The Twelve Juggling Days Of Christmas

I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the world, but in the USA, it seems like you can’t go anywhere without constantly hearing Christmas songs this time of year.  Don’t get me wrong, I love many of them, and certain ones, in certain situations, help to get me into the holiday spirit.  Unfortunately, there are stores that start decorating for Christmas in late September, and radio stations that start playing nothing by Christmas carols on November 1.  Personally, I’d rather wait until after Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November).

So, what does this have to do with juggling, you might ask?  Well, this article was inspired by one of those Christmas songs.  While listening to a version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the radio, it got me thinking of juggling in relation to the numbers one through twelve.  It got my mind churning and trying to come up with the best tricks, routines, or accomplishments for each in regard to the number of objects juggled.  I wanted to come up with the Twelve Juggling Days of Christmas.

I started brainstorming and researching, and also bounced (not sure if it was force or lift) ideas off of some jugglers I trusted.  I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to just choose one for most numbers.  I hope you enjoy!

1 – Well, this was probably the easiest.  Michael Moschen not only created a great routine with a single ball, he created a whole new prop and product line with his contact juggling.  Many (far too many) have copied the tricks, most prop makers started carrying the clear balls, and it even spawned an info commercial product aimed at the general public in the way of Fushigi.

2 – This was a bit harder, with two that came to mind.  Allan Jacobs’ excellent club swinging reintroduced the art back to jugglers in the early 1980s.  The other was a trick by the legendary Rudy Cardanes – bouncing two balls off of his shoulders.  It can be seen in this video at the 1:35 mark, but the whole video is worth watching.

3 – This is where it really started to get more difficult.  The pattern made famous by Steve Mills is certainly a strong contender.  The three club acts of Will Murray and Wes Peden are also outstanding.  I guess if I had to pick just one, I would go with the classic cigar box act by Kris Kremo!

4 – At first, it was hard to think of a great four object winner. Eventually, I came up with two.  Dick Franco’s four ball act is a classic one, featuring some smooth shoulder throws and bounce moves.  As far as a single trick goes, I have to choose Bob Bramson’s juggle of four hoops while balancing another on his head and spinning two hoops on a leg.  What makes this trick incredible is that he throws one side of the pattern as a flat which passes through the slightly larger hoop on his head.  See it at the 3:55 mark of this video.

5 – This level provides the most options I will list.  The five ball routines of Bobby May and Peter Davison were/are so classy, smooth, challenging, and professional.  With five clubs, three routines come to mind – Paul Ponce, Evgeni Biljauer, and Willy Colombaioni.  All three cover(ed) a full range of extremely challenging tricks.  It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite of the five, but here’s a video of Willy’s routine to give an example of what I mean.

6 – This level contains some of my favorite jugglers and videos.  Enrico Rastelli was famous for juggling six plates while spinning a ring on a leg and jumping rope.  Trixie was also a master of six plates, usually performing the trick while bouncing a ball on her head.  Wes Peden has some monster patterns and tricks with six clubs.  As demonstrated in the recent video Corrections, Eivind Dragsjo has some magnificent moves with six clubs as well.  And rounding out the group is Toby Walker, another master with six clubs.  Here are videos of some of these jugglers that includes these accomplishments at the six level.

7 – With seven objects, I narrowed the list down to just two.  One is one of my all-time favorite jugglers and the other is one of my favorite current jugglers.  Sergei Ignatov didn’t perform his seven ring routine often, but when he did – wow!  The video we have isn’t very clear, but it shows him performing a seven ring full pirouette, seven ring half shower, and seven ring pancakes!  Ofek Snir’s mastery of seven balls is also extremely impressive as you can see, and includes pirouettes which transition from one siteswap pattern to the next.

8 – Besides the one object level, this is the only other number where I only have one candidate.  Alexander Kiss performed as hard of a trick as has ever been done – eight rings on a rising rola-bola while balancing a pole on his head.  He warmed up with 100+ catches of eight rings before every show.

9 – As far as single trick goes with nine, I have to go with Ty Tojo’s nine ball backcrosses.  As far as pure mastery goes, it’s hard to deny Anthony Gatto in regard to both balls and rings.

10 – We’re in rare company starting at this level in regard to options.  Mr. Gatto and his 47 catches of ten rings is almost unfathomable.  Alex Barron has 30 catches of ten balls, but we’ll get to him a bit later.  Jenny Jaeger was famous for juggling ten balls in her act starting at the age of 15, and Bruce Sarafian was the first modern juggler to qualify ten (with proof).  Two of the smoothest ten object jugglers are Albert Lucas and Junming Lin.

11 – Frank LeDent performed eleven balls in his act in the early 1900s, and Sergei Ignatov, Albert Petrovski, and Nikolai Gerasimov have flashed eleven rings in performance.  However, my favorite has to be Alex Barron, who has qualified eleven balls on video several times, with a high of 25 catches.  He’s the only person with proof of qualifying eleven objects ever.  The juggling world hadn’t heard anything from Alex for a few years, since he went off the college.  Luckily for us, he recently posted a new video (see comments in the next section), so maybe additional world records are on their way.

12 – Well, two of the jugglers mentioned earlier in this article deserve some due here.  Willy Colombaioni and Alex Barron have set new heights with twelve rings and balls respectively.  Willy’s 16 catches of twelve rings is spectacular, and that new video from Alex shows 17 catches of twelve balls.  Each is creeping ever so slowly toward qualifying runs with twelve.  Won’t that be something!  In the meanwhile, I’ll declare my favorite twelve object juggle to belong to the Ernst Montego, and his Brunn finish on a giraffe unicycle.  It might not be the traditional way of counting the props involved, but honoring this legend, who we lost earlier in the year, feels like the best way to cap off this article.

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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