Juggling With Boomerangs

Many jugglers have taken an interest in boomerang throwing over the years due to a number of commonalities in the skills. They both involve throwing and catching objects in a skilled manner. They both are skills that can appear easy until the average person tries them. One person who mastered both skills was 1983 IJA Champion Allan Jacobs, who was a competitive boomerang thrower before moving on to the world of juggling. However, only a few jugglers have incorporated the use of boomerangs into their performances.

Perhaps the greatest boomerang juggler and performer was Dai Shucheng of China. He began juggling in Shanghai at the age of 8 in 1944 and learned toss juggling and meteor bowl spinning.  Eventually he moved to the Hei Long Jiang province and started working with a teacher who helped him develop his act with cross stick boomerangs known as fei-pan. Fei-pan consist of two or three wooden sticks tied in the middle with string to create four and six winged boomerangs. With these props, Dai Shucheng was able to achieve amazing feats, including  tossing four fei-pan into the air one at a time and doing either a front roll before catching them or catching one in each hand, one on his head, and one with his foot.  He also performed a flash of five fei-pan over the heads of the audience. Dai Shucheng was a special guest performer at the 1986 IJA convention in San Jose, California and wowed the audience with his amazing work. Two of Dai Shucheng’s boomerangs are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.. Chinese juggler Yang Xiao Di includes some simpler work with fei-pan in his act today.

Dai Shucheng

 

Sorin Munteanu

Sorin Munteanu was another performer who added boomerangs to his repertoire after mastering a variety of juggling skills. Munteanu, who passed away earlier this year, was an amazing juggler who was the first person to perform seven clubs with a pole balance. He was also one of the world’s best ball spinners and a master with large ball juggling in general. His boomerang work was not as difficult as his toss juggling feats, but was loved by audiences. Using cross stick boomerangs similar to fei-pan, Sorin would throw the large wooden props out over the heads of the audience, barely missing the tops of their heads. He would even run into the aisles of the theater, still delighting the crowd with his near misses. He could make a boomerang circle over the audience and then circle himself a second time on stage before catching it. He would often keep two going while holding a third boomerang and using it as a backstop to help catch the ones returning. Sorin would also don a special skullcap and catch a tossed boomerang on his head as it continued to spin on a peg located at the boomerang’s center.

Juggling Performance 1 from Sorin Munteanu on Vimeo.

Gary Brophy currently performs a cross stick boomerang act very similar to Munteanu, with whom Brophy worked in the past. Manuel Alravez, the great Spanish juggler best known for his club kick up work, also buzzes the audience’s heads with one and two boomerangs, using tri-winged rangs.

I (David Cain) also use tri-wing boomerangs in my juggling show. I begin with one and perform the requisite low tosses over the audience, getting a mix of frightened gasps, oohs, and aahs from those seated below. I then do a variety of trick catches including the one finger catch (The boomerangs I use have a hole in the center), behind the back, under the leg, on the back, and on the head. I then do some doubling, where two boomerangs are thrown together, similar to a multiplex throw in toss juggling. The rangs split after being released and can be caught in a variety of ways. I have also performed “quadrupling,” tossing and catching four boomerangs at the same time. This is a world record and requires a great deal of fine-tuning of the props used. I then juggle three in a large shower. The difficulty in this type of juggling with the boomerangs is that you must catch them using only one hand, which is your weaker one. This is rather difficult and takes a great deal of practice. I’ve been able to do up to five boomerangs in a shower, tying the record set by Dai Shucheng, the Chinese performer mentioned earlier. I end my work with the large boomerangs by catching one on a spoon held in my mouth.

Catching a boomerang on a spoon

I also work with smaller tri-wing boomerangs that I catch in my mouth. This is the most risky trick I perform in my show and I let the audience know this up front. It usually takes a number of attempts to get, but the failed tries allow for great comedy and make the eventual successful catch all the more appreciated. I’ve managed to catch three consecutively thrown boomerangs in my mouth in performance after being asked to set a world record in a show.

A unique series of tricks I’ve learned involves combining standard toss juggling using balls with boomerang throwing. This creates a juggling pattern in multiple directions; up, down, across, out, and back! The boomerang tosses create plenty of time for interesting siteswap possibilities with the two balls left in the hands.

Nathan Dorrell started working on boomerangs after seeing my early work and has made it a successful part of his act. He includes a four boomerang shower in his show on occasion.  Chase Martin has also picked up boomerang juggling from me and can shower three quite well. Dr. Ted Baumhauer, a juggler and motivational speaker from Fairport, NY (USA), also includes simple boomerang work in his shows. Galina Pilipovich, the wife of well-known Russian juggler Victor Pilpovich of the Two Miagkostpovs, performs with boomerangs, showering three glow rangs over the heads of the audience with the lights turned off.

Now before you go to your local toy or sporting goods store to buy a boomerang, you need to keep a number of things in mind. Typical V-shaped boomerangs are made for the outdoors and require some wind to get the rang back to the thrower. They also tend to be heavy, hard, and a bit on the hazardous end of the spectrum. For indoor and juggling purposes, you’ll want to have a boomerang that has three or more wings to them. Steve Ragatz has written a quick tutorial on how to make cross stick boomerangs. Here is a link to it.

http://www.stevenragatz.com/tutorial/rang.gif

Another great resource is the book Boomerangs: How To Make And Throw Them by Bernard S. Mason. It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers.

Myself, Nathan Dorrell, and Chase Martin use boomerangs made and designed Gary Broadbent of Broadbent Boomerangs. I recommend asking him for his extra thin backyard boomerangs. These are perfect for performances in most theaters, circuses, schools, churches, and similar sized spaces. They aren’t available online, but need to be special ordered.  You can visit www.broadbentboomerangs.com to contact Gary.

One very important thing to consider when buying a boomerang is the handedness of the rang. Boomerangs are either right handed (counterclockwise flight path) or left handed (clockwise flight path). Unless you are very experienced with boomerangs, you’ll have a very difficult time using one that is tuned for your weaker hand. If you want to get at least one boomerang tuned for your weaker hand, you can learn the trick of throwing one from each hand at the same time, having them cross in the air, and catching them in the opposite hand.

No discussion of juggling and boomerangs would be complete without mentioning those performers who work with boomerang plates and boomerang hats. In both cases, the shape of the prop creates lift so that it can be thrown at an angle over the audience and return in a more or less direct path back to the juggler.  While this type of flight doesn’t create a circular path or get close to the audience members heads like actual boomerangs, these props still can be an exciting addition to a juggler’s repertoire. Boomerang plates have been performed by jugglers such as Chinko, back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as Manuel Alvarez, Gran Picasso, and Picasso Jr. more recently. Boomerang hats are more common, with sombreros or other wide brimmed straw hats being the hats of choice for most performers. Masters of this type of juggling have included Arturo Alegria, Octavio Alegria, Victor Ponce, Paul Ponce, and Carlos Rodriguez.

Boomerangs are a lot of fun and are loved by audiences. They create many new possibilities for jugglers to explore. I plan on teaching some boomerang workshops at next year’s IJA fest, so I hope to see you there. We’ve got plenty of room for throwing!

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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