Learning to Live with Jugglers, an Aerial Perspective

It’s wintertime; my house is cold. The first snow of the season has just begun and my callused hands are trembling. Unaware, we had let our oil supply run out, and so now our heat is temporarily disabled. Our fireplace-inset woodstove is mysteriously defective. Four people have just recently moved into a house together to start a 10 month long professional circus training program; we are tired, sore, and desperate for a source of heat. We look to the left of the fireplace at the slightly ornate free-standing log holder. Upon it, no wood is placed but instead are two-dozen juggling clubs. No typical source of heat in sight, I begin to consider the unthinkable. But I cannot… I live with jugglers.

Let’s step back for a second. My name is T, I am an aerial circus artist. While I’ve known how to juggle 3 balls and 3 clubs since I was a wee lad, I’ve never taken that skillset anywhere. I’ve been training aerials for almost 6 years now, and that is what I make my career by doing. I got accepted to the New England Center for Circus Arts’ Professional Track Training Program along with 16 others. I met my roommates Teddy and Jeremy at the live auditions, and Thom at the auditions for a different circus school the day before. Jeremy and Thom apparently knew each other quite well, and Teddy and I (both aerialists) clicked instantly. We all decided to rent a house together during our 10-month stay here in Vermont.

The first week of our new living arrangement demanded the most adaptation for all of us. We had to figure out what groceries to get as a “family”, who would put which utilities in their name, in which rooms juggling was not allowed… wait what?! As if you could NOT juggle somewhere! Teddy and I soon learned that the mentality of a juggler is just as driving as the mentality of an aerialist. When I walk into a new space—no matter where I am, or what I’m supposed to be doing—my first thought is to look at the ceilings and see if there are any structures off of which an aerial apparatus could be rigged. I always have my mind tuned into hanging off of things and interesting structures to play on. Equally to the jugglers mind, if he/she is holding an object, they must manipulate it, throw it, spin it, pass it, bop it, wiggle it, and understand all of its physical movement qualities and propensities.  It can be difficult sometimes; especially if the object is a jingling key ring or an apple you were hoping to eat.

At first, I also found it somewhat alienating when part of the conversation became bilingual. I’m talking about, of course, English and Siteswap. Once the conversation drifted from nouns like “mailbox” and “trapeze”, to “flats with a 441” or “423 with the 4s as lazies, the 3s around the neck, and underarm 2s” we non-jugglers began to feel somewhat left out. In retaliation, Teddy (our resident female) and I might make some joke about how she’s “the first girl to be seen coming out of a shower by a juggler.” After some more confusing conversation, and a few more juggler-prejudice jokes, we all decided we would make our house a safe space for jugglers. We didn’t want to live in a home torn by whether you chose a life off the ground or one where you toss things up in the air. We wanted to care for each other and support one another under the metric tons of stress, and physical exhaustion induced by our professional training program. We wanted to come home to a place where jugglers felt free to throw and aerialists felt free to hang. Our home life improved.

As the program finally accelerated to cruising speed, we all stopped waking up every morning sore, and started training more and more independently after classes. Soon, one of the main differences between a juggler’s training and an aerialist’s training brightly emerged. In aerial training, you can probably train for 3 to 4 hours in a single session. We would train, and leave the studio, eat a meal, and then eventually we might have an evening class, or go in to stretch. Our roommates would leave the house at 1 and not come home until 10 or 11 at night sometimes. We started getting into the philosophy behind the different training methods. Obviously, both jugglers and aerialists need to do things perfectly in performance, but the method for achieving perfection are somewhat different. Jugglers will run a trick thousands of times in repetition, until their success rate has increased to as close to 100% as possible. Aerialists slowly train a skill, beginning with as many safety factors in place as possible, and methodically removing extraneous safety techniques (i.e. grabbing with both hands even if the trick is a one handed skill) until we can safely and comfortably execute the skill without any “training wheel” add-ons. Unlike the jugglers, for us a “drop” isn’t a normal part of the training process.

I began to miss the jugglers while they were away on their longer training periods.  Developing a growing curiosity about juggling, I started to go to the sanctioned Juggle Jam (open training JUST for juggling) to entertain the idea of being a better juggler. After Tony Duncan, the fantastic juggling coach at our school, lobbied for jugglers to get more than one special training time a week (they are allowed to juggle whenever but dedicated space when no one near them is in the air is hard to come by) I started coming to every juggle jam. Now I get to hang out with my two awesome juggler roommates more, and I’m even starting to feel ok about liking to juggle. Now I can pass 6 in a 4 or 2 count. I can pass ultimates with 6, and pass 7 clubs. I can do a 441 inside of passing a 4 count. I can FINALLY do a 3 ball shower, and I’m beginning to work on reversing it. I can throw a lefty double pirouette in a 4 count pass. I can join in on different feeds, and multiple person passing patterns. I can also do a beat half twist to ankles, front hip circles drop to toe hang, a swivel hips to double S wrap into a triple shoefly. I’m also working on elbow circles transfer to back hip circles stall to side planche.

My name is T Lawrence-Simon; I live with jugglers, I’m an aerial circus artist… and I’m a juggler.

T Lawrence-Simon is an aerial circus artist with a background in physical theater. He spends most of his time hanging upside down, but having added hand balancing to his disciplines, he now spends even MORE time upside down. He is in his final year of professional training at the New England Center for Circus Arts.

Comments 0

  1. You are a wonderful writer — your talents just flow forth! I’m very proud of you, my sweet! Do you still dance, sing,act, and play the flute? And speak Japanese?

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