Looking across the gym at the most recent IJA Festival, a sizable proportion of the jugglers are women. This hasn’t always been the case. In the first forty years of the IJA’s existence, female performers were a fairly rare sight. However, female jugglers have an incredible and very important history in our art form. The earliest depiction of juggling we know of features three women each juggling three balls. This image comes from the Beni Hassan Tombs and is 4,000 years old. The next oldest image is from ancient Greece and shows a seated woman juggling three balls. In the Chinese acrobatic traditions, women have most often been seen doing skills that we associate with juggling – diabolo, devil stick, and plate spinning. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many of the greatest jugglers of the past 130 years have been women. What is interesting is the fact that seven of the ten that are discussed here are German!
Selma Braatz (1885 – 1973) was a German juggler carrying on a great tradition of female jugglers in her family. She was trained by her aunts, Welda Braatz and Clara Braatz, who were both successful jugglers. She also was trained by the great gentleman juggler, Salerno. Her career began in 1902 and took her to five continents. She quickly became the best known female juggler of her time. Her act included juggling three tennis balls while balancing a racket, a five ball routine, 6 balls, a routine with a top hat/gloves/umbrella, three color changing torches, two sticks and a woolen ball, and three pool cues. She balanced a billiard ball on a cue stick which she balanced on her forehead while juggling three balls. She would then drop the billiard ball off the cue stick and go into a four ball juggle while still maintaining the balance. She retired in 1937 and moved to the United States in the 1950s.
Anita Bartling (born Sophia Anna Bartling in 1887) was a German juggling star by the year 1910. She could do 7 ball bouncing as well as 7 balls in air. She also performed with 3 pool cues, hats, clubs, and torches. She died in 1966 in Berlin.
Kathi Gultini should be considered one of the greatest female jugglers of all time. This German performer was born in 1889 and began her career in 1908. She was the first person to bounce 8 balls off a drum. She also was well known for her trick of balancing a couch on her forehead while juggling four cushions!
Not much is known about German juggler Lucy Gillet, but what we do know is quite impressive. She juggled six plates while balancing a long bird perch on her chin and a flower pot on her forehead. She also performed nine balls in her act. Despite these incredible toss juggling feats, she was best known for her foot juggling and balancing stunts.
Jenny Jaeger was a Russian juggler who was born into a performing family in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine) in 1909. Her entire life was devoted to honing her skills in the art of juggling. Her father, Willy Jaeger, was a well-known juggler. Jenny joined her father’s act at the age of five. She was a child prodigy, juggling 8 balls at the age of nine and 9 balls at the age of 12. She performed 10 balls in her act at the age of 15 and continued to feature the trick for four years. Her father insisted that she stop including it in the act as it required too much practice. To this day, no other performer has ever included 10 balls in their daily act. Her act also featured amazing balances of up to five objects at the same time, six rings while bouncing a ball on her head, and a unique trick of bouncing a prop on her head that consisted of a stick with large rubber balls on each end. The prop would flip 180 degrees with each bounce. She continued to perform until 1960 and passed away in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1986.
Here’s a link to video of Jenny Jaeger: video
Trixie Larue was a German juggler born Martha Firschke in 1920 in Budapest, Hungary. Her father, juggler Oscar Firschke, started training her when Trixie was 11 years old. Her father taught her to copy many tricks that had been done by Enrico Rastelli, whom he had seen perform. Trixie was a very quick learner and soon learned to juggle 7 plates, 5 large balls, and perhaps most impressively, six plates while bouncing a ball on her head. She could also bounce two balls on her head and was extremely skills with a ball and mouth stick. By the age of 14, she was a star on many of the great stages of Europe. She moved to the United States in 1938 and she appeared in a movie with Fred Astaire and performed at Radio City Music Hall. She was a featured star with Ice Capades for fifteen years starting in 1942. Despite the blinding light of the follow spots, she continued to perform her incredible tricks while skating around huge ice rinks. She eventually married Escoe Larue, another Ice Capades performer, and had five children. Trixie received the Historical Achievement Award from the IJA in 1991. She died in 2001.
Here is a video of Trixie from Broadway Melody Of 1940.
Here’s another video of Trixie, this time performing with the Ice Capades: video
Ursula Hill (1922-1999) was a German juggler whose career began in 1940 and ended when she retired in 1979. She performed 7 rings, 5 sticks/clubs, combination tricks, 5 rings while going into the splits, and a four stick spread (two on the right and two on the left). She had a very early and important influence on Lottie Brunn. She had a very successful solo career for ten years before marrying juggler Gus Lauppe in 1950 and joining him, and eventually their son, as a team. Ursula retired from juggling in 1979.
Here’s a video of Ursula with her husband Gus Lauppe and their son, Don: video
Lottie Brunn (1925 –2008) is generally regarded as the fastest female juggler of all time. She and her brother, Francis, were born in Germany and came to the United States in 1948. She performed 8 rings at the age of 14 and had a phenomenal career performing all over the world. Her act featured ball spinning, combination tricks, and toss juggling with balls, rings, and spring head clubs. Lottie was given the IJA Historical Achievement Award in 1992. She passed on her skills to her son, Michael Chirrick, who continues to perform today.
Here’s another video of Lottie Brunn: video
Luly Perezoff was a Spanish juggler who was popular in the 1950s and 60s. She equaled Kathi Gultini’s feat of bouncing 8 balls off a drum. Luly also juggled 8 in the air and performed a well-received act bouncing lower numbers of balls off of three drums.
Eva Vida is an amazing juggler from Hungary. She graduated from the Budapest School of Circus Arts in 1959. She integrated her experience in ballet with wonderful skills that included a 6 ring color change, a five club act that included juggling four with another balanced on her head as well as five under both legs, three umbrellas, and 6 rings with a forehead balance. She was the co-winner of the Rastelli competition in 1973. She is retired and lives in Vienna, Austria today.
Here’s a video of Eva Vida competing in the Rastelli Juggling Competition in 1973: video
Here’s another video of Eva Vida: video