Scott Sorensen has been a well-known figure in the juggling community since the 1980s. He turned 50 years old recently but still continues to push the boundaries of technical juggling. David Cain had the opportunity to talk to Scott about his journey as a juggler.
DC: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself apart from juggling? (Family, hobbies, etc.)
SS: I’ve been married for 29 years and we have 1 son, who is 19. They have been very supportive of my all-consuming juggling ‘hobby’ for a very long time. By day I’m a programmer in Austin, Texas who writes business automation apps. Aside from juggling, I like to create things and tinker with modeling and 3D printing and have recently turned my creative attention to making new juggling props, like the ‘foamies’ foam juggling clubs.
DC: How and when did you learn to juggle?
SS: I was first exposed to juggling when I joined a group of church clowns when I was 9. There I met Dave Dalton, who could juggle 4 different sports balls, like a football, baseball, etc. at the same time. I thought he was the best clown because he was so animated, and juggling random things amazed others and myself. Dave tried to teach me how to juggle, and swears that I got 6 catches once to make it official, but I didn’t practice and sadly it never stuck with me. Then when I was 15, I had these 2 other friends that I always hung out with and one day we were all playing with some tennis balls and both of my friends started juggling. Neither of them knew that the other one knew how to juggle, so from that moment on they were always passing balls, learning 3-3-10 passing and so on. I struggled with 2 balls, so I vowed to practice every day until I got better. Two weeks in I could still not manage 2 catches with 2 balls. It was a strange sensation, but when I held 1 ball in each hand and threw the ball from my right to my left, my left hand would not unclench the ball it was holding. It was like a mental block of some sort, as if the message just wouldn’t go from my brain to my hand. For 2 weeks every night I tried just to throw 2 balls! Frustrated from all this that the next Saturday, May 18th, 1985 I woke up early at sunrise and took 3 tennis balls and went to a nearby tennis court and refused to leave until I figured out how to juggle. It took the entire day, but by sunset I had achieved 33 catches of 3 balls. At that point it was the hardest thing I had ever done, but I was hooked. I practiced until sundown every day after that. Within 6 weeks of learning I had my first show for about 250 teens. I closed the show by juggling 3 apples and eating them, of course. It brought down the house.
I’m amused every time I meet someone who says they could never learn to juggle, or when I teach someone to juggle who says something like “I bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever seen.” No, I started at the very bottom.
DC: Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a juggler?
SS: The first year of juggling for me was mostly in isolation from other jugglers. It was the 80’s, so I had no idea there was an organization, or juggling clubs or anything of the sort. My friends and I bought all the books we could find that had anything to do with juggling. The Guinness Book of World Records back then was a paperback reference book. I think I had the 1984 edition that listed Sergei Ignatov with 11 rings, and it listed Albert Lucas as the top juggler in the world with endurance runs of 7 balls, 7 rings, and 5 clubs. I ran into a musician in the first couple months that juggled clubs and he taught me how to pass. So learning anything new was difficult and up to your own imagination. That was until one day, maybe a year later, at a magic shop that happened to have Jugglebug products, that the shopkeeper gave me the location of the local juggling club. That’s when I met Michael Ferguson, of Fergie Bags fame, and Paul Kipre, an IJA board member. I had just spent the long winter learning 5 balls the hard way. That’s where you just keep throwing them in the air until you figure out how it works. It was a brutal 6 month process. So meeting Fergie after that was really a blessing. He was juggling 8 balls in a crossing pattern (now called wimpy) when I first walked in and I was blow away. It was then that I latched on to numbers juggling and never looked back. After that I went to every festival I could so that I could learn as much as possible.
DC: What are your favorite types of juggling to work on?
SS: I latched on to rings after going to my first festival and finding that it was a unique prop among jugglers. I wanted to be different, even in a room of different-type people! My first rings were heavy ABS plastic, and with no indoor space to practice I didn’t really start rings until I found a juggling club and some Dube Airflight rings. Seeing the famous Ignatov performance video was a big inspiration too. I always liked trying to juggle 1 more thing than I could. I started balancing and juggling when I met Paul, so I would take that skill and add it to my numbers passion. I love the look of lots of rings in the air, they fill the space so well.
DC: You’re considered one of the top numbers jugglers in the world, especially with rings and with head balances and heading a ball. Can you tell us about your work regarding these types of juggling?
SS: When you watch old time videos they are filled with big finale tricks that include juggling a number of things with a balance. I always equated that with the top juggling tricks since it was usually saved for the end, so I had to learn it because I wanted to be like them. I saw someone on The Tonight Show back then balance a tuba, and then a ladder. I immediately starting practicing big or odd objects because those are almost an act within themselves, and I had never thought about it like that before. I learned quickly that I needed to practice balancing different types of shoes, because if you do a show where you’re balancing a bunch of household items and you ask for suggestions, everyone will hand you a shoe to try! Juggling while heading a ball is a whole other league up from that. It was such a huge commitment, but I was so impressed by Anthony’s control of juggling while bouncing a ball on his head that I wanted to know what that felt like. It wasn’t until ’97 or ’98 that I finally put everything else down and committed myself to learning it with the kind of respect you have to give to the trick. Back to throwing and catching 1 ball again, that kind of thing. A few years into the process when I was stagnated on 5 balls with a head bounce for maybe 20 or so catches, I was practicing in a racquet ball court that had a glass front facing into a gymnasium. There was a classroom of kids that came into the gym for their class and as would happen on occasion that 1 or 2 of them might notice that I was juggling in one of the courts because they could see inside. On this day I was working on 5 balls and a head bounce when they came in and the entire class stopped what they were doing and ran over to the court to watch me. The teacher had to come over and regain control of her class, but that was the moment that I knew this trick was worth whatever it took to learn it.
I also love how much the trick stretches you. There was this moment when I thought that because I could balance and juggle that I really understood juggling, since I didn’t need to look at the pattern directly and could focus on whatever it was on my head. When I took up bouncing the ball on my head it really opened my eyes that I didn’t understand juggling nearly as well as I thought I did. I had to stretch my understanding even more. On the one hand, I had to relearn everything, but on the other hand it showed me that what I really love most about juggling is the act of learning itself. Once I have something down I tend to get bored, so these were all ways to continuously make everything harder and I’m far from bored now!
DC: What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishments as a juggler so far?
SS: In the 90’s I was pushing to get a flash of 12 rings and qualify 10, as well as flashes of 8 and 9 sticks. Through sheer brute force effort I accomplished those things, but I wouldn’t say that they are my greatest accomplishments. After turning 50, I started to regularly qualify 9 balls, 9 rings, and 7 clubs in the same practice session. It used to be that I could push 1 prop for the day and get 1 of those, but rarely if ever all 3. But since I’ve committed to my coach’s regimen and my trainer’s workouts, now every day I qualify all 3 of those, even on an off day. Finally letting go of how I used to train and hiring professionals was the best thing I could have done for my juggling. Just recently I realized I could head a ball and qualify 8 rings and then 8 balls one after the other. That put some things into perspective. At this stage of the game a newfound consistency is my greatest accomplishment, and it’s something that I’ve never really had before. I suspect I’ll hit some big numbers again in the not-to-distant future, but only as part of regular workout and not a thing where I spend 6 months to hit a trick one time.
DC: Who are your favorite jugglers from the past and from the present and why?
SS: Anthony Gatto and Albert Lucas were 2 of my favorite jugglers early on. Albert attended a lot of festivals in the 90’s and was always very encouraging. He would start his act juggling 7 rings and slowly walk across the stage keeping the run going well past 100 catches. And that was the start. I first heard Anthony’s name at a festival in the 80’s and someone said they heard he just broke 50 catches with 7 clubs. There was much discussion on if anyone thought he could get to 100. He was also generous with his time and advice back then, too. I remember watching Ignatov’s act over and over as well. His full 7 ring act that he performed at his peak has never been outclassed since.
DC: What are your current plans for your juggling future?
SS: As I mentioned, I now have a juggling staff to support me, so I guess you could say that since turning 50, I’ve doubled-down on continuous improvement. So we’re going to see what we can create out of all of this. I can say that there is a lot of room for creativity as far as numbers juggling in a performance is concerned and I’m very excited about the future.
DC: What do you like the best about the juggling community?
SS: First off, I must say that travelling the world with life-long friends is pretty sweet. I don’t know how that could have happened with any other group. Jugglers are a unique breed for sure. The act of learning is very personal by nature, but there’s a blend of sharing, teaching, and encouraging that brings people together. Its one skill that once you’ve learned it you are now part of some secret club that you may not know that you even belong to. People will open up their homes, drive hours to see one another, and not just because they know you personally, but because you now belong to this club, ‘juggler.’ Connected because you now share special pathways in your brain that connect the right dots, the dots that other people have not connected. When you break it down it’s really an amazing human thing.
DC: What are your favorite online videos of yourself?
SS: This is a compilation of tricks and practice before Covid.
Most of my filming since then has been kept under wraps, but I suspect I’ll let a trick or two out into the wild in the near future.