In the last 12 months, 12 weeks (a total of 52 days) of my juggling-working life has been spent teaching. Teaching juggling to advanced students at circus schools in Holland, Sweden, France, Germany and Ireland has accounted for 25% of my income in that time. That is a sizeable amount, and teaching is clearly by now one of the major threads in my career. This was never planned. It was never a clear intention of mine to have this parallel thread to performing, but I am very happy that it is so. The work is usually stimulating and inspiring. It pushes me to explore my own artistic and technical processes and beliefs in finer detail: it keeps me up to date with what is happening in the contemporary juggling and circus scene: and it let’s me feel that I am giving something back to the juggling and circus community, which has given me, and continues to give me, so much.
I am sure that the major reason for my continued enthusiasm in teaching is due to the inspiring experiences I had with my own teachers back at circus school. For those positive feelings I can squarely lay the blame at the feet of Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala in London, England, and Mads Rosenbeck in Châlons-en-Champagne, France. Not only did their teaching deepen and clarify the love I already had for juggling, but it showed me how teaching itself could be a creative and positive experience.
My own teaching methodology is certainly related to the kind of exercises that I did with Sean and Kati and Mads. Looking back now, somewhat shocked to realise I am the age that they were when they first taught me, I can’t say how defined their teaching systems were, even in their own minds, back then. But what they brought me were the tools I needed to help develop my own style and my own understanding of technique, composition, choreography and performance within juggling.
Although juggling technique is included in the list above, I don’t recall (for better or for worse) any specific technical juggling lessons at any time when I was at circus school. Although that sounds like a travesty when written like that, I know that my understanding of technique, and my application of it, was, and is, tightly tied to the more abstract or conceptual aspects of juggling.
To be more precise, the awareness about my juggling, my process and intention, that my teachers pulled out of me related also to juggling technique, but rarely in an explicit manner. Exercises that seemed at first glance to be exploring abstract issues of juggling often had deep technical lessons underlying them. As I wrote before, I can’t say how aware my teachers were of that themselves, but it has become a very important concept in my own teaching.
Technique underlies all that we do within juggling. No matter how hard we try to separate “technique” from “creation,” or “sport” from “art,” we will always find that they abut and overlap, and often in the most unexpected places.
Good technique is efficient. Often, the very most efficient way to throw a ball, to catch a club or to spin a pirouette is the also the very best technique to do so. But let us note that efficiency is not a clearly-defined thing. What is efficient for one may not be efficient for another. Good (efficient) technique is personal. What works best for me (based on my anatomy, my strength and my prop choices) may not be the best for you. But as long as we are each striving to be efficient with our physical choices, we can be reasonably secure that our technique will be “good.”
But what of artistic choices? Of matters of choreography, of style and image and theatrics? I would argue that the very same principle applies. It won’t always be so, but 99 times out of 100 the most efficient choice will probably be the best one. Note that “efficient” (in both the technical and artistic cases) doesn’t necessarily mean “easiest.” Perhaps not even not even “simplest” or “shortest.” The most efficient way for me to (technically) correct poor left-handed throws in my five club cascade may be to drill that throw alone for hours on end. To make micro-corrections in the angle of the throw, in the timing of the release. It may demand days or weeks or months of training to master that efficiency. And perhaps the most efficient way for me to (artistically) communicate some personal feeling to my audience will be to perform (which entails first learning!) seven clubs, or to invest in thousands of Euros worth of stage apparatus and theatrical lighting.
But the end goal in both cases is an effortlessness. An effortlessness of technique, of manner and of delivery. An effortlessness which means that the barriers of technique or of staging can be forgotten, allowing full concentration on the trick, the performance, or the practice session.
To really achieve this effortlessness, this aspiration to efficiency, we must embed it into our practice regime. If we can be efficient when training, then it shall be more natural for us to continue to be so when creating. Here is the parallel to my earlier theme of the juggling technique being embedded within the creative exercises my teachers gave me. In our everyday juggling lives we can practice efficiency: in our training system, in our prop packing, in the use of our limited time. And by doing so, we shall be training the skills that will be of use to us later when choreographing or creating new material, as well those skills that relate directly to pure juggling technique.
In a world of distractions, of unending choices and ever-growing possibilities, efficiency is key. The key to good (yet individual) juggling technique, clear (yet appealing) juggling choreographies, and concise (yet rich) juggling statements.