40 Years Of Change In The Juggling World – Part 1

The year 2022 marks my 40th year as a juggler. I don’t feel super old most of the time. My kids are still teenagers, at least for a little while longer. At 52, I’m firmly in the “middle aged” category. Yet the juggling world I’ve been a part of for the past four decades has changed so incredibly much that thinking about those changes makes me feel ancient sometimes. Let’s take a look at some of these changes.

Access To Information

When I learned to juggle in 1982, information about our art wasn’t very easy to come by. There might be a few books at a local library, but the main source of knowledge, at least for me, was Jugglers’ World Magazine, published by the IJA. And since I was thirsty for information, I read every new issue cover to cover, absorbing every detail like a sponge. It was through those pages that I learned about the notable figures in juggling, both historical and current. I also learned about all the various forms of juggling that existed. If you didn’t grow up in the pre-internet age, you have no concept of what limitations to knowledge were like. Today, information about almost anything you could imagine wanting to find is at our fingertips. This is a massive, massive change.

The first two books on juggling I found at my local library

Access to Video

Much more rare than information about juggling were videos of juggling. When I learned, there were no convention / festival videos. There was no internet, thus no Youtube or Instagram. The best I could hope for was to see a juggler on television. The first I ever saw was Ernest Montego, performing his incredible act, which ended with him perfectly executing the Brunn Finish on a giraffe unicycle.

Ernest Montego

Most of the television appearances I saw, however, were of comedy jugglers such as Michael Davis, Edward Jackman, and the Raspyni Brothers. When the first IJA Convention video came out in 1984, I immediately bought it. When it arrived, I put it in my VCR and watched the grainy, horribly white-balanced footage from start to finish and then re-watched it over and over again. For the next decade, I would eagerly await each year’s IJA Convention video. They were the primary video resource for every juggler I knew. The other resource was the video library of Mary Wilkins, who had saved as much juggling from television programs and other sources that she could. If you sent her blank video tapes, she would copy tapes onto them and send them back. She was an amazing resource.

The Rarity of Juggling Gatherings

Along with information and videos, opportunities to gather with other jugglers were much more rare. The IJA Convention happened once a year and local clubs had their meetings, but regional festivals were few and far between. There were a few, such as the Atlanta Groundhog Day Festival, but they were uncommon.

Anthony Gatto, Robert Peck, and Larry Vaskman holding the Phil Awards they won at the 1982 Groundhog Day Festival

When a top level juggler would decide to practice at a convention, very shortly they would find themselves surround by jugglers sitting on the floor watching them. I have fond memories of watching many great jugglers in this way and even being watched in this way eventually. This stopping of everything in the gym to watch one person no longer happens, as usually their very best stuff is already online and viewable any time. The last time I can recall this type of thing happening at an IJA Convention was in 2004 when Thomas Dietz was surrounded. Another sign of how things have changed is the fact that the European Juggling Convention only had 110 attendees the year I started juggling!

One affect of having so many options to view juggling, both in person and online, is that the IJA’s yearly gathering isn’t as important for many jugglers. Numbers of attendees have decreased from highs of 1200 in 1989 and 1600 in 1991 to between 400 and 600 each year now.

The Incredible Leap In Technical Ability

In the early 1980s, a juggler who could do 5 clubs or 7 balls was considered amazing. When I attended my first IJA Convention in 1985, I probably only saw between 5 and 10 people juggle 5 clubs and even less juggle 7 balls. Seeing someone even attempt 6 clubs or 8 balls was almost unheard of. I recall Dan Bennett working on 8 balls and Ken Falk attempting 6 clubs, but that’s about it. Tricks with 5 clubs or 7 balls were pretty much unheard of, although a few jugglers had learned 5 club backcrosses. We just hadn’t seen them yet! It wasn’t until Anthony Gatto came to the IJA Convention in 1986 that tricks beyond the basic cascade with 5 clubs or 7 balls were even considered by most jugglers.

The huge leap in technical ability in the past forty years is due to several factors. One is that Anthony Gatto and later jugglers like Jason Garfield showed that much more was possible than we had previously thought. When the internet and Youtube became commonplace, this phenomenon became even greater. In many ways, jugglers were limited by what they believed was possible rather than through any physical boundaries.

Another factor was the discovery and use of siteswap. Siteswap was invented by Paul Klimek in 1981, but wasn’t regularly used for about a decade. Nevertheless, the patterns and possibilities that have been opened up due to the use of siteswap have made an indelible mark on what jugglers can do today.

In Part 2 of this article, we’ll look at five more areas of change that have happened in the past four decades.

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 twenty-six books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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