Traffic light juggling
Some have never heard of it, for others it is their daily life.
Traffic light jugglers jump out when the light turns red, perform a 30 second routine, collect cash from the cars and jump back on the sidewalk before the light turns green again! This style of busking is popular in many places of the world, most notably in South America but gaining popularity in Europe too.
I remember very well the first time I tried to busk the light. My friend Bob and I were at the EJC 2009 in Spain, and wanted to try a little passing routine in the center of Victoria Gasteiz. We were super nervous and discussed our routine on the side walk for half an hour before we dared to step onto the street. “Shall we go?” “Ehh, lets wait for the next green light!” When we finally brought up the courage, it did not even take a single pass before a motorcycle cop whistled at us from a distance and signalled us to move on! We were relieved, haha!
It would take a few years before I would give it another shot. In Berlin, I would often see jugglers at a crossing near my home. I was told that they were a group of Peruvians who would live and busk in Berlin in the summer season, earning enough to spend the rest of the year living comfortably at home. A German friend working at another light mentioned he could get up to 30 euros per hour, which I wanted to see for myself!
I prepared a 5 ball routine with all my best tricks, catching the last ball in my hat before running to the cars. Three separate times I tried, never longer than an hour at once, making about 10 euros on average. I found it super stressful, hard, and very hardly rewarding.
Another 3 years later I moved to Toulouse. On my way to the training space there is a traffic light crowded with beggars, window washers, and the occasional juggler. An ideal location to give light busking another shot! This time I played with only 3 balls, which is relaxing and enabled me to interact with the cars while I played. Juggling became fun and easy. Drivers enjoyed the show and my hat gets brimmed, each and every time!
How much money do you make?
This is the question everybody asks. In Toulouse, I average at 32 EUR (around 35 USD), but I make sure to pick the best hour in the day (mornings, between 9 and 10 AM). On a sunny Saturday morning it can be doubled, on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon you might get half. Of course it also depends on which traffic light you perform at.
I’ve heard similar numbers of other performers in Europe. I know a couple of people who have been doing this for a living, multiple years in a row.
For more insights in busking and begging income, I recommend this article.
I never do more than 1 hour at a time; it is fun at first but after just half an hour I find it tiring and repetitive.
It’s funny how you start to feel entitled to the money you earn. The first time, every tip is exciting. But after just a few days, when you do a good routine and people smile but do not tip, you feel mistreated. The aggressive, persuasive attitude of some window washers suddenly becomes very understandable. If I were to do this job full-time, I might become the same…
Is it legal?
The second most common question. The answer is probably “no.” But who cares? As long as you are not obstructing the traffic, most people will be happy to see you. The worst that could happen is that you are requested to go away.
If there are any beggars or window washers in your area, it is unlikely that any authority is interested in you.
This seems to be the most popular continent for traffic light jugglers. The earnings are a bit lower than in Europe, but I have met multiple people who were able to fund their gap year travels by doing simple routines. Anybody who has money to drive a car has money to spend, right?
Recently a video of Andres Holguin went viral, doing a combination trick on a slackline in Colombia.
I also like this mini documentary of the Busking Project about Manuel in Chile
Some take it to a very high skill level. Here you can see Jose Luis Concha doing some siteswaps with 4 diabolos
My favorite is this clip from a woman in Colombia juggling machetes like crazy!
Should you do it?
If you are at the right location, traffic light juggling can be a very approachable way to practice performing, to solidify your tricks, and to get some money. It can be scary at first, but no matter how terribly you fail your routine, in just 1 minute you’ll have a fresh new audience and a clean slate!
I have seen hoopers, diabolists, contact jugglers, acrobatic duos, handstand artists and many toss jugglers. Anything goes, and your skill level is not as important as your humble smile.
What is there to lose?