Juggling Child Prodigies

You’d never know it by looking at the floor of a modern-day juggling festival, but the existence of technically advanced child / youth jugglers was once fairly rare. These days, you can find 5 club and 7 ball jugglers in their early teens at many festivals. There are so many more resources available now than even 10 years ago to help train and motivate children to learn at a rapid pace. Even so, the existence of true juggling child prodigies is rare, so let’s take a look at some from the past, as well as some still growing up today.

The dictionary definition of “child prodigy” is a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult expert performer. Oddly enough, attaining a level of ability at this young age doesn’t always mean that the child will grow up to be a top adult performer, though most of those featured in this article have reached success in the juggling world. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stretch the definition somewhat as well to include those that advanced rapidly and to a technical level not normally associated with a child, even if they started (or achieved that level) after the age of 10. This list won’t be exhaustive, but is meant to shine some light from a historical perspective on the achievements of some young jugglers throughout history.

Juggling Your Age

One of the rarest and more interesting phenomenon has been those jugglers who could juggle the same number of objects as their age. Think about that achievement and how difficult it would be to achieve it.

Thomas Dietz, one of the world’s most popular jugglers, achieved many records and won numerous competitions in the mid-2000s and continues to be one of the world’s best technical jugglers today. But, he is also one of those rare persons to have “juggled their age,” achieving a cascade of three oranges at three years, nine months old.

Albert Lucas, who will be discussed further in this article, learned to juggle at the age of three as well, and could also juggle four balls or four rings at the age of 4 (pictured below).

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Albert Lucas at age 4

Matan Presberg is currently a college student, but was quite the internet star in the juggling world when he juggled six balls at age 6. Now as a young adult, Matan is a very good juggler, able to qualify nine balls and perform a five ball up pirouette out of seven balls. Here is a video of Matan qualifying six balls at the age of 6.

Jerry Martin could juggle three objects by age 3, and possibly even as a two year old! Jerry recalls that he used to toss around small soft plastic drinking ‘glasses,’ and very early on discovered the three-item cascade. He was so young that he was still in a high chair (he was small for his age). It is his earliest memory. Oddly though, Jerry didn’t learn to juggle more than three objects for another 28 years!

Amazing By Ten

While all of the above reached a great achievement, only some of them could be deemed child prodigies by the true definition. Let’s look at those who were truly world class by the time they were 10.

Anthony Gatto is one of the best examples of a child learning to juggle very young and becoming a master by the age of ten. Anthony was trained by his step-father Nick Gatto and learned around the age of 4 or 5 (and possibly as young as 3, depending on the source, thus gaining entrance into the exclusive club above as well). He won the IJA Juniors Championship at the age of 8 in Cleveland, OH, where Bobby May declared Anthony to be the next Rastelli. By that age, he could juggle six rings and do amazing combination tricks. By the age of ten, he was performing in Las Vegas. His further career is well documented, but suffice it to say that he went on to be become one of the greatest jugglers of all time, and he started as a juggling child prodigy. Below is a video showing two television appearances of Anthony at the age of 9. These have not appeared online before.

Here is a newly online video showing Gatto’s complete act at the age of 9.

Jenny Jaeger was born in 1909 into a circus family. She debuted in her family’s act at the age of 5. By the age of nine, she was performing eight balls. She would later add a ninth ball (at age 12) and a tenth ball (at age 15) to prove to be one of the best technical jugglers of all time. She could also simultaneously balance five separate canes with bowls at the top. She has been chronicled several times by the IJA, including in this article showcasing famous female jugglers.

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Rudy Cardenas was born in Mexico in 1926 and was performing by the age of 3. By the age of seven, Rudy was performing five balls and five bell sticks, similar to clubs. He was the first juggling act to perform at El Patio, the largest nightclub in Mexico City, at the age of 8, and was performing at the most famous casino in the world (at the time), the La Urca in Rio de Janerio, at age 10. He gained the nickname “Little Rastelli” for his abilities. Rudy too would continue juggling and have a storied and long career. Learn more about Rudy by clicking here.

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Rudy Cardenas as a youth

Albert Lucas is likely known to most current day jugglers for his accomplishments with numbers juggling, joggling, and impressive showing at the 1984 IJA Convention. However, he was also a child prodigy juggler. Albert began juggling at the age of 3, and was trained by his father Albert Moreira. He performed 3 clubs at the age of 4, as well as combination tricks. Lucas booked a four year world tour opening for Liberace at the age of 8. Albert showed up at the 1970 IJA Convention as a ten year old and juggled seven rings for over a minute, winning the Numbers competition that year! Like the others in this category, Albert Lucas has enjoyed a very successful juggling career in his adulthood as well. David Lucas, Albert’s brother, likewise started young and achieved much very early on as well. Below is a video of Albert at the age of 8 or 9.

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Albert Lucas

Vladik Miagkostoupov learned how to juggle at age 6 from his father Anatoli Miagkostoupov, a famous Russian juggler. Vladik had trained in dance and acrobatics previously. By nine, he was already performing professionally. He won the IJA Juniors Championships at the age of 11, and the Individuals Championships at the age of 13 (the same age as when Gatto won the same title). He continues to perform outstanding routines with Cirque Du Soleil today and juggles 7 clubs and 9 balls. Click here and here to see videos of Vladik when he was young.

Another well-known juggling prodigy was Gena Shvartsman (now Gena Shvartsman Cristiani). Gena learned to juggle from her father, a talented Russian juggler, shortly before her sixth birthday. By the time she became a teenager, Gena was performing tricks with five clubs, up to eight balls, hat spinning, and other world class skills with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. She’s all grown up now and is a wife and mother in addition to continuing to be an in demand performer.
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Gena Shvartsman Cristiani at age 14

 

Late Starters

Some jugglers don’t start out until around or after the age of 10, but their quick progress and significant technical achievements are worthy of being called juggling child prodigies, as least in my book.

Trixie Firschke didn’t take up juggling until the age of 11, but by 13 was already the toast of Europe. Born in 1920, Trixie was trained by her father, who was an accomplished juggler, and she learned to perform many of the tricks and routines of Rastelli. As a young teenager, she was already performing six plates while heading a ball, seven plates, five large balls, bouncing two balls off of her head, and many combination tricks. She was such a sensation that she performed for many heads of state. Here is a photo of Trixie with many of the top jugglers of the day, including Felix Adanas, Bela Kremo, and Howard Nichols.

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She would go on to a wonderful career as an ice-skating juggler in America, primarily with Ice Capades. You can read more about Trixie and watch videos of her by clicking here.

Ty Tojo learned how to juggle from Dick Franco, one of the best jugglers of his time, when Ty was 8 years old. Ty quickly learned great performance skills and began booking shows, often performing with Dick. Though he had solid technical skills also, it wasn’t until a bit later that his juggling ability skyrocketed to a higher level. At age 13, Ty broke the world record for the most five ball backcrosses – 248. He has since done the same for 7 ball backcrosses (91) and is working toward qualifying 9 ball backcrosses. Now at the age of 17, he is regularly breaking 100 catches of 9 balls in performance. Below is a video of Ty at the age of 9 performing in Japan.

Common Threads

If you look closely, you’ll notice that almost all of these jugglers share some common traits. Most of them were taught by a parent who was a juggler. Learning young and from someone who knows the skill well has to be an advantage. Having a dedication to improving, practicing, and proper training is also extremely helpful in sustaining progress and achievement for the long term. There are other jugglers who have learned early, but who haven’t been able to avoid burnout or loss of interest. With jugglers learning at such a young age these days and having web tutorials and the like at their disposal, who knows what new juggling child prodigies will turn up in the future!

Scott Cain is an IJA Life Member, IJA Numbers Championships Co-Director, a former Numbers gold-medalist, Teams medalist as a member of Raising Cain, Musical Theater Critic for Talkin’ Broadway (Cincinnati/Dayton), and assistant curator/researcher for the Historical Juggling Props Museum (www.historicaljugglingprops.com). He and his family live in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA).

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