The IJA 70th Festival, 2017, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Cedar Rapids is a pleasant little town in Iowa with a convention center and a river. The weather was friendly and the jugglers experienced little or no hostility from the natives. The town is centrally located on the US map, three hours by car from Chicago, four hours from Omaha, Kansas City, and St. Louis, so yes, far from anything and very far from anything else. And yet for one week 650 jugglers found themselves in juggler’s heaven, cut off from the cold cruel world, far from the harsh realities of a world on the brink of prosaic mediocrity. Here were the artists, here were the like-minded, here were the quirky, here were the accepting and encouraging, here were the smiling friends and their families. The convention is no longer about the professionals and their mentors. Its now all about the kids. The sweet children and the super-human teens. The games, competitions, shows, and events were all about a youthful blossoming element that appeared in force and took us by surprise. We are happy, we are sustainable.

There were four shows in the Paramount theater (Welcome Show, Juniors, Individuals/Teams, and Cascade of Stars), four shows in the conventions center (History, Jay Gilligan and Erik Åberg, Flow, and Peter Davison), three free shows (Women’s, Buskers, and Library) and two Renegade shows. Plus all the usual activities and more- games, numbers competitions, individual prop competitions, extreme juggling, joggling, a water skiing while juggling event, and a knock-out schedule of free workshops including those by Jay Gilligan, Peter Davison, and festival director Dan Holzman. The success of the conventions was largely due to Dan’s understanding of the ‘big picture’ and at the same time his attention to detail. Juggling is about the people and he made sure that the right people were there including the public show headliners, the captivating Gena Shvartsman Cristiani and the astonishing Paul Ponce with his family act. Dan’s years as a top act (Raspyni Brothers with Barry Friedman), his high skill level (multiple IJA Gold Medals) and his organizational skills were all put to good use. Even the smallest details were not overlooked, such as making sure the festival t-shirt had glow-in-the-dark letters only on the back (and not on the front) so as not to distract the performers on stage.

-Day 1-

“I am a singer of songs. I also juggle” -Tony Curtis in “Spartacus”(1960)

Tuesday July 11th

Opening Welcome Show

“The Danger Zone”

“The Danger Zone” was a unique one-time-only show combining the talents of “The Danger Committee” and “The Passing Zone.”

The Danger Committee consists of Mick Lunzer, Caleb McEwen, and Jason LeMay. They perform all over the country at corporate events and festivals. They also perform their own 90 minute shows in theaters. They recently performed for the National Restaurant Association in Chicago. You can find them in downtown Minneapolis at the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater performing their original unique holiday show, “A Stocking Full of Awesome.”

They opened the night’s festivities by doing excerpts from their comedy, juggling, and knife-throwing act. The three of them start with club passing, a feed, and exchanges. Renaldo (Caleb) insults Mick and Jason and says, “Watch how these two demonstrate skills which proves that they have never kissed a girl.”

They introduce the Passing Zone, and return later with their knife throwing routine. Jay (Jason) inflates a rubber glove on his head with his nose. Renaldo throws an ax and pops the glove. They had performed this trick on America’s Got Talent in 2011. Next Renaldo throws knives at the target board and Jay interrupts and catches it bear-handed.

The Passing Zone (Owen Morse and Jon Wee) enter and all six performers together do a spectacular trick in which the Danger Zone guys pass electric buzzing stun-guns around Tuey Wilson while he balances on a free-standing ladder with jumper cables attached to Jon Wee who is standing on Owen’s shoulders holding the sword of He-Man (a cartoon character). If the stun-guns hit the ladder, or Tuey falls, the Passing Zone will get zapped with 50,000 volts and fry on stage!

The Passing Zone then did an extended routine involving cigar boxes, tossed and balanced, and then a routine which millions of people saw them perform on America’s Got Talent last year, which saw them through to the final round. They choose an audience member and have him rest supine on a yoga mat. The less-than-willing poor sucker watches with horror as Owen Morse prepares three objects of danger to juggle over his head- a flaming plunger, a set of rat-traps on a stick, and an electric zap gun. Owen juggles them in a cascade and Jon Wee leap-frogs over his shoulders, grabs the weapons in mid-air and lands inches away from the terrified volunteer, still juggling. He lands and stops to thunderous applauds. Next they do the ‘chainsaw ballet’ in which they toss 3 loud, smelly, fully-functioning chainsaws to each other while wearing tutus and ballet slippers. They toss and dance to the music of Strauss. The contrast between the delicate ballet (or this, its evil twin) and the unrefined chainsaws is satisfyingly humorous.

In the complex and outrageous finale, Jon is swinging on a giant pendulum, upside down, juggling three balls. There is a female volunteer who is also swinging right next to Jon and telling blindfolded Owen where to toss the knives. The knives are meant to hit a balloon target with a trigger which releases the pie throwing mechanism which will toss a pie into Matt Hall’s face, if nothing goes wrong. Meanwhile Jon, still upside-down swinging and juggling 3 balls tells Owen when to throw the knives so as to avoid hitting him and the girl. At the same time the Danger Committee are throwing knives at Tuey Wilson wearing a target and situated on the opposite side so that the knives pass Owen who is throwing the knives at the balloon/pie trigger. Renaldo is also throwing knives at Matt, and Mick and Jay are also passing six flaming torches around Owen. After a couple of near misses Owen’s knife finally hits its mark and Matt gets the pie to a resounding set of gasps and laughter from the crowd. Crazy!

The Passing Zone truly represent the best the IJA have to offer. They have taken their star-quality look and skills and brought it to all major venues that are available from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to the Miss America Pageant. In 1995 they did a command performance for Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. They appeared in The Adams Family Movie (1991) and hold 4 Guinness World Records. Now that Leno is off the Tonight Show (Leno was not a fan of jugglers) they plan on performing on that show in the near-future.

Owen lives in Tustin, CA with his wife, two daughters, and two cats. He plays rock and roll bass guitar, loves the Beatles and YES, and is a hang-glider pilot. He has attended almost every IJA convention since 1984. The Passing Zone won gold medals in teams in 1989 in Baltimore, and silver in 1988. Jon and Owen met in 1986 and teamed up in 1988 and have been full-time professional jugglers ever since. Owen enjoyed teaming up with the Danger Committee for this show and says that creating the finale piece was ‘epic.’

Jon Wee lives in Hermosa Beach, CA with wife, 17-year-old son Xander, and 15-year-old daughter Linnea, and two dogs. He plays ukulele, surfs, motorcycles.

Together with the Danger Committee, this show was truly a one-time-only experience, highly anticipated and kicked off the week with a bang.

Juggling History Show

David Cain and Erik Åberg (pronounced O-berry) organized and performed in this unique show. It began by David and Erik demonstrating tricks that had been performed as early as 1829, with a photograph and the name of the originator of each trick projected on a screen. Erik balanced a cue stick with 2 billiard balls on top which had been performed by Cinquevalli. David balanced a tree-like contraption on his head and shot darts with his mouth at perching paper birds. After David and Erik performed these and a number of other remarkable tricks they called up several guest performers. Chuck Clark recreated the Salerno Ring trick in which a hoop with a track is attached to a staff which is balanced on the head and a ball is tossed into the hoop. The ball goes circling around and around in the hoop. Dan Holzman did a quirky trick where he juggled a head of cabbage, an ax and a dart gun in a cascade. He threw the cabbage high, shot the dart at it and caught it (the cabbage) on the sharp end of the ax. Next up Mark Faje attempted to recreate the famous routine of the legendary Bobby May who was able to throw a cigarette behind his back, catch it in his mouth, then throw a lit match behind his back, catch it in his mouth and manage to light the cigarette with the match, extinguish the match and puff the cigarette without using his hands (other than the initial throw). Unfortunately Faje failed many attempts. The presenters smoothed it over by presenting several rare video clips that they had unearth after years of research and investigation including one of Trixie at age 15 doing one of her impossibly awesome routines. Overall it was a fascinating and entertaining show and the audience response reflected as much.

David Cain is the author of 7 books on juggling history, with more in the works. He is also a singer/songwriter and musician. He has won 15 IJA Gold medals in championships and numbers competitions, and is a Guinness record holder. He and his children live in Middletown, OH where the Museum of Juggling History has its permanent location in his home. He has performed as opening act for The Grateful Dead, and Ray Charles. He has a son Ethan and daughter Isabel who both juggle and perform. David has future TV appearances lined-up and is expanding the Museum. He is also planning on developing the History Show after its well-received debut at this convention.

The Museum of Juggling History

While the gym may have been chock full of kids and teens, the jugglers, young and old, were pleased with the opportunity to pay homage to jugglers of the past, both at the history show (see above) and at the Juggling Museum which is owned, created, and curated by David Cain. David and his brother Scott, packed up and brought almost the entire contents of the museum, by truck, to the convention and set it up inside the ball-room as a complete surprise. Actually it took months of planning and had been announced many times, but it was still a surprise that they were able to do it. So everyone went around admiring, lifting, and ogling props that had once belonged to, and had been used in performance by Bobby May, Alexander Kiss, Trixie, Francis Brunn, Kara, and a host of others. There were a number of entirely unique items such as Salerno’s lighted club from 1909, Frank LeDent’s color-changing torch, and another color-changing torch from Selma Braatz. Also on display was Rastelli’s autograph. Some rare items, such as clubs built by Harry Lind were for sale. Scott Cain recently authored the book, “Trixie-Child Prodigy, Skating Star, and Juggling Icon.” He is assistant curator/researcher for the museum. He medaled in the IJA teams competition with his brother David as ‘Raising Cain’ in 1998 and 2001 and he previously won five gold medals in the numbers competition. He and his wife and daughter, Elizabeth, who juggles, live in Cincinnati, OH. Scott toured with Circus Kingdom and appeared with David on The Today Show, in a competition that they won.

-Day 2-

“I came in second place, singing in a talent contest. First place went to a couple of guys juggling milk bottles.” – Marilyn Monroe in “Bus Stop” (1956).

Wednesday, July 12th.

Juniors Competition

Gold- Bennett Santora

Silver- Christopher Haaser

Bronze- Houston Odum

Ethan Brain

Daniel Van Hoomissen

Ethan Brain (age 16) is from Apex, NC. He has a brother, sister, dog and tabby cat. He begins his routine with a sad face doing a 531 with 3 balls. On the verge of tears he does windmill and mills mess. The pace switches to joy as the music changes. He does three 3-up 360s to continuous 360s. With 4 balls he does continuous four up 360s in sync and an async four up 360. With rings he does 2 four ring 4 up 360s. With 5 he does a 3up 360, and (5x,4)*. Back to balls where he does up to 8 balls including 7 ball cascade from standing to kneeling and a multiplex stack. With 8 an a sync flash. The music tempo changes to even more upbeat as he picks up 3 clubs, including a 3-up 360, triple spins, chin rolls, double spin fountain, and finish. Brain’s routine was strong but a few too many drops kept him from winning a medal. As a home-schooled person he is very interested in architecture and wants to be an architect. He plays cello and performs in the top orchestra in Raleigh, NC

Bennett Santora (age 13, gold medal winner) is from Manhattan, New York. He won a bronze medal in the Juniors Competition last year in El Paso, TX. Bennett’s technique has much improved since last year. He begins by playing trumpet. The trumpet doesn’t work and he blows hard and a ball pops out. He juggles three balls using the trumpet as a cup toss. Next, his three ball routine includes body throws, back-crosses, kick ups, and factory patterns. With four: back-crosses, multiplex back-crosses, and shower. He kicks one up into a five ball cascade: half-reverse, body throws, and a back-cross. Also: one-up four-up multiplex, splits, Gatto’s multiplex, (6x,4)*, a two ball kick up, and finally a five ball kick up to a 5 ball cascade. With clubs he goes from a backwards kick up to flats, back spins, half spins, single, double and triple spins. A 180 turn into doubles with claw throws and catches. A 441 in doubles with the 1 being an around-the-back hand-off. Next, kick up one to a four club fountain and claw finish. Three and four rings including a contortion of body through the ring while juggling three. Kick-up to five and a pull-down to a bounce and behind the back catch. Bennett’s routine was a powerful combination of good technique and charming persona. Later in the week he did well at joggling, winning several medals including gold in the 7-ball 100 meter dash, in which there were 3 participants. Bennett plays trumpet, video games, and doesn’t start his practice regimen until all his homework is finished.

The presenter of the competitors was Tuey Wilson. Tuey punched up the introductions by doing his signature stunts. Tuey has been a full-time professional performer for over 30 years. He won a bronze medal in the seniors in 1991 ending with a Brunn-like combination trick. He did ball on mouth-stick work and then the kick up to ball on ball spinning (two ball stack) while on a slack rope. The next trick was rope spinning with the right hand around the body, while juggling two balls in the left hand, all while on a pogo-stick which had a hobby-horse head on top. After the competitors had all finished and while the judges were tallying their scores he did his body movement-oriented shaker cup routine. Next he did a version of the classic balloon pop on mouth stick routine, with the balloon popped by his daughter Emily using a blow-gun. Finally the 12-part combo trick, juggling two rings with his left hand, spinning two rings on his right arm, spinning two rings on his right leg, spinning a ball on his right index finger, a ball spinning on a mouth-stick, a ball spinning on a portable paper roll dispenser, while playing a kazoo and tooting a party blow-out. Tuey lives in Faribault, MN, with his wife and three children and two dogs. Of all his variety of performance venues his favorite are those at the IJA convention. He recommends to younger jugglers to ‘move every part of your body every day in order to stay fit and viable for a longer and better life, and even more so if you’re older.’

Christopher Haaser (age 16, Silver medal winner) is from Huntsville, Utah. He is trained by Richard Kennison. He had a strong routine which featured siteswaps with up to 7 balls.

Houston Odum (age 17, Bronze medal winner) is from Greensboro, NC. This was his first time competing and his second festival after 2012 in Windston-Salem, NC. He begins entering the stage after having survived a plane crash. He finds and juggles three coconuts (props). One hits him in the head. He wakes in a dream with new clothes and attitude. In the dream he juggles fast-paced with shiny reflective props. Low triples with 3 and 4 clubs. Next, 3 club chops under the arm with double spins. No body rolls or diabolo, just fast precise toss juggling. A natural performer, he is clearly enjoying himself on stage. With five clubs he cascades in low spins in doubles. Back to, three with low doubles down to the knees, and the last double ends on the music. His super-fast low spin throws are quite exciting to watch. Houston occasionally performs state wide in festivals, museums, and events. He was a guest performer for Circus Stella for two shows in North Carolina. He enjoys all things circus and practices and performs Cyr wheel.

“Object Episodes” by Jay Gilligan and Erik Åberg

Jay Gilligan won the Juniors gold in 1993, the Teams gold in 1994 in Burlington as Crash and Burn with David Cain, and silver in the Individuals in Las Vegas.

Object Episodes combines new routines and routines that he has been performing with Erik Åberg all over Sweden and Europe.

The show was a continuous stream of new and innovative tricks and stunts. There is probably not one single trick that the vast majority of audience members have ever seen before. Even the props are almost all non-traditional. They begin with Erik manipulating a crystal ball on his head, then Jay does a ‘cup heads’ routine, ball and special clubs with cups on the large end with numerous unique variations catching and throwing the balls with the cups. Next magnet clubs with Jay, then Erik doing head rolls with 3 balls. Jay balances a glass of water with three pencils on his head. Next Erik swings glasses of water then two and three glasses inside a billiards triangle. Next the ping pong ball and hair dryers routine. Then the Kara box routine with a ball rolling down ramps on multiple Kara boxes. Jay then does ring juggling with many variations and multiplex throws with up to eight rings. Erik spins and balances a wine glass in a new routine. They then take an electric screwdriver tool and use it to spin toy tops which are placed on false hands in multiple variations and up to six hands. Balls connected by strings are next as the balls braid the strings and are kept from tangling by passing between Jay and Erik. Next a great routine with Newton’s cradles. The ball is tossed, released, and allowed to bang the next ball on the Newton’s cradle, which releases the energy sufficient to knock the last ball in line out of the cradle and up to the juggler’s hand. Every imaginable pattern is explored and a few that are quite unimaginable. The next stunt was juggling balls covered with knitting yarn which unravels and floats piece by piece down to the stage as the balls shrink and shrink. Jay is always thinking outside the box and coming up with new concepts and patterns, and going through the trouble of learning and perfecting them, and going yet one step deeper with them.

Jay is planning a new show for 2018. In it he will work with Eric Longequel from France. The show is called, “How to Welcome Aliens” and is about juggling aliens [I don’t know what that means]. They will perform it around France first, then other locations in Europe. Jay lives with his wife and 2-year-old son Sindri in Stockholm, Sweden. Jay doesn’t speak Swedish.

Erik Aberg lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife and daughter Ilsa, and cat Tibo. He has created many of his own original shows and projects. He ran a variety show in Stockholm for ten years which appeared in the Orion Theatre. At the same time he was performing in festivals and working with a Finnish group call Circo Aereo in Finland and France, mainly in Paris. He has researched and mastered all variations of head-rolls. He has discovered that Rastelli invented the head-rolls with inflated rubber balls, and later soccer balls. Bobby May then adapted it and used small rubber balls. After that he applied the same research methods to rings and clubs. He is currently researching, not a juggling technique but rather an object, specifically a wooden sculpture he calls, “ghost cube.” In the near future he will tour Scandinavia with Jay Gilligan in a show called, “BLICK.”

-Day 3-

“You never stopped to see the frowns on the jugglers and clowns when they all did tricks for you.” -Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965)

Thursday, July 13th

Championships Competition Night


Gold-Hayato Watanabe

Silver-Shinya (Ya Ya) Yamane

Bronze-Delaney Bayles

Zak McAllister

Eric Jackson

Erin Stephens

Kentaro Tsuchiya

Yi-Chieh Liao


Gold-CAPT-New Style Crew

Silver-CAPT-Yu Cheng and Chin Yao

Bronze-Duo Octo

The Jugheads

Double McJuggle



Zak McAllister (age 19) performed in the youth showcase in 2014 in Purdue, IN, and in the welcome show in 2016 in El Paso,TX. He live in Temple, TX and is starting the Circadium circus school in Philadelphia in September. He begins his routine with one ball and makes music by slapping and tossing it. With two balls and two rings he tosses the balls through the rings in various patterns. He next juggles five to seven balls. With five he juggles all five behind the back blind (pinball style) for a super long run and also catches and tosses with his feet. With six he turns in a circle while doing a half shower. He kicks up into 7 and does a qualifying run in cascade. The juggling is precisely timed to the music which also includes sound effects perfectly choreographed. Zak performs regularly on the streets of his home town, or nearby Austin, and at local restaurants. He has over 100 videos up on YouTube, including one with 40,000 hits. Zak’s routine was pure art, the perfect combination of likable persona, costume, music, and superior technical skill. Zak was many people’s choice for the gold medal including myself.

Many felt that Zak’s not receiving any medal at all was ridiculous and a clear indication that the medal system is flawed or outdated. Zak won the People’s Choice award, largely as a protest by voters to this effect.

Hayato Watanabe won the gold medal this year, with a solid diabolo act. See for yourself:

Another excellent routine was presented by Erin Stephens. Erin is from Murphys, CA. After organizing 17 IJA competitions in 9 countries around the world she finally decided to compete herself. Her routine is called “Kicking It” and she developed it for two years together with Steven Ragatz and Yuriy Pozdnyakov. She begins her routine with a bench on stage and five pink balls. The theme of the routine begins with a hip-hop style hat with the word “Love” on it, and continues with her juggling on the bench, sitting and laying down with tricks involving her feet, and legs. She does foot-stalls on the stop and bottoms of her feet and intertwined it with sections of choreographed hip-hop dance. She also does overhead and in front of the face while laying down throws and catches. With four balls while laying down she does a stall on the bottom of her foot while continuing to do a three ball cascade and then performs a 633 pattern alternating foot stalls on the 6. She presents a character that connects with the audience and has a strong and modern edgy attitude. The concept of the routine came into being two years ago while she had just finished practicing for two straight hours, had a sore back, and rested lying supine on her piano bench and discovered a whole new realm of juggling possibilities. Erin founded the IRC (IJA Regional Competitions) in 2011.

Eric Jackson (27) is from Fayetteville, Arkansas. This was his first time competing. He occasionally performs at festivals and bar-gigs and performed last year at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. He begins rolling and balancing a single club and continues with two and three with rolls, taps, throws, and traps. The tempo of the original music composed by his brother Jonathan changes, and he continues with four club columns with singles on the inside and flats on the outside. Next outside throws (butterflies), a multiplex arm pop, ending with a run of flats. The chair, and a well-deserved rest beckons, but the bunch of clubs is more tempting. He picks up and flashes five. A roll out from a collect to an under arm catch, spin, then several interesting multiplex split tricks and a Martin. Doubles and singles in a cascade for twenty throws. With six he flashes with double spins. He faces the opposite direction and flashes with triples. Turns again and does a flash of multiplex stack. Facing the audience he does a half-shower for ten throws as a finish. Eric wants to live an artistic life-style and work full time in the plastic and performing arts. He sculpts, crafts, welds, and molds. Eric thinks of his performance, less as a competition entry, but rather as a gift to the community to enjoy and take home without conditions.

Eric’s character for this performance was interesting and different. He seems to be some kind of psycho teen socio-path and/or hard-drug addict. While Eric is a serious athlete and would never touch that stuff, he finds the ‘dark path’ fascinating, though tragic, and wonders what someone like that would do if able to express himself through toss juggling. He managed to capture the teen angst and world-is-coming-to-an-end mood so prevalent in society today, yet use it to entertain in a thought-provoking way. His powerful toss juggling skills and unconventional presentation was rewarded with no medal. Crazy!

Kentaro Tsuchiya did a strong routine with toss and foot juggling and up to seven balls.

The Silver medal went to Shinya Yamane Ya Ya. Shinya had a well-developed character, and all his tricks fit properly and were consistent. The problem was that there was almost no juggling in his routine at all. He used 3 cigar boxes and finished with some difficult tricks but did almost nothing that could be considered juggling by any stretch of the imagination for the first five minutes.

Delaney Bayles won the Juniors gold in Quebec City in 2015. Delaney is much improved since then and her routine was highly anticipated by everyone. She was seen training in the gym with her coach Richard Kennison, hitting all her tricks one after another no problem, including her sensational 5 clubs one and a half pirouette straight into overhead throws. She had it solid. But when she got on stage she had a slight case of nerves and was unfortunately unable to hit it on stage. But she was dynamite with 3-club combinations (continuous alberts, treblas, backcrosses, and underarm throws) and also nailed 10 five club back-crosses solid. Delaney took home the Bronze and I certainly hope to see her compete again.


Gold-CAPT-New Style Crew

Silver-CAPT-Yu Cheng and Chin Yao

Bronze-Duo Octo

The Jugheads

Double McJuggle


Peter Irish and Jorden Moir were Duo Octo. Peter and Jorden live in Boulder CO, and Hamilton Onterio, Canada, respectively, so they only had three weeks to develop this routine. They begin with passing balls with their feet. They pass and juggle balls with their hands and feet at the same time and almost never juggle exclusively with their hands. If they are juggling with their hands they are at the same time doing a shower with two or even a cascade with three with their feet, or even passing three balls back and forth with their feet. They are the first team in juggling history to pass six ball back and forth to each other with their feet. They pass in a two-count. This was the first time they have ever performed this on stage. Peter and Jorden plan to continue to develop this routine while they are also professional solo artists. They took the bronze.

Jacob Cowan (age 18 from Plymouth, Minnesota) and Liam Thompson (age 19 from Edina, Minnesota) perform together as part of the 12 member group The Jugheads (from the Twin Cities, Minnesota). The Jugheads begin with 12 notes played, at each note a member enters the stage holding three clubs. Each one does a three club shower while turning around and around in place. A high throw and behind the back catch and stop. To their music they use precise choreography to create an unusual combination of movement of props and people. They break up into small groups. Two people pass a six club four count, and a third stands in the middle doing hand-offs but each hand-off is rolled up his elbow, over his head, over his other elbow before being handed off. All twelve return (10 men, 2 women, all age 16 to 19) to the middle and form a square, face each other and pass, each man to his partner, all 36 clubs whizzing past each other with precise timing. The finale trick, two rotated drop-back lines of 6 each, stand parallel to each other and pass 36 clubs.

The competitors are part of the entire Jughead Company which consists of about a hundred 2nd-12th grade students that practice year-round and perform once a year at the Hopkins Highschool Auditorium “Juggle Jam” show at the end of the year. One of the women, Miranda Miller, also performed in the youth showcase with her excellent ball routine which was similar to Joey Cousin’s style, with siteswaps and hand-offs around the legs and back.

Cassie McKenney (31) and McKenzey Simper (26) have been performing as Double McJuggle since November, but have each worked solo for the last five years. They are from Portland, Oregon. They begin sitting on stage back-to-back in matching purple overalls. There are 16 hoops around them and they begin with hoop manipulation and rolling and segue into tossing and passing. With three hoops they pass with tomahawk throws, penguin catches, and multiplex throws. They work up to six hoops, first in synchronized solo work with a wall plane shower and down the back three hoop Bramson rolls. They do a 6 hoop passing sequence with 3 hoop 180s that goes directly into rotating ultimates and 2-count passing. They end with a 5 hoop cascade pass-off and an 8 hoop 2 count.

Cassie teaches circus skills in schools (kindergarten through 8th) and is a personal trainer and occasional performer at conventions and corporate events.

McKenzey teaches hoop juggling and manipulation throughout the United States and has taught and performed in Canada and Mexico. They met in California at MOPS ( Marvin Ong’s Prop Shop Festival) in 2012. They are trying (and succeeding) to combine balance, juggling, and manipulation. They had the audience on their side from the get go and never let up with their atypical act.

Reid Belstock and Warren Hammond together make up Smirk. They have been performing together as a team since 2008. They won silver medals in 2009 in Winston-Salem, NC; and in 2011 in Rochester, MN. They begin with their signature three club piece, a fast-paced comedic routine focusing on interceptions and slapstick. Next a piece they call “things we can’t do yet,” a mix of 4 and 6 clubs tricks, with interceptions and combos together with comedy/slapstick. With 6 clubs in a 2-count Warren starts with shoulder throws, treblas, into ultimate (1-count) tomahawks. Next, a new routine they call the Sinc, with a left arm throw, thrown over the opposite arm, plus two stutters leads into ultimate shoulder throws. They finish with a ten club flash. Smirk is based in Colorado, where they perform full-time, mostly at performing arts centers and corporate entertainment. Reid performed in 2000 in Japan for a year with Tokyo Disney Resort. Warren worked with Laser Vaudeville in 2009. Reid lives with his wife and tabby cat in Denver. Warren lives with his wife in Boulder.

CAPT ( Cultural Arts Performing Taipei) are from Taiwan. They are seven men ages 20 to 24. They split into two separate competing teams, one of 5 men and one of 2 men. They do individual and passing. At one point, the five man team do a stunt where a single long string is stretched across the stage and they use their hand sticks to bounce the diabolos off the string and back to each other. The two man team works with up to six diabolos at once passing and maintaining a variety of patterns with no stops or stalls. They then pass six in a half-reverse pattern. They study at the University at Taipei and perform at corporate events. The two-man team ended with one of the guys doing four in a shuffle. They won the silver and the five man team won the gold. Their routines also included numerous acrobatic stunts. Originally the diabolo act in the Chinese circus troops was a group of women each working with one whistling bamboo diabolo. They would simultaneously toss it high, do an acrobatic stunt, and then catch it on the string. The acrobatics was the strength of the act. Seeing the five man CAPT team return to the diabolo’s acrobatic roots was impressive. They also did an acrobatic diabolo act on the renegade stage.

Overall the championships night was an excellent display of skill, artistry, and variety. There was comedy, pathos, technical skill, persona, and surprises. Mostly pleasant ones.

“Flow, Glow, and Diabolo Show” presented by Kevin Axtell

The flow arts – which are increasingly popular and consist of non-toss juggling related skills, such as hoop work, contact juggling, staff manipulation, poi, diabolo, flower stick, and other stuff – were showcased in this counter culture presentation. Kevin explained why the farmer and the cowboy should be friends (flow artist and toss juggler) and MCd the 50 minute show. Percolator (aka Emily Jane) did manipulation/dance with one to six hoops. Jack Kalvan, IJA Bronze medal winner, formerly of Clockwork (together with Rick Rubenstein) did a routine with glo-balls. He juggled three balls while the patterns were projected in psychedelic colors on a screen behind him. Jeremiah Johnston played with poi, and Kevin Axtell did glo-diabolo. I enjoyed it.

-Day 4-

“I started out as a juggler, so I know what it means to spend 8 hours a day, 7 days a week practicing something that people just dismiss with the wave of a hand.”-Penn Jillette

Friday, July 14th

“Movings” by Peter Davison

Peter Davison attended his first IJA festival in 1978. He competed that year and received a third place award in the ball juggling competition. In 1982 he won a gold medal in the Seniors competition. He also won the team gold as “Airjazz” with Kezia Tenenbaum and Jon Held. Airjazz became a professional touring show and performed full-time for over 10 years in theaters, performing arts centers, college campuses, and international TV shows including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Paul Daniels Show in England, and others in Japan, Chile, France, and Holland.

He begins his one-man show, which uses non-traditional props and ordinary objects, with a table and chair. He sits but the objects continually tip and threaten to tip over in a comical but completely controlled fashion. The piece ends with him landing on the chair, falling asleep, and going into a surrealistic dream sequence about weightlessness.

Next he brings a newspaper, wine bottle, and orange to the table. Sometimes things are tossed and sometimes they are spun, balanced or rolled.

Next with actual bicycle tires, he rolls them using 1, 2, 3, and 5. He also does a bicycle tire and an umbrella. They roll across the floor, and 5 are rolled on the floor in a cascade pattern. The tires have a personality of their own, and with dance and body movement he develops a relationship to each one. They roll off and the sound of rain and storm finds him alone with the umbrella and he fights the wind and rain through mime and dance.

The rain has made the flowers grow and his potted flower is placed on a box. The box has another box inside and another and another and the stack grows six stories high. The flower is still on top and the boxes have to be carefully balanced or the flower will perish. He just manages to keep it all safely steady when his pants fall down. Finally the boxes come crashing down but he catches the flower and saves it.

His iconic 3-ball juggling routine is next, that he has done for many years and is inspired in style by Bobby May.

Another box but full of hats. Three hats, three styles, three characters. He does tricks with the hats but the real point of the piece is to become the person that the hat represents, first a bowlegged cowboy hat, next a suave fedora, and last the nervous bowler. He changes hats with a Kris Kremo pattern and becomes the character for shorter and shorter amounts of time.

With an authentic WWI helmet and coat he finds a long lost love letter. He dances and manipulates the letter. The letter dissolves into dust and is blown to the wind.

He tries to clean up the dust of the letter with a large plastic translucent white trash bag. With three such bags he juggles them like scarves. They begin to take on the shape and manner of floating ghosts and he grabs, catches, and slaps them making a musical percussion series of sounds and rhythms.

Finally he inflates and seals them one at a time and he juggles them in a variety of patterns ending with four at once. He deflates and tosses them in their proper receptacle, lights out, thunderous applause.

Peter is originally from Santa Monica, CA. He has been living in Boulder, Colorado since 1980. His daughter Claire lives in New York and is a dancer with the world-class ABT(American Ballet Theatre). His son Alex, danced with Miami City Ballet and is now studying to be a sommelier (wine expert) in Boulder. Peter also gave a series of three workshops which were well-attended. Together with his one-man show, “Movings” he opened up the minds and hearts of the participants and spectators as to what the limits of juggling can be, i.e.-no limit.

“Women In Juggling”

Cindy Marvell and Connie Paprika Leaverton present film and women juggling.

Cindy Marvell won the IJA Gold in Seniors in 1989 in Baltimore. She performed as a cast member of the successful touring show Laser Vaudeville from 1994 to 2011. She recently was a featured performer in the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Cindy entered the stage with twirling flags and then did 3, 4, and 5 balls. With 5 she did bouncing and in the air. With 3 clubs she combined dance elements and original variations on mills mess and balances and backcrosses. With four clubs she did fountain, splits, triple singles with a back-cross and a kick-up into four and a 180. Cindy was the first ever women to win the IJA Gold medal and has been an inspiration and help to all jugglers ever since. She also won 5 ball endurance and 5 club endurance at festival games many times. In Boulder, CO she organizes the regional festivals and teaches circus skills. The next part of the program consisted of showing an excerpt from the 2006 film, “Trailblazers” which Cindy and Paprika together produced. The hour 45 minute film showcases women jugglers, current and past, such as Gena Shvartzman, Lana Bolin, Erin Stevens, Francoise Rochais, Karen Bourre, Ilka Licht, Kati Yla-hokkala, Kezia Tennenbaum, and Lotte Brunn. “Trailblazers: Women Who Juggle” premiered at the IJA festival in Portland OR, in 2006. Check out the full video on Vimeo:

Next was the screening for the first time anywhere of a film about the juggling women of Tonga, titled, “Hiko,” produced, directed, and shot by Connie Paprika Leaverton. Paprika lives in Colorado and Texas and this was her first festival since 2006 when she released “Trailblazers:Women Who Juggle” with Cindy. Paprika was invited by festival director Dan Holzman to present her film here for its world premiere. It took five years to produce. She visited Tonga in 2012 and 2015 to shoot the film. Tonga is a series of 150 islands located in the South Pacific on the equator. It’s a British protectorate and the inhabitants are taught English in school. They have never been conquered or occupied. Their culture is unique. The school girls typically enjoy a game called “Hiko” which consists of tossing three tui tui nuts in a circular pattern. The game is to see who can maintain this pattern the longest. The older girls add additional nuts as their skill increases. Some of the older girls were seen to throw 5, 6, and even 7 at once. Legend has it that past women could toss up to 12. Paprika saw many girls skilled at 5. She did extensive research into the modern and ancient culture related to the game and other customs. The film also includes information about the Queen Salote (1918-1965) who was the only female leader of the country. She was a supporter of arts and cultural dance. The staff of Queen Salote College created the cultural dance that goes with Hiko in order to perpetuate the game so it would never be lost. The women of Tonga are occasionally visited by tourists who juggle but the Tongan women do not associate juggling in any other pattern than a shower with the Hiko game. They also consider the game to be exclusive to girls and women. Men attempting to show them how they can “juggle too” are looked upon askance and actually mocked and called a “sissy.” Paprika was a film maker before she was a juggler. She worked in LA for five years including work for Steven Spielberg, Disney, Tri-star, and Universal. She began her own production company in LA in 1986. “Walkabout Productions” produced hundreds of films including music videos, short films, commercials, and documentaries. For a children’s show that she produced she won a “Golden Telly” award, and other prestigious awards. See the Hiko facebook page at

-Day 5-

“She’s doing a woman’s hardest job. Juggling wolves.” -Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”(1954)

Saturday, July 15th

photo from Emily Carlson

One of the main highlights this year at the 2017 IJA World Joggling Championships was a 5K road race, chip timed, on a certified course in Lisbon, IA. The 5K was hosted by William Bails of Junction Auto, and local runners. Bill has been organizing local 5K joggling meets in past years, under the name “Junction Jugglefest 5K”. This year, his 5K was merged with the IJA’s world joggling championships to create an even bigger joggling event in Lisbon. The competition was open to the public with both jogglers and non-juggling runners. The weather was good, and the race attracted over 50 competitors and numerous bystanders to cheer on the racers. Cash prizes were awarded to Gabrielle Foran and Jacob Heimer (250 USD each), Katie Burgess and Bob Evans (100 USD each), and Sarah Williams and Erik Rain (50 USD each) for placing top 3 male or female jogglers overall. Gabrielle was awarded an additional 250 USD by doubling up on prize money for coming in as first place female – both joggler AND runner. Craig Wise juggled clubs to add some variety to the event. Although no official world records were set at the 5K, some fastest age group and IJA records were set, which can be viewed in the link below.

At Coe College’s Clark outdoor track, a variety of events including the usual 3-7 ball and 100-800 meter races took place, as well as a relay event. Coe College’s mascot, Charlie Kohawk, also came to visit the track. In the 4×100 meter relay, the team “Steve and the hippos”, consisting of Laura Schroeder, Eva Hadjiyanis, Elizabeth Stockbridge, and Kayla Malmgren, set the #1 all time women’s IJA record, at 1:15.88.

Click here for top results, and here for full results.

Nathan Wakefield participated in the joggling. Nathan is the Chairman of the Board of the IJA and lives in Ypslianti, MI. He is a marketing analyst for an integrated supply chain enterprise in Saline, MI. He loves using his organizational skills in the service of his favorite hobby for his dear friends. Nathan says, “this festival is really well attended. This 70th convention presents a lot of positive nods to the history of the IJA with all the traditional formats yet with many innovations. For example the history lounge, the extra shows, and the water skuggling (juggling while water-skiing). We’re glad we were able to present the shows in the historic Paramount Theater. We also presented a plaque of recognition to the people of Cedar Rapids for the their hard work in preserving the theater. The mayor accepted the award and did a three ball cascade without a drop at the ceremony! I’m looking forward to next year’s festival in Springfield, MA. The director will be Noel Yee. He just finished his second term as IJA board member and he has directed many flow festivals in the past. I’m really excited to see him step into this new roll.” Earlier in the week the IJA Board Election results were announced with new members Eric Shibiya, Exuro Piechoki, and Johanna Marks-Quade.

Cascade of Stars

This year’s public show was directed by Peter Davison and was simply thrilling. Each act was introduced by a different performer, who first did a stunt or joke of his/her own.


The Passing Zone juggled rock, paper, and scissors to decide who would present the following act.

Dan Bennett proceeded his introduction with a couple of jokes such as, “I thought I was a man in a woman’s body. Then I was born. It seems I was right”.

Drew Richards juggled plungers on a rolling globe. Smirk spun three tops and shot them with a nurf bazooka.

Brad French (58 years-old, originally from Rhode Island, now in Chicago) has been performing with the Kiss Kiss Cabaret for the last 6 years. He performed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas in 2015. He wore a holographic jump-suit and a Boola Ball around his waist. To the theme of “2001 a Space Odyssey” he spun the beach ball around the hoop. An over-sized soccer ball was thrown to him which he spins on his index finger. Next-another ball spun on the other hand, one on each index finger, then a ball on ball spin with the two over-sized balls. Brad was also the publisher of the juggling magazine “Two-ply Press” and helped provide daily coverage of the festival here on eJuggle.

Other presenters were Dan Menendez, Jack Kalvan, and Doug Sayers.


David Cain presented the Award of Excellence to Gena Shvartsman Cristiani. Tony Fercos received the Historical Achievement Award. He started out performing a plate passing act in the 60s with his four siblings and developed a world class act using clubs and ping pong balls. He is considered the world’s best ping pong ball juggler, juggling up to 7 balls with only his mouth.

Renegade presented its first ever Renegade award to Bob Nickerson, perennial performer, and the first performer on the very first Renegade stage in San Jose, 1986.


Erik Aberg began with clubs in a piece based on a technique called, “chin swings.” He swings a club from shoulder to shoulder using his chin. The technique was developed using the same research methods he had used when developing his head-roll material.

Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse won the Juniors Gold in ’16 in El Paso, TX. 17-year-old Jonah is from Highland Park, NJ. Jonah’s performance in the Cascade of Stars was astounding and deserving of the standing ovation he received. In the show he walks on cascading 5 rings. Pull-down variations, and with two on the neck to a multiplex single ring bounce 360. A three-up 270 spin to a full reverse cascade. Next 5 ring flats. With 6 rings a half shower and a 360 and site swaps. 40 catches of 7 rings. 5 balls, with site-swaps and tricks. 5 up 360 into overheads; 94444 with shoulder throws. Then with 3 clubs, a two-stage 540 with a back-cross, caught behind the back. A 3-up 720 with single spins. With four clubs many variations with single and triple spins in sync patterns. With 5 clubs, 744 to a 3 up 360, to single spins. 5 club flats. A shoulder throw caught behind the back in 645 pattern. 5 up 360 connected to singles connected to 3 up 360 in singles. (6x,4)* 3 up 360. (6x,4)* singles. 5 up 360 in singles. 3 up 720. Finally a 7 club flash. Jonah did all these sensational tricks without a single drop. His routine was the Mona Lisa of the night.

Jonah will be a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts studying physics and classical music and composition next fall. He is an accomplished cellist. He loves ultimate Frisbee. He performs professionally at events and festivals, most recently at the Austin Juggling Festival.

Andy Head did a unique and hilarious act with rings, ball, a rubber chicken, and a three legged stool.

Jay Gilligan did many original tricks including tossing balls with strings attached creating a braided rope, and juggling with a ring around his arms at the elbow. Together with his three part workshop and Wednesday night show, “Object Episodes” (see above), Jay was an essential ingredient in the success of the convention. He wasn’t the icing on the cake. He was the cake.

Alexis Levillon and Victor De Bovuere did a comedy diabolo act with up to 5 diabolos.

Patrick McGuire did ball, suitcase, and bottles. Patrick has had successful employment with the Cirque du Soleil corporation for many years.

Thom Wall did a gentleman juggler act with cigar (mouth stick) and bottle; glasses balanced on a knife (mouth stick), and candelabra balanced on balloon on knife, balloon popped, and catching the candelabra on the knife.

Brad Weson walked across a sword barefooted and juggled three swords.

Kevin Axtell juggled 3 torches which he tossed and swung with elements of poi.

Bob and Trish Evans did a unique act. First a voice over quotes a book of advice to pregnant women, saying, “a woman in her third trimester can go about her daily routine and be active. As long as she doesn’t do anything crazy.” They enter with Trish obviously very pregnant. They then manage to create all manner of acrobalance stunts and poses with Trish on top. They juggle and pass swords. They end with Bob on his back, Trish balanced up on his legs and both juggling three swords over Bob’s face and passing the swords. Crazy!

Paul Ponce is from Buenos Aires in Argentina where he lives with his wife and five children. Paul started juggling when he was six and started performing at seven. The first performance was in the opera, The Battered Bride by Smetana. In it a circus comes to town and Paul plays a juggler together with a troupe of performers including his father, Victor Ponce a great juggler, and his mother a wire walker. Paul worked with Holiday on Ice, a Ringling production for four years, from ’80 to ’84. He played for Pope Benedict XVI and 700,000 people live in Cologne, Germany in 2005 for World Youth Day. He begins his act with a single soccer ball and jumps rope while bouncing it on his head. He juggles 3, 4, and 5 clubs. With 5 he starts with a quad spin shower. Next a low double spin cascade, very fast, with under the legs, then two 3-up 180s, and 30 low backcrosses.

Next he brought out 3 of his children, the 8, 9, and 10-year olds. The 8-year-old, Lili, was born in Portugal, 9-year-old Jose was born in Amsterdam, and 10-year-old Pablo was born in Berlin. They each do three ball routines, and end with one having three and doing takeaways. They each do 4 and Pablo does 5. Pablo also does 3 clubs and they all do Mexican boomerang sombreros at the same time, solo and passing. The children are not only highly skilled and adorable but Lili the little girl is simply an angel. Jose and Pablo are always trying to out-do each other, but neither figured on Lili’s delicate talent to outshine them. Paul reenters and does his signature hat routine with up to 6 Mexican boomerang sombreros. He jumps into the audience and juggles 4 hats through the isles. Then back on stage and 3 super-fast for a finish. The crowd went nuts. Paul and family are booked solid for the next two years including shows in Cancun, Germany, and a variety show in Spain. Paul loves traveling with the kids and spending so much time with them. They are home-schooled and get to work and study together around the world together as a family. Every night before they go to sleep they spend a moment together and say a prayer giving thanks, asking forgiveness, and asking the Creator for help to make tomorrow even better.

Gena Shvartsman Cristiani lives in Sarasota FL, with her husband and son. She is a full-time professional juggler and also designs and sells her own theatrical costumes to circus and theater performers. She begins her act with her signature hat-spinning act, spinning one and two hats on sticks as she dances and does acrobatic stunts. Next she performs with 3 to 5 clubs focusing on her love of pirouettes and head balancing tricks, down to many variations of kickups. Next a terrific ball with head-bounce routine together with two hula hoops. She does continuous under the leg throws with five clubs. She does a head bounce, bounces a ball high and does a forward acrobatic walk-over, back into the head bounce. She also does the walk over with three clubs with one up. She finishes with continuous three club 3 up 360s. The audience almost rioted. Gena also appeared together with Paul Ponce and answered questions and did some sample juggling at a meet and greet on Friday afternoon, and on the Renegade stage on Saturday night. Gena is the type of person who walks into the room and everything stops. She has a star-quality that makes her wondrous to look at, even when she’s not executing a knock-out juggling feat. Gena’s mother Victoria had a gymnastics background and competed in national competitions in Russia. Victoria (nee Cherva) was born in Chechnia. After a knee injury, Victoria joined the circus and met Gena’s father the great Eugene Shvartsman who still trains circus artists in New York. They met in the circus ring over a rigging dispute, his bareback riding while juggling act interfered with her aerial rigging. The two argued over the equipment, fell in love, and had Gena.

Gena is inspired by the new styles of juggling. She is expanding her costume business and will, in the not-too-distant future, develop a costume design production studio. Her husband is a seventh generation circus performer from the Cristiani family of Italy. He is originally from Las Vegas. He manages theaters in Florida. Gena loves all facets of the plastic and performing arts. She paints, and draws creative characters in glorious costumes, some of which she later creates in reality for her clientele. She co-owns with her mother-in-law Mara Cristiani, a cake design company called “Center Ring Cakes.”

So what’s it all about? This 70th anniversary festival was about friendship. It was about seeing friends you haven’t seen in years, about making new friends, about sharing a tiny room with three other friends, about recognizing the talent of your comrades, about being on stage making all your friends gasp or laugh, about sitting eating a yummy brunch with a group of like-minded people in a room where you’re not the only one who understands the thrill of learning a new skill. About teaching and showing someone else how to do it. Not keeping it a secret. Magicians have secrets. They trick people. “Oh my gosh, how did he do that?!” “He has a bird hidden in his pocket and he pulls it out when you’re looking at the girl’s face.” “No, it was magic!” When the juggler does 5-club-backcrosses there is no magic. There is hard work and discipline. No one is asking how she does that. You see how she does it with your own eyes. And you can do it too if you put in a gajillion hours of practice. The only magic involved is that somewhere around the time you learn to juggle four balls you suddenly have 600 new friends and a dynamite national convention to go to. And a plethora of regional festivals. And suddenly you care about someone called Enrico Rastelli and you have something in common with WC Fields. Then five balls and you have friends in Europe and all over the world. Oh, you’re hooked. Thanks for a great festival folks and see you next year.

Nearly all photos in this article were generously provided by Emory Kimbrough.

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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