The Origins of Ball Bounce Juggling

In the internet age, new innovations in juggling spread like wildfire. A new form of juggling can be seen by much of the world days after it’s first performed or even prior to anyone presenting it before an audience. Copycats can crop up almost immediately. One would think that this wasn’t the case 120 years ago, but that’s not necessarily the case. As I wrote about several months ago, the spread of hoop rolling and juggling after it’s invention by William Everhart was very quick and far-reaching. A similar phenomenon occurred with the advent of ball bounce juggling.

L. A. Street

Former Russian dancer L. A. Street is generally considered the inventor of ball bounce juggling. (See the end of the article for information about this possibly not being the case.) Street began performing in 1898.  He could bounce up to 7 balls off the raised platform on which he performed and up to 8 balls off of a wall and the platform.  The wall that was attached to the end of the platform could be arranged at various angles depending on the trick he was performing. Another way Street varied his tricks was by changing whether he stood on the platform or on the stage. Unfortunately, very little is known about Street and only a few pictures remain of him.

Image (7) - CopyL. A. Street doing a 7 ball force bounce.

 

Image (8)L. A. Street bouncing 7 balls off a wall and platform.

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Robertus and Wilfredo

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Much more is known about the duo of Robertus and Wildredo. This father and son team hailed from Lowell, Massachusetts (USA) and were performing in Europe by 1900. They used a platform and wall configuration very similar to L. A. Street. Robertus and his son set themselves apart by creating many complex passing patterns that often utilized the wall as well as the platform. Like Street, they varied standing on the platform or the stage, depending on the trick. One section of their act consisted of the two men mimicking various sounds through their “ball hopping,” as they referred to it. They could copy the sounds of a train as it left the station and accelerated up to speed, the artillery of a battle, or even the lowing of a cow! The duo passed up to twelve balls in their performances. Another novel addition to their act was the use of a fox terrier dog who would retrieve any of the rubber balls that went askew.

Image (7) R&W6Image (12) R&W4 R&W3 R&W2  R&W1 Image (10) Image (9) R&W5

Image (9) - Copy

Robertus and Wilfredo and their fox terrier assistant.

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Anita Bartling

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Anita Bartling (born Sophia Anna Bartling in 1887) was a German juggling star by the year 1910. She was famous for performing 7 ball bouncing off of a drum.

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Kathi Gultini

KG3 KG4

Kathi Gultini was a German performer born in 1895 or 1896. She began her career in 1908. Kathi was the first person to bounce 8 balls off a drum. This trick would later be equaled by Luly Perezoff in the 1950s.

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By the 1920s, ball bouncing was a staple of juggling acts. Vaudevillians such as Bobby May and Joe Cook included it in their well known acts.  Below is a video of Joe Cook force bouncing five balls.


BobbyMayUpsideDownBobby May bouncing five balls off a drum while balancing upside down.

 

Image (6)Pillnay, another early ball bounce juggler

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A Recent Discovery

While writing this article, I remembered the article I mentioned earlier that I wrote concerning William Everhart. I recalled that Everhart performed ball bouncing before he invented hoop rolling juggling. While I have no definitive date, it would appear that Everhart included ball bouncing around the age of 19, which would be in 1887, eleven years before L. A. Street supposedly invented the art form. Therefore, historians either have the date of Street’s innovation wrong or are completely wrong about Street being the inventor of bounce juggling. Further research will be done regarding this issue.

Everhart1William Everhart bouncing balls while balancing a lamp on his head.

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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).

Comments 0

  1. Interesting article, thanks David!

    I’m curious about how you would define “invented” in this context. Are you looking for the first known record of someone bouncing a ball within a pattern, or bounce juggling as the primary form of manipulation of the objects? How would you differentiate that from say “pioneer”?

    Love juggling history and looking forward to your perspective and answer regarding this!

    1. Warren, those are good questions. Street is generally regarded as the person who first performed “upside down juggling”, as they often referred to it at the time. Further research may reveal whether he was indeed the first to bounce juggle or if he was just the first to have an entire act devoted to the genre or if neither is true.

      1. Further research has turned up a few items of note. First, there is some evidence that the usual date of 1898 for the beginning of L.A. Street’s career may actually be 1888. This would still be a year after Everhart was performing ball bouncing. I’ve also discovered that the juggling superstar Kara (Michael Steiner) performed ball bouncing with tennis balls in 1892. There are some other leads that I’m looking into as well.

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