 in Brighton, England and attracted 11 local jugglers. In 2004 it was held in Carvin, France and attracted over 4,400 jugglers from all over the world. The convention lasts 9 days.
- The British Juggling Convention - a 4 day juggling convention in the UK, once had over 2,500 jugglers each year but now attracts between 750-1,000.
- The Israeli Juggling Convention - runs over the passover holiday and held in a national park in the north of Israel. Attracts over 700 jugglers.
- Berlin Juggling Convention - Germany's largest juggling convention, about 600 people attend each year. It is very cheap and some food is included.
- The Dutch Juggling Festival - Runs each year in a different city in the Netherlands and is attended by about 500 jugglers.
- Bristol Juggling and Circus Skills Convention - a 9 day convention held in southwest England. It isn't very large (about 300 people) but has a very dedicated core group that return year after year.
"Conference" - These are held in city center hotels or conference centers. They are invariably in North America and slightly more expensive than the European Juggling Convention. Camping is sometimes an option. Notable conference-style conventions are :
- The IJA Summer Festival - The first and longest running juggling convention. It is held in different cities each, with the largest attendance in the 1990s with up to 1,300 jugglers. In 2004 it was held in Buffalo, New York, and attracted about 800 jugglers.
- The World Juggling Federation Convention - the first WJF convention was held in Las Vegas in December 2004 and attracted 150-200 jugglers.
Juggling and the Internet
still to come
It has been said that jugglers are quite low down in the hierarchy of entertainment and performers... just below magicians but slightly above mimes. Jugglers, of course, disagree entirely. So do mimes.
During the early growth of movies, radio and television, juggling, as a form of popular entertainment, suffered more than other variety acts. Music and comedy transferred very easily to radio but juggling, being mostly physical, didn’t. In the early years of TV, when variety-style programming was very popular, jugglers were often featured, but developing a new act for each new show, week after week, was impossible. Comedians and musicians can pay others to write their material but jugglers can’t get other people to learn new material for them.
Venues for professional jugglers today.
Circus. Wherever there are circuses, there are jugglers, though usually only one or two jugglers per circus. This means that only the best, most advanced jugglers perform in traditional and established circuses. Most circus jugglers are from Russia and other Soviet block states, products of very prestigious circus schools. Some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years are from Eastern Europe, including Sergei Ignatov , Evgenij Biljauer and Viktor Kee (featured in Cirque du Soleil productions).
Variety Theatres still do business in Europe, particularly Germany. In North America the closest thing to variety shows are in casinos, in places like Las Vegas, where jugglers perform alongside singers, comedians and others. As with circuses, the demand for jugglers to perform in variety theatres and casinos is far lower than jugglers seeking work, meaning only the best, most dynamic performers find regular work in the top venues. Germany and the USA have also produced some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years, most notably Francis Brunn from Germany and Anthony Gatto from America.
More to come here
Popular Forms of Juggling
- Main article: Forms of Juggling
Most jugglers concentrate on three main props. These are balls, clubs and rings. Many of the same tricks and skills can transfer between the props but there are unique qualities for each.
Ball juggling is probably the most popular prop, as everybody learns with balls first. Ball juggling can be broken down into the following styles: Contact Juggling, Numbers Juggling, Pattern Juggling, Trick Juggling, Technical Juggling, Bounce Juggling and Football Juggling. For the purposes of record keeping and ease of communication, the terms balls and beanbags are generally interchangeable in the juggling world.
Rings are less popular than balls and clubs, mainly because they can be painful to juggle, and many jugglers find them more restictive. The most popular styles of ring juggling are Numbers Juggling and Technical Juggling
Clubs (sometimes called "pins" because they look like Bowling pins) are very popular with solo jugglers. They spin when they are thrown and are more stable in the air than balls. The more popular styles of club juggling are Numbers Juggling, Trick Juggling, Technical Juggling and Club Swinging.
Multiple Person Juggling
Instead of juggling on their own, a juggler will often find a friend or two and throw props about as a pair or group.
When club passing, two or more jugglers share a juggling pattern between them, usually facing each other. Passing has lots of forms and is by far most popular using clubs. The most popular are numbers passing, passing and doing tricks, passing in large groups, experimenting with new and complex patterns and working on high level technical routines.
There are a few other ways two or more people can juggle together. These include Sharing/Siamese/Buddy Juggling, where two jugglers stand side by side juggling half the pattern using one hand each; Stealing, where one person juggles a regular pattern and another person takes away all the props, keeping the pattern intact, leaving the first juggler with nothing; Takeouts (sometimes also called Stealing), where single props are stolen from another juggler's pattern and returned without either juggler missing a beat.
Juggling World Records
Currently, juggling world records are tracked by the Juggling Information Service Committee on Numbers Juggling (JISCON). All the records listed on the JISCON page represent the longest runs with each number and prop that has been authenticated using video evidence. As of January 2005, the top records for each prop are:
- Rings/Plates: 13 rings for 13 catches by Albert Lucas in 2002.
- Balls/Beanbags: 12 beanbags for 12 catches, first done by Bruce Sarafian in 1996.
- Clubs/Sticks: 9 sticks for 9 catches, first done by Bruce Tiemann in 1996.
Each of these records are what is known as a "flash", meaning each prop is thrown and caught only ONCE. Some jugglers, and some juggling competitions, do not consider a flash to be "real juggling" and use "qualifying juggle" (a term taken from the International Jugglers' Association's Numbers Competition) to denote a pattern where each prop is thrown at caught at least TWICE. The JISCON records for qualifying runs are:
- Rings: 10 rings for 27 catches by Anthony Gatto in 2001.
- Balls: 10 beanbags for 23 catches by Bruce Sarafian in 2001.
- Clubs: 7 clubs for 2 minutes, 49 seconds by Anthony Gatto in 2005.
There are other jugglers who have equaled or bettered these records but have not submitted video evidence to the JISCON. These non-verified records stand at:
- Rings: 14 rings for 14 catches by Albert Lucas .
- Balls: 11 beanbags for 18 catches by Peter Bone .
- Clubs: 7 clubs for over 3 minutes by Anthony Gatto .
One other solo (non-passing) record that must be mentioned is the bounce juggling record. This is tracked by the Bounce Juggling World Record page, which styles itself on the JISCON page, and also only lists records with video evidence. These records are:
- Flash: 11 bounce balls for 11 catches by Tim Nolan in 1990.
- Qualify: 10 bounce balls for 23 catches by Eden Zak in 2005.
Forms of Juggling Performance
An outline of the most common and popular forms of juggling act on today’s stages. There are many others that used to be popular and there more from current times that are less known or harder to define. There will be more to come in the future too and maybe some new forms are being developed right now.
Comedy Juggling - Generally the juggling skill takes a back seat to the comedy. A comedy juggler will tell lots of jokes, do lots of clowning around, use lots of audience participation, etc. Finally the performer will get around to juggling, usually with something “dangerous” like knives or fire torches, normally balanced on something high or unstable. For every minute of juggling there are ten minutes of banter, meaning not much juggling skill is needed for thirty minute or hour-long shows. Comedy juggling is good for street acts, cruise ship shows, corporate entertainment, theme parks, etc. Beware of “comedy” costumes and “comedy” props. Examples: Raspyni Brothers , Haggis and Charlie , Ben Cornish .
Traditional Circus / Vegas Style - This is all pure skill. Get on stage and blow people away with your amazing juggling ability. Nothing subtle, just “Look at me, I’m fantastic, you will never be able to do this in a million years”. Jugglers will typically stick to a predictable sequence of progressively harder tricks with a progressively higher number of props. First balls, then rings, then clubs, nothing but technical juggling except for the climax of the act, typically one or two feats of numbers juggling. Usually an act will last between five and ten minutes or until the juggler runs out of tricks to perform. Examples: Anthony Gatto , Sergei Ignatov .
The Gentleman Juggler - In the 19th century jugglers would dress in Indian or Oriental styles of clothing and present their juggling skills as something magical or mystical. Then the trend swung to dressing in the fashions of the day and juggling everyday objects such as hats, canes, cigars, coats, cigar boxes, spoons, knives, plates, cups, trays, flower vases, chairs, tables and anything else they could find. The audience could connect with the jugglers in a way they could never connect to a man in a turban. Fast-forward to the present day and jugglers are still wearing 19th century fashions and juggling with 19th century objects. One of the finest gentleman jugglers performing today is Kris Kremo .
Modern Juggling Performance (avant-garde)
During the last quarter of the 20th century, many jugglers saw a way to use their skills as a form of artistic expression. They put aside the goals of popular entertainment for the masses, and instead sought out new ideals, something more than just juggling.
Modern juggling begins again from first principles, abandoning traditional definitions and systems of creating new work. This dismissal of tradition also involves the rejection of conventional expectations, stressing freedom of expression and experimentation. Modern juggling often startles and alienates audiences unused to the bizarre and unpredictable.
Even so, the avant-garde approach has been very influential to the rest of the juggling world. Many performers working in traditional venues such as variety and circuses now mix modern juggling ideas into their acts.
While traditional juggling performers consider themselves entertainers, modern juggling performers will consider themselves artists. But just because a performer is artistic, it doesn’t mean they are particularly lacking in juggling skill. Many modern forms require a whole new set of skills to be learnt for each new act.
Some of the philosophies behind Modern juggling performances:
Concept - The traditional concept of juggling is “I will not drop”. Replacing or adding to that concept can create whole new and different styles of juggling. A good example is Michael Moschen saying “I will not throw” and almost single-handedly inventing contact juggling. In purely conceptual pieces, the performance itself is secondary to the idea, and could be left as a set of instructions that any other juggler could follow and perform. A conceptual artist will have a neutral character, dress in simple costume and use minimal stage set, letting their actions be their main form of expression.
Structure - An artist may have a strong tendency to be scientific in seeking out the underlying patterns or elements in juggling. They will take these fundamental building blocks and, in a methodical fashion, create a sequence of new tricks or patterns. Sean Gandini has worked a lot in this way, basing much of his juggling choreography on siteswaps and mathematical sequences.
Character - Create a new character and look at juggling through new eyes. An artist may play with props as someone else, or someone more than themselves, and find new ways to present juggling on stage. A large character can come up with someone outrageous new ideas. A shy character can be very interesting to watch too, especially as a withdrawn presence is a stark contrast to most personalities you see on stage. Think John Gilkey and Michael Menes and you have the right idea.
Theatre - Tell a story and juggle along the way. Characters are usually stock or stereotypes. The story is often simple. The juggling typically has nothing to do with the story or themes and seems to be shoehorned in there for apparently no reason. This approach is normally favoured by “new circus” companies and, by extension, many modern circus schools.
Object - Instead of using traditional juggling props, an artist often finds or makes something new and comes up with as many new tricks as they can. The new objects can be simple shapes or complex machines. Often an artist may try to select aesthetically pleasing tricks though often their main goal is to show the interesting possibilities of manipulation. Again, when an artist is concentrating more on what they do rather than on what they are, they will have a neutral character and simple costume. One performer who is very object orientated is Denis Paumier ; he has full length juggling shows where he never picks up a single club, ring or ball, instead opting for his own creations.
Environment - Instead of just juggling on a bare stage, some jugglers will create a unique environment in which to juggle. It may be simple furniture or it may be a specially made set. Often the performer will use traditional juggling props and find new and interesting ways to juggle them in, on, under or around the obstacles they place in their way. Bounce juggling lends itself well to interacting with the environment. Michael Moschen ’s triangle, the Gandini Juggling Project 's cube and Greg Kennedy ’s angled slabs are good examples environmental bounce juggling.
Some people would say that Modern juggling is now so well accepted by juggling audiences that it is no longer avant-garde. In juggling convention shows in Europe, Modern juggling is just as popular as Classic juggling, if not more so.
Postmodern Juggling Performance
In the past ten years a new type of juggling performer has emerged. They aren’t full-time, professional jugglers and they don’t create work for a non-juggling audience. Instead they perform exclusively at juggling conventions, to other people who share their own understanding of juggling performance and culture. This environment has produced a new style of juggling performance know as Postmodern Juggling.
Where Modern performers hoped to unearth universals or the fundamentals of art, Postmodern performers embrace diversity. They reject the rigid boundaries and favour eclecticism, the mixing of ideas and forms.
Postmodern performers use references to other jugglers, other performers, other parts of juggling culture or even to their own previous performances. This could be in the form of recognizable tricks, styles, characters or ideas. A postmodern juggling act taken out of context, to an audience of non-jugglers, could not be presented as a stand-alone work of art; instead it relies on knowledgeable audience members to find the meaning behind the act for themselves.
While Modern performers will usually use specially written music, or music specially selected to enhance the themes in the act, Postmodern performers will always use popular music, and their costume will typically conform to contemporary mainstream fashions.
Postmodern juggling performance also blurs the line between “mass entertainment” and “high art”. The artistic expression is in the repetition and distortion of currently accepted forms of performance. While the mindset of the performers are very different, most juggling audiences make no distinction between Modern and Postmodern juggling acts, they simply see both as Modern.
Example of Postmodern Juggling
A very clear example of a Postmodern juggling performance was Luke Burrage ’s “3 ball and video” act that he performed at the 2003 British Juggling Convention in Brighton. First he selected a piece of popular music called “Not From Brighton” by Fat Boy Slim. He was unashamedly influenced by Sean Gandini ’s work, especially the idea of calling out siteswaps as they are juggled, so Luke took this Structuralist idea but discarded the core principles behind siteswaps themselves. He made a video that would display the name or juggling notation of every throw, every trick, every pattern and every catch, appearing on the screen in the style of a karaoke video. Jugglers knew most of these tricks but some were only known to Luke or those who knew his juggling. The video was played alongside Luke as he juggled the tricks onstage. The act ended with Luke continually dropping the balls onto the stage, one after the other, and the TV displaying “caution, dropped balls”.
If that wasn’t enough, later in the same show Luke returned to the stage, again setting up the TV. This time the video showed Luke performing exactly the same routine as he had previously performed live. Luke stood beside the TV, flicking through eighty flash cards, each displaying the exact same notation as before, now describing what the video was showing.
Common juggling patterns
One of the most basic three-ball patterns, the first trick a juggler normally learns, is the cascade. Below is a list of other common three-ball patterns.
Juggling Notation Systems
It has often been said, of many juggling skills, that it is "easier done than said", while it might be easy to learn a given maneuver and demonstrate it for others, it is often much harder to communicate the idea accurately using speech or plain text.
To get around this problem, various numeric or diagram based notation systems have been developed. These are useful for communicating patterns or tricks between jugglers, as well as investigating and discovering new patterns.
Diagram Based Systems
While diagrams are the most visual and user friendly way to notate many juggling patterns, they rely on images, so are complicated to produce and unwieldy to share via text or speech.
- Ladder Diagrams - Each rung on a ladder is a regular point in time. The juggled objects are represented as lines, their paths through time and between a pair of hands.
- Causal Diagrams - Similar to the ladder diagram but doesn't show the props held in a juggler's hands. Instead it only shows the "problems", the incoming prop, and what the juggler should do to make space in his or her hand's to catch that incoming prop. It is usually used for Club Passing and can be displayed or edited in some juggling software.
- Mills Mess State Transition Diagrams - Mills Mess is a popular pattern where the arms cross and uncross. Mills Mess State Transition Diagrams can be used to track these basic arm movements.
The following notation systems only use numbers and common characters. The patterns can easily be communicated by text. Also many patterns can be entered into software juggling simulators to view as computer animations.
First discovered almost 20 years ago, Siteswap is the most common juggling notation by far. In its most basic form, Vanilla Siteswap, it is very easy to use, as each pattern is reduced to a simple sequence of numbers, such as "3", "97531" or "744". However, vanilla siteswap can only notate the most basic alternating two-handed patterns.
For more slightly more complicated patterns, extra rules and syntax are added to create the following two siteswap extensions:
Synchronous Siteswap - or "Synch" Siteswap. This is used notate patterns where both hands throw at the same time, rather than alternating left and right hands.
Multiplex Siteswap - Multiplex, in the world of juggling, means "throw more than one ball from one hand at once". Multiplex Siteswap allows you to notate such patterns, and also can be mixed with synchronous siteswap.
Vanilla, synch and multiplex siteswap are the "standard" forms of siteswap. Not only are they understood by jugglers, there are also many computer programs capable of animating juggling patterns entered in siteswap notation.
Other extensions to siteswap have been developed for specific purposes. These are far less common than the "standard" forms of siteswap, understood by far fewer jugglers and only specialized software.
- Passing Siteswap - used for simple passing patterns.
- Multi-Hand Notation (MHN) - developed by Ed Carstens for use with his juggling program JugglePro. MHN can describe patterns with any number of hands and at any rhythm but use is limited due to it being as complex as a computer programming language.
- General Siteswap (GS) - developed by Ben Beever , GS places siteswap into a matrix that allows the addition of any other information about any aspect of juggling, including tricks such as backcrosses and hand movements.
Beatmap is a new juggling notation system, developed in 2004 by Luke Burrage. While there are some similarities between beatmap and synch siteswap, there are fundamental differences. The most important is that beatmap notates every "hand" on every beat during a pattern, unlike all forms of siteswap, which only notates each hand on every other beat. This means that beatmap can notate any number of hands and in any rhythm with no added complexity, unlike siteswap, which needs many extended sets of rules and syntax to be able to communicate the same patterns.
Beatmap doesn't only notate throws, but also the time and place of each catch. By including a simple indication of crossing and uncrossing arms, beatmap can notate Mills Mess style patterns. Within beatmap it is also possible and easy to notate not only the balls in a pattern, but also the hands or arms of the juggler, as well as the position, location or orientation of the body of a juggler. Users claim that beatmap can more accurately describe more patterns than all ladder diagrams, causal diagrams, mills mess state transition diagrams, vanilla siteswap, synch siteswap, passing siteswap and multi-hand notation combined.
So far use of beatmap is very limited, as most jugglers and all juggling software understand only variations of siteswap.