Book review by Will Menarndt
Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It is the latest book from Modern Vaudeville Press (release date: August 31, 2020), a company dedicated to “scholarly books about the circus and variety arts.” Written by Thom Wall with chapters by Jay Gilligan, Fritz Grobe, and Benjamin Domask-Ruh, all of whom are renowned international performers. Juggling: What It Is and How To Do It aims to provide instruction for complete beginners as well as helpful tips, training regimens, and theoretical asides for even the most experienced jugglers.
Despite the book’s mission, I wouldn’t have considered myself eligible to benefit from this text. I’m not a juggler! Turns out, I was wrong.
I have never seriously considered learning how to properly juggle for the same reasons I’ve been repeatedly told I’m a terrible dancer: I’m stiff, I have no rhythm, and I can’t remember complex routines. With a sigh of defeat, my drama teacher put me in the back row well out of the lights on opening night of A Chorus Line, and I was told to “come back later” after a brief introduction to a swing club in college. Unlike my dance instructors who would quickly twirl while simultaneously spewing verbal instructions they were loath to repeat, Wall breaks every step of basic juggling sequences down with a variety of analogies and accompanying diagrams and photos. The tone of his text feels genuinely encouraging and his humor ameliorates the frustrations new learners always experience. I can’t stress enough how much his book feels like you are having a conversation with him; despite it being “merely” written words, the book is more personable and detailed than any how-to video I’ve seen on YouTube.
I am not a member of the circus community, but I appreciate it vicariously through the conversations of my circus performer friends. A term that regularly pops in conversations is “siteswap,” and it seems to always change the tone of the exchange. It’s charged with almost mythic significance, and elicits either nods of comprehension or, more often, embarrassed confessions from the veteran performer that they “don’t actually… understand siteswap.” Siteswap is (from the Appendix of Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It) “a mathematical system for recording juggling patterns.” If you struggle with math and dancing like I do, don’t despair! Thom explains the system more clearly than even the best Algebra instructor could. Though I’m still working my way through the first few patterns in the opening chapters, I am very pleased that I can now nod knowingly when the concept comes up in future conversations. (Suggesting, of course, Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It to the sad uninitiated who are not nodding knowlingly, as I am now!) That’s the beauty of this book. It welcomes everyone to the club with open arms (unlike swing dance. Yes, I’m still bitter.)
In addition to teaching how to juggle three, four, and five balls, as well as offering training routines, trouble-shooting tips, and balancing techniques, the text includes a DIY section to teach readers how to make your own juggling balls and recommends books for additional instruction. This really is the only book you need if you want to learn how to juggle or to improve your practice.
You can pre-order the book now at: www.jugglingbook.com
It also available at Amazon.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Modern Vaudeville Press (July 8, 2020)