Padiddling

(This first appeared in the January/February 2001 issue of JUGGLE Magazine.)

Two of the joys of attending juggling festivals are seeing old friends and learning new forms of manipulation. At the recent Portland Juggling Festival I ran into Allen Knutson, and picked up some tips from him on padiddling.

For some people the term padiddle conjures up a nighttime car game with the players vying to spot vehicles with only one working headlight. Most jugglers will think of padiddling as spinning things on one’s finger. A favorite object to padiddle for many beginners is a cafeteria tray. While the actual weight isn’t that critical, having the weight distributed evenly and down low makes padiddling easier.

It is certainly possible to spin objects larger or smaller than a cafeteria tray. For demonstration purposes, Allen used a notepad. He mentioned that it took him about two years to work down to padiddling CD jewel cases.

The Three Phases of Learning to Padiddle

Allen suggests that people think of three different phases when learning to padiddle. During the first phase of learning you should mark the center of the tray and begin by placing a finger directly under that point. You want to have the tray spin for as long as possible on your finger.

Phase One

Set the tray spinning with the other hand. As the tray circles try to keep your finger under the center. The tray will wander off of the center point. Bend your finger slightly to change the contact point with the tray and move it back to middle. Try not to swing from the arm to make any contact point changes. It will help if you have short fingernails.

Your finger doesn’t drive the tray at all for the first phase. Think of it more as keeping the object balanced. Eventually the platter will slow down and fall off. Be prepared to catch it and try again.

The two main points to focus on for phase one are being able to keep the tray balanced while spinning, and making slight contact point adjustments to move your finger back under the center of the tray when it wanders off.

Phase Two

In the second phase you want to slowly inch your finger out from the center and begin to drive the platter around in a circle. Expect the tray to speed up as your finger moves farther and farther to the outside. Try to keep driving the tray for as long as possible, while being prepared to stop and catch it when things get out of control.

Use the skill learned in the first phase to slowly move your finger out from the center towards the outside rim of the platter. By bending your finger you should be able to change to a different contact point on the finger and move farther to the outside.

The main goals of the second phase are to learn to drive the tray and inch your way out from the center towards the outside.

Phase Three

For the third phase you should learn to move your finger freely into and out of the center as you maintain both the balance and the spin of the platter. When the finger is in the center, you are mostly balancing the tray. Inch the finger more to the outside by systematically changing the contacts points and you also begin to drive the tray around.

When the tray is spinning quickly enough, you can inch your finger back into the center and coast for a while. Happy padiddling!

Index finger drives the tray

Any other good padiddling tips or variations you’d like to share? Please send them along.

Todd Strong has always found a certain amount of comfort in an oft-quoted line from "Man and Superman" by George Bernard Shaw. "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."

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