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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Juggling five balls

Juggling is a skill involving moving objects for entertainment or sport (see object manipulation). The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, in which the juggler throws objects up to catch and toss up again. Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as props. The most common props are balls or beanbags, rings, clubs, and special bounce balls. Some performers use more dramatic objects such as knives, fire torches, and even chainsaws. The term juggling can also refer to other prop-based skills such as diabolo, devil sticks, poi, cigar boxes, fire-dancing, contact juggling, hooping, foot bag and hat manipulation.

The word juggling derives from the Middle English jogelen (to entertain by performing tricks), in turn from the Old French jangler. There is also the Late Latin form joculare of Latin joculari, meaning to jest.[1] "Juggling" may be used metaphorically, like "multi-tasking," to mean constantly refocusing attention among responsibilities, such as in the title of the PBS documentary Juggling Work and Family. [1] [2]


Origins and history

Ancient to 20th century

This ancient wall painting (c. 1994-1781 B.C) appears to depict jugglers. It was found in the 15th tomb of the Karyssa I area, Egypt. According to Dr. Bianchi, associate curator of the Brooklyn Museum "In tomb 15, the prince is looking on to things he enjoyed in life that he wishes to take to the next world. The fact that jugglers are represented in a tomb suggests religious significance." ... "round things were used to represent large solar objects, birth, and death."

The earliest record of juggling, a panel from the 15th Beni Hassan tomb of an unknown prince, shows female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Juggling has been recorded in many early cultures including Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Aztec (Mexico) and Polynesian civilizations.[2],[3]

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 practising witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in marketplaces, streets, fairs, or drinking houses. They would perform short, humorous and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some kings' and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been able to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy and storytelling).

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. Since then, jugglers have 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 were 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 or inflatable rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls made ball spinning easier and more readily accessible. Soon in North America, vaudeville theatres employed jugglers, often hiring European performers.

20th century

In the early to mid-20th century, variety and vaudeville shows decreased in popularity due to competition from motion picture theatres, radio and television, and juggling suffered as a result. Music and comedy transferred very easily to radio but juggling could not. In the early years of TV, when variety-style programming was popular, jugglers were often featured. But developing a new act for each new show, week after week, was more difficult for jugglers than other types of entertainers; comedians and musicians can pay others to write their material but jugglers cannot get other people to learn new skills on their behalf.

In the early 1950s, more people began juggling as a hobby.[citation needed] The International Jugglers' Association began as a club for performing jugglers, but soon non-performers joined and started attending the annual conventions. The IJA continues to hold an annual convention each summer.

World Juggling Day was created as an annual day of recognition for the hobby, with the intent to teach people how to juggle, to promote juggling or for jugglers to get together and celebrate. Traditionally it is held on a Saturday in mid June.

Most cities and large towns now have juggling clubs. These are often based within, or connected to, universities and colleges. There are also community circus groups that teach young people and put on shows. The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of most juggling clubs.

Since the 1980s a juggling culture has developed. The scene revolves around local clubs and organizations, special events, shows, magazines, web sites, internet forums and, possibly most importantly, juggling conventions. In recent years there has also been a growing focus on juggling competitions.

Juggling conventions or festivals form the backbone of the juggling scene. The focus of most juggling conventions is the main space used for open juggling. There will also be more formal workshops in which expert jugglers will work with small groups on specific skills and techniques. Most juggling conventions also include a main show (open to the general public), competitions, and juggling games.

Popular forms of juggling

A street performer juggling torches in Devizes, Wiltshire

Juggling can be categorised by various criteria:

  • Objects juggled
Balls, clubs, rings, diabolos, devil sticks and cigar boxes are several types of objects that are commonly juggled. Other objects, such as scarves, knives, pineapples, flaming torches and chainsaws, may also be used.
  • Method of juggling
The classical and best known form (toss juggling) is throwing and catching objects in the air without touching the ground. Bounce juggling is bouncing objects (usually balls) off the ground. Contact juggling is manipulating the object in constant contact with the body.
  • Performance style
This may include the gentleman juggler — using everyday objects such as hats, canes, plates, wine bottles and cigars; comedy juggling — the juggling skill is secondary to the comic character and jokes of the performer; sport themed — the performers dress in sporting attire and juggle sports equipment such as tennis rackets, footballs, or even snooker balls; traditional circus style — presenting pure skill with precision, skill and panache. Cultural extensions of the traditional circus style include: Chinese circus — using mainly rings and badminton rackets, fantastic costumes, concentrating on numbers juggling; Russian folk — colourful costumes and characters, unique props with acrobatics.
  • Number of objects juggled
In trick juggling, the main aim is to perform exceptionally skilful and impressive manipulations with the objects juggled. Numbers juggling, by contrast, has the goal of juggling as many objects as possible.
  • Number of jugglers
Juggling is most commonly performed by an individual. However, multiple-person juggling is performed by two or more people. Some method of passing between the jugglers is used — this can be through the air (as in toss juggling), bounced off the ground, simply handed over, or numerous other ways depending on the objects and the style of juggling. For example, two club jugglers may stand facing each other, each juggling a 3-club pattern themselves, but then simultaneously passing between each other. Back-to-back juggling is also possible, and other configurations.
  • Sport Juggling
Juggling is sometimes done as a sport (competing in competitions such as The World Juggling Federation). Organizations such as the WJF promote sport juggling and reward pure technical ability and give no credit for entertainment, or for juggling with props such as knives or torches.

The object, method, style and number of jugglers can vary. For example, a single juggler could be juggling different objects (say a ball, a club and an orange), could start by toss juggling them, then start bouncing the ball as part of the routine, and finally start passing the objects back and forth with a second juggler.

Juggling world records

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 September 2006, the 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 is 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 mean each prop is thrown and caught at least twice. The JISCON records for qualifying runs are:



Juggling is often used in circus arts, such as in Jennifer Miller's Circus Amok

Jugglers commonly feature in circuses, with many performers having enjoyed a star billing. Many circus jugglers are from Russia and other Soviet block states, products of circus schools. Other traditions are represented, such as Chinese acrobatics schools, and traditional circus families that are often Latin American or European. Some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years are from Eastern Europe, including Sergei Ignatov, Andrii Kolesnikov, Evgenij Biljauer and Viktor Kee (featured in Cirque du Soleil productions).

Variety theatres

Variety theatres still do business in Europe, particularly in 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 the United States.

Renaissance and medieval fairs

Renaissance and medieval fairs in North America and in Europe can also offer short-term performance venues for professional jugglers. With the increasing popularity of such venues (and with the continued success of Medieval/Renaissance themed restaurants) the ancient art of juggling finds a home.

Street performance

Street juggler at a festival

In some places, especially tourist destinations such as Spain, Cyprus, and London, entertainers perform on the street (busking). Street performers often include juggling and comedy in their shows. Well known locations for this kind of street performance include Covent Garden in London, and Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Sport juggling

Juggling has, more recently, been promoted as a competitive sport by organizations such as the World Juggling Federation. Sport juggling competitions reward pure technical ability and give no extra credit for showmanship, or for juggling with elaborate props such as knives or torches.


Juggling has been performed in space despite the fact that the micro-gravity environment of orbit deprives the juggled objects of the essential ability to fall. This is accomplished through 'two-person' juggling passing multiple objects between them. Juggling in space was demonstrated by Greg Chamitoff and Richard Garriott while Garriott was visiting the International Space Station as a Spaceflight Participant in October of 2008. Their juggling of objects while in orbit was featured in 'Apogee of Fear', the first science fiction movie made in space by Garriott and 'Zero-G Magic', a magic show also recorded in space by Chamitoff and Garriott at that time.

Juggling notation

Juggling tricks and patterns can become very complex, and hence can be difficult to communicate to others. Therefore notation systems have been developed for specifying patterns, as well as for discovering new patterns.

Diagram-based notations are the clearest way to show juggling patterns on paper, but as they are based on images, their use is limited in text-based communication. Ladder diagrams track the path of all the props through time, where the less complicated causal diagrams only track the props that are in the air, and assumes that a juggler has a prop in each hand. Numeric notation systems are more popular and standardized than diagram-based notations. They are used extensively in both a written form and in normal conversations among jugglers.

Animation of 3 ball cascade , also known as a Siteswap 3

Siteswap is by far the most common juggling notation. Various heights of throw, considered to take specific "beats" of time to complete, are assigned a relative number. From those, a pattern is conveyed as a sequence of numbers, such as "3", "744", or "97531". Those examples are for two hands making alternating or "asynchronous" throws, and often called vanilla siteswap. For showing patterns in which both hands throw at the same time, there are other notating conventions for synchronous siteswap. There is also multiplex siteswap for patterns where one hand holds or throws two or more balls on the same beat. Other extensions to siteswap have been developed, including passing siteswap, Multi-Hand Notation (MHN), and General Siteswap (GS).

Beatmap is a numeric notation which can notate any number of hands or juggling props, and in any rhythm, with no added complexity to its basic structure. Within beatmap it is possible 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. Luke Burrage, the inventor of beatmap, claims[citation needed] 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.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989: juggling entry
  2. ^ Prof. Arthur Lewbel's Research in Juggling History
  3. ^ The JIS Museum of Juggling's Ethnography section

External links




1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JUGGLER (Lat. joculator, jester), in the modern sense a performer of sleight-of-hand tricks and dexterous feats of skill in tossing balls, plates, knives, &c. The term is practically synonymous with conjurer (see Conjuring). The joculatores were the mimes of the middle ages (see Drama); the French use of the word jongleurs (an erroneous form of jougleur) included the singers known as trouveres; and the humbler English minstrels of the same type gradually passed into the strolling jugglers, from whose exhibitions the term came to cover loosely any acrobatic, pantomimic and sleight-of-hand performances. In ancient Rome various names were given to what we call jugglers, e.g. ventilatores (knife-throwers), and pilarii (ball-players).

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