Welcome to my column for eJuggle, Ask David. In this column, you can ask me for my opinion, advice, or knowledge about anything juggling-related.
In case you don’t know me and you’re wondering why you might want to know my thoughts, here’s a bit about me. I’ve been a professional juggler for 37 years and have performed over 15,000 professional shows. I’ve also set over 20 world records and won 15 IJA gold medals. I’ve won two of the IJA’s honorary awards: the Bobby May Award, given to the top juggling mentor / coach, and the Excellence in Education Award. I’m also one of the world’s leading juggling historians. I’ve written 13 books about juggling history and almost 400 articles about juggling and juggling history. I also own the world’s only juggling museum, The Museum of Juggling History.
So, now that you know a bit about me, let’s get to our questions for today’s column.
Pat Kot asks, “Do you believe in any circus superstitions?”
My response: Well, I’m not a superstitious person at all, so not really. When I toured with a circus, I don’t even think I ever heard about any superstitions, to be honest, but I’m aware of quite a few now. I don’t think turning your back to the ring, wearing a green costume, or sleeping in the ring is bad luck. I don’t believe elephant hair is good luck. and I couldn’t care less if I entered the ring with my right foot or my left foot.
However, there is an old adage that you should never whistle in the circus tent. I agree that this is unwise, since the riggers use whistles as cues and performers whistling could get confusing and be dangerous.
Fellow juggling historian Erik Åberg asked me quite a while ago to help him discover the earliest known example of a juggler performing a pirouette / 360 while toss juggling and continuing the juggle.
Our findings: Our first thoughts were to look at films of Enrico Rastelli and Bobby May. The first thing we found was that Rastelli would often end a trick, such as his four stick spread or six plate juggle while jumping rope, by tossing one or two of the props up, pirouetting, and then catching the props without continuing. You can see this in the following video of Rastelli.
Then we examined a film of Bobby May from the 1930s and found that May performed some pirouettes during his three ball routine and did a two up pirouette during his 4 club routine.
We were convinced that we could find earlier evidence and eventually we did. It comes in the form of photo of Anita Bartling. Anita (born Sophia Anna Bartling in 1887) was a German juggling star by the year 1910. The following photo, from around 1910, shows her doing a two up pirouette while juggling three clubs. The caption reads, “Double Somersault And Same Time Pirouetting.” The double somersault indicates that the clubs were thrown in doubles while she pirouetted.
So, that is the earliest evidence that Erik and I were able to find. Obviously, it’s impossible to know for sure who the first juggler was to spin around while toss juggling, but we will continue to be on the lookout for any earlier examples.