Dutch Juggler Michiel Hesseling… Still Going Strong!

As this is the inaugural of the latest publication of the International Jugglers’ Association, it’s a prime opportunity to revisit some of the great jugglers that have been featured in the past by the IJA.

The Dutch juggler Michiel Hesseling was featured approximately a quarter century ago in Juggler’s World (Vol. 39, No. 4 – Winter 1987). By that time he was 18 years old, just graduated from school and at the start of his career as a professional juggler. The last sentence of the article in Juggler’s World was: “I’m just looking around to see what’s going on and find out what I like.”

By searching the Internet I found a description of an announcement of an appearance of Michiel at a prestigious speakers convention. It stated: “At the age of 20, Michiel impressed the world with his legendary duo The Flying Dutchmen, showing his unique gift to juggle balls, like no one else on the planet could. He refused several offers to work together with Cirque du Soleil as he preferred not to travel as much as before. Today, he is fully connected to More Balls Than Most, using a metaphor to explain boring but important business issues.”

Right now Michiel is still one of the top professional jugglers in Europe. Roughly 25 years after the publication in Juggler’s World, I sat down with him in his home town of Amsterdam to find out how his juggling life has been treating him.

Could you please give the fellow IJA members an insight where juggling has taken you during the past quarter century?

Well – 25 years in a nutshell. First I performed for 2 years as a solo artist. I traveled mainly in Europe during the summer and I spent the wintertime in Florida and Hawaii.

In 1988 I met Jean-Michel Paré at the Busker festival in Halifax (Canada). We teamed up as “The Flying Dutchmen” and after I spent the winter in Circus School in Chalons sur Marne, I met with Michel again ,and we headed off to Japan, for our first gig together.

The first year that we performed together we won four 1st prizes at different festivals in Canada and Europe. These acknowledgements helped us to get more bookings during the following years. For the next 7 years we performed all over the world at a broad range of different venues and festivals. We won another seven 1st prizes at some quite prestigious festivals and competitions. Having said that, I must add that I am not a big fan of competitions anyhow. Although it looks good on a performer’s resume, it simply always creates stress among the entertainers.

After the year of 1996 Jean-Michel and I started to perform less and less together. Jean-Michel moved back to Canada and married the love of his life. I did a bit of freewheeling for a couple of years. I traveled a lot for fun, and I hung out with a group of people in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. We juggled, played Hacky-Sack, threw Frisbees, went roller skating and such. To me it was a well-needed break after 7 years of intense traveling and performing, during which I also did the management and promotion for our show, The Flying Dutchmen.

Now that I stayed mostly in Amsterdam, I started to work for the Dutch company “More Balls Than Most”. I had done a few shows for them over the years, but now I started to perform for them on a regular basis. More Balls specializes in shows and trainings for the corporate world in the Netherlands and abroad. The theme of their shows is “The Art of Letting Go” since juggling is a great metaphor for many aspects of business and life. It is a great show to perform in. Each performance is customized – to a certain degree. More Balls Than Most only asks the best jugglers for their shows. Five years ago I got married to one of them, Maike Aerden. Maike already had a child and couldn’t travel much anymore. I had also set my goals to work mainly in Holland. We now have two children together and we only perform in other countries a dozen times each year and usually just for one or two days.

When it comes to juggling, I haven’t really practiced that much in the last 20 years. But occasionally still enjoy a good juggling session. Also – I still work with The Flying Dutchmen a couple times a year. For this I have to keep up my seven balls pattern and a technical 5-ball juggling routine with large stage balls.

Could you please tell us a bit about your show of The Flying Dutchmen?

This show was a lot of fun to do. Jean-Michel and I were good friends and we still are. I think this shows on stage. We really have fun together; also we were always very relaxed on stage. We are very different people, which made for a great White Face and August clown on stage. The differences in our characters create small conflicts on stage. These conflicts were the basis for the interesting and fun routines in our show. The audiences seemed to like it, and we were fortunate that the show allowed us to see a large part of the world, and make a good living at the same time.

We could perform the show in 7 different languages, which made it always exciting – Remembering all your lines and try to add new ones all the time. In some languages we were fluent or quite fluent. In others, it was harder to improvise verbally, but that challenges us more to improvise in other ways.

Right now you perform a lot of corporate shows for More Balls Than Most. Could you please tell us about the current shows that you are performing?
Current show: http://www.moreballs.com/our offer.aspx?name=juggling/juggling-show.aspx#

When you visit the website and watch the promotional video you can see that we perform for companies and all sorts of organizations.  We are always a surprise act since at the event we don’t get introduced as a show, but instead as a “boring” keynote speaker. After the first couple of minutes into the show our presentation starts to turn into a very entertaining show that contains a lot of the content of the organization intertwined into our routines.

Before taking on a show we always do a briefing and write a unique script for each and every client. It is important to us to make sure that the audience really recognizes themselves in our patter.

More Balls Than Most has been around for nearly 20 years and creates a fulltime living for 7 jugglers and also several other performers. My wife, Maike Aerden, works for them and so does my brother, Wouter Hesseling (www.superwoody.com).

What are your dreams for the future?
On a professional level: Stay healthy, hopefully be able to perform until I am old enough to quit, and keep enjoying what I do.

Obviously you have a lot of experience as a full-time juggler. Would you have any tips or advice for the current generation of 18-year old juggler that are thinking of turning professional?

Juggling is a very exciting profession. It is usually a lot of fun, so enjoy it while you can. At the same time, juggling isn’t an easy profession; so as a professional juggler really dedicate yourself to it.

Also, do things that I never did, for example; take courses on acting/clowning/performing. I felt the importance of it and often wanted to do this, but was usually too busy working. Or I was busy traveling. Or just didn’t feel like it. Or…

On a financial level, please put money aside when you are young. That is when you make good money without having to spend so much yet – when not having to support a family etcetera.  Cyrus P. Koski III gave me this advice when I was a 15 year old groupie, carrying his stuff from the pitch in Amsterdam to his hotel, while he was performing with Birdie Mcclain as the Dueling Bozos.

I never forgot Cyrus’ advice. I didn’t always follow it, but I advise you to remember it and follow it!

Niels first thought of becoming a successful international performer when he was 12 years old. Turning that dream into a reality, he has gone on to capture the imagination of audiences around the world at festivals, theaters, and corporate events.

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