Nestled down in Beijing’s Wudaoying Hutong, not far from the Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius, is China’s first juggling shop and fixed gear bike shop, Natooke. Founded in 2009 by Ines Brunn and Federico Moro, this shop offers both locals and travelers juggling props and custom made fixed gear bicycles.
Ines began her performing career in Germany as an artistic fixed gear bike acrobat. As a member of the German National Team she worked to bring more flexibility and performance into that traditional sport. But her efforts to bring more artistry and performance to the sport were not always appreciated by the official sanctioning authorities. Despite that roadblock, her skill on the bike was noticed and appreciated by others outside the sport. As her notoriety grew, she started getting calls and offers to perform her version of artistry on a bike outside of the sport competitions. At the same time her performing career began to take off, so did her career in the telecommunications industry.
Through her job, she traveled to China and eventually moved to Beijing. That is where, in 2006, she met Fede Moro a juggler and performer from Italy. That friendship led to the idea of building a community of jugglers, unicyclers and performers in China. First, they arranged for the group to get together and share their skills at a weekly juggling meeting on Monday nights. As Fede is hardly seen in Beijing, and Ines is busy with the bicycle side, the juggling get togethers are a little more sporadic now, so please call ahead to make sure of the schedule. In addition to those events, Fede has held several juggling workshops and performing classes. These include classes for students at the Canadian International School of Beijing, and corporate team building workshops for managers at several Beijing based companies.
With their focus on building interest in juggling, fixed gear bikes, and performing, they began to attract more and more members. Because juggling props were not easily available in China, and their community of jugglers was growing, there was a clear need for a shop. That was the birth of Natooke in Beijing in 2009. Ines opened a second store in October 2012 in Chengdu, China, over 1174 miles (1890 km) from Beijing. Natooke carries a selection of Italian PLAY brand juggling equipment including MMX balls, SIL-X balls, bouncing balls, stage balls, contact balls, and a selection of clubs for beginners to professionals. The store also has both standard and fire poi, torches, diabolos, flower and devil sticks, rings (junior, standard, extra big, and dual sided), rola bolas and spacers to increase their height, spinning plates, frisbees, as well as a wide selection of bean bags and acrylic balls. Natooke is also a custom built fixed gear bike shop. Fixed gear bikes are like a unicycle in that there is no coasting. When you pedal the gears move both forward and backward. Because of their simplicity, the bikes are very light, durable, and very good for fast riding. Fixies have developed a reputation in urban settings as the bike of choice. Beyond being great for commuting they also great for tricks or games like bike polo because of their maneuverability. Each bike made at Natooke is custom built and unique.
According to Ines, juggling is not something typically done for pure recreation in China. While the circus performers there are some of the best in the world, ball and club juggling is not something typically seen off the stage. Occasionally you might see some older citizens playing with diabolos in parks as a form of exercise. Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much hobby juggling for fun. Through the efforts of Ines, Fede, and their group, that is beginning to change. Ines told me a story about one man who found his way into her store. He claimed to have taught himself to juggle and then demonstrated a five ball cascade. To his delight, Fede joined him in a five ball pattern. Seeing another person who juggled for the pure enjoyment of it brought him to tears. Through the weekly meetings, Lao Zhou, eventually found a unicycle partner named Lao Sun. The two formed a partnership and began performing in parks and at organized events around China. As a side note, the two also bicycled together from Beijing to Shanghai, over 1000 miles (1600 km); No small feat when you are 58 and 71!
In addition to running her two stores, Ines continues to perform. She describes what she does as “gymnastics on a bicycle.” Her performances include the European (2000 and 2009) and Israeli (2011) Juggling Festivals. There is a link below to see a video of Ines performing. a quick Google Video search of her name will get you to several of her past performances.
If you are interested in juggling or fixed gear bikes and find yourself in Beijing, it is worth a visit to stop in to say hi! If you are performing near Beijing and lose your props on the way, you now have a lifeline.
Wudaoying Hutong No. 19-1, Lama Temple Bridge (North 2nd Ring Road), Dongcheng District, Beijing. Phone number: (+86) 010-8402 6925
The shop is 100 meters west down the first hutong south of Lama Temple bridge and is on the right hand side.
To learn more about Ines watch: http://vimeo.com/21351654
To see her performing visit: http://vimeo.com/5833283
For videos of Fede visit: http://federicomoro.net/shows/