In the past month, juggling historian David Cain has had his first three juggling history books published. Below you will find a review of Great Female Jugglers Of The Past written by Erin Stephens, followed by a review of Rediscovering History’s Great Jugglers, Volumes 1 and 2, written by Raphael Harris.
Great Female Jugglers Of The Past
Review by Erin Stephens
Looking back at my formative years as a young juggler, it was always notable that female juggling role models were few and far between. As I entered college, I become somewhat obsessed with finding female inspirations from the past and researching the history of women throughout the juggling world. How inspiring it would have been to come across this new book, Great Female Jugglers Of The Past by David Cain, at that time, and how lucky the juggling community is to now have this vast and encompassing resource.
Highlighting 27 performers from 10 countries, Great Female Jugglers Of The Past provides insights into the lives of some of the most talented jugglers of the 20th century. With over 200 photos, the book is a feast for the eyes for any who appreciate the historical element of juggling. The book is over 100 pages, and while at first that seems like it may be a long read, it quickly becomes evident that many of these pages are covered in stunning and unique photos of the jugglers being highlighted, and thus the pages just fly right by.
The book is comprised of biographies of the featured women – not biographies of their entire lives, but more to the point, and more importantly for the target reader, on the parts of their lives that involved juggling. While general details of their lives are often mentioned, the majority of the biographies focus specifically on their juggling careers.
Cain showcases the juggling lives of several of the well-known and admired lady jugglers of the 20th century, such as Trixie LaRue, Selma Braatz and Eva Vida, while throwing in many appreciated surprises of lesser known and more obscure jugglers. As someone who has done her best to extensively learn about the female jugglers of the past, I was pleased to come across several names I had never before heard of, such as Luly Perezoff, Maya Rubtzova, and The Mongadors, to name a few. Also, as an active member of the International Jugglers’ Association, it was nice to see some important female jugglers of the IJA’s history mentioned in the pages as well – both the first ever member of the IJA after its formation in 1947, as well as the first female president of the association.
One of my favorite moments of the read was when a Facebook friend of mine, who often leaves nice comments but whom I previously knew nothing about, suddenly appeared in the book. After reading about her impressive and extensive juggling career (which began at age 4), I went to her Facebook page with a whole new level of respect, only to find dozens of other fascinating photos from her 56 year career.
Through the creation of Great Female Jugglers Of The Past, David Cain has provided a valuable resource for the juggling community, and a powerfully inspirational book for female and male jugglers alike. It is projects like this that have the potential to inspire future generations of female jugglers with the mentality of, “If they can do it …. so can I.”
I highly recommend that you add this book to your juggling library. Books will be on sale in person at the IJA Festival, where I look forward to buying my own physical copy of this fabulous book. You can also order this book and David’s other books at a link at the end of this article.
Rediscovering History’s Great Jugglers – Volume 1 and Volume 2
Review by Raphael Harris
Painstaking – definition: showing great care and attention, attended by difficulties, arduous
Painstaking research – definition: Rediscovering History’s Great Jugglers, Volumes 1 and 2 by David Cain
The historian has two tasks: to find out the pertinent information, and to corroborate and verify it. How do you document minute details of a performance routine performed before film? It’s almost impossible. “Almost” being the operative word.
David Cain presents the history of juggling by presenting a chronology of important jugglers, their lives and accomplishments, what props they used, and what stunts they performed, with an emphasis on who invented or originated what trick, stunt, or gag if there’s comedy involved.
In order to do so, he had to sift through thousands of clips, advertisements, promotional materials, posters, articles, books, pamphlets, and stories. But how to distinguish between the facts and the fiction? The main challenge being that the fiction outnumbers the fact. Photos are retouched. Memories are blurred. Advertisements are exaggerated and inaccurate. Everyone and their cousin is referred to as “The Greatest Juggler Of All Time.”
First of all nothing is reported that isn’t stated empirically. Nothing about who’s better than whom, rather the exact number of objects involved and precise descriptions of what was done. Next, sifting through the information and retaining only credible sources. And in the vast majority of cases using at least two separate credible source materials, which often means tracking down eyewitnesses or descendants of the performers and conducting interviews.
Like a hunter stalking its prey, Cain relentlessly zooms in on a certain piece of information, rumor, or legend, chases it down, sinks his fangs into it, and will not let go until he has gotten to the truth.
In volume I he focuses on less well-known artists, those of great accomplishment, but who for some reason have been largely forgotten. Which leads to several important questions. Why have they been forgotten?
Why are some people or things iconic, famous, world-renowned, and others of equal or even greater value and accomplishment forgotten and ignored? Not only in juggling but in life in general? Why are certain lines of Shakespeare known by everybody, and other, better ones, totally unknown? And finally, isn’t it paradoxical to write a volume on ‘unknown jugglers?’ Now that you’re reading this they are not unknown anymore. How can you call them unknown, they’re known!
As I was saying, in Volume 1, David Cain dedicates each chapter to great jugglers that (forget about non-jugglers) even serious jugglers have likely never heard of, or heard of but know very little about. Some of them are freaking incredible. For example, this bloke called Bert Holt juggles four sticks, balances an Indian club on his forehead, spins a ring on his right ankle and balances an Indian club on his left foot, all at the same time. The thing is he’s also hanging by a mouth piece suspended in mid-air the whole time. Go back and read that again. Hello? He also juggles six large rings and spins a ring on each ankle while hanging by the same torture device. And there are unretouched photos, as well as eye-witness testimony to prove it. Besides the fact that he did it in public. And on Ed Sullivan. There is a whole chapter about him.
Another impossible juggler who has a chapter is Le Dent. Frank Le Dent, 1886-1948, from Philadelphia, PA. He did hat juggling and balance; and toss juggled five, seven, eight, and nine plates and juggled nine balls. He had a long and successful career, but at the peak of his youth, for a few years. he was performing 11 balls. Because this sounds so much like exaggeration, a goodly amount of the chapter is spent verifying this as fact, bringing the sources, and transforming it from the realm of rumor or myth to historical fact. This is the essence of what this book is about. If you’re interested in juggling, this is a piece of information that you will find fascinating, important, and will simply want to know about. He (Cain) also speculates on why it has been lost to history, and does the important work of bringing it to light.
Volume 1 highlights 14 jugglers on 111 pages. Volume 2 features 12 jugglers on 117 pages. These (Volume 2) are more widely known performers such as Alexander and Violetta Kiss (brother and sister), and Massimiliano Truzzi. Through the author’s research, new information and previously unpublished photos about them have been unearthed and are only now revealed.
Which begs another set of questions – Who is the most skilled juggler of all time, who is the most famous, and who is the most influential. Forget about “of all time” for now and let’s talk about just now, this moment in time.
Let’s say for the moment that the most skilled juggler today is Anthony Gatto, the most famous is Phillipe Petite, and the most influential are Michael Moshen and Jay Gilligan. Notice that the most famous is not the most skilled nor the most influential. Phillipe Petite is probably the only juggler that a non-juggler ever heard of.
“How many singers can you name” “About a thousand.”
“How many magicians can you name?” “At least two or three.”
“How many jugglers can you name?” “What’s a juggler?”
That’s why these books are important. Because if muggles don’t know anything about jugglers at least other jugglers should. 50 years ago, if you asked the average educated urbane Russian in Moscow or St. Petersburg to name a juggler, he would have said Alexander Kiss. He was part of the great Soviet tradition which included chess masters, ballerinas, cosmonauts, and athletes. Except the Kisses were not only the most famous but also the most skilled and influential. And they developed a school of juggling, as part of the Moscow Circus School, which is directly responsible for the development and appearance of great jugglers throughout Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe.
So they get a whole chapter with all kinds of fun and historically accurate information and pictures and stuff. And when you see Alexander Kiss on a rola bola juggling eight rings and balancing an 8 foot pole on his head and there’s a soccer ball on top of the pole, it’s not only inspiring and beautiful, and pushing the envelope of human capability – it’s historically important.
Because this moment or one like it is what makes someone say, “I’m going to give that guy a circus school,” or “I’m going to come back tomorrow and bring my friends,” or “I’m going to marry that guy,” or “I want to learn how to juggle,” or “Oh, that’s what a juggler is,” or “I got to write about that guy,” or “wow, I have momentarily forgotten my misery.”
And 11 other monster jugglers are covered in the book, including Truzzi. Truzzi is an interesting person. With 21 vintage photos, some never before published, we learn of his life, career, and accomplishments, including a detailed list of his performance stunts, and legacy. Truzzi was a torch bearer. He carried the torch of his teacher, Rastelli, into the next generation. Rastelli had worked for the Truzzi family circus and taught Truzzi all he knew. Truzzi mastered almost all of Rastelli’s tricks and performed them, and then later adapted and changed his act to reflect his own style. For example, when Truzzi did the statue balance (balancing a large number of balls and other objects on all parts of the body), one of the props he balanced on his head was a statue of a man doing a statue balance. He also added flashy costumes and comedy to his persona while doing a 9 ball cascade, head rolls, six plates and a head bounce, and numerous other listed stunts. He is inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame (which most people don’t know exists). He moved to the US and performed center ring for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and worked with Emmett Kelly.
After reading about all these great jugglers of the past, somewhere along the lines it dawns on you that at a certain point no one is ‘better’ than anyone else and that the juggling is a way of expressing oneself artistically like a painter. Da Vinci uses canvas and colors and so does Michelangelo. They are both great for being able to express beauty in their own unique way. But first you have to learn the skills, then express yourself. These books succeed in inspiring the reader to not only learn the history of others, but to improve his or her own super-human talents.
David Cain plans on continuing this series of compiled juggler biographies with more volumes, but he will be publishing three other juggling history books in the next year before starting on those. Each book reviewed in this article retails for $15.00 USD. You can order any or all of them by clicking here, or you can buy them from David Cain at the IJA Festival, where he will be offering them at a discounted price for those buying all three books. For international orders of the books, it’s recommended that you contact David Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org to save on shipping.