There are certain types of juggling and juggling props that have a bad reputation among large segments of the juggling community. Technical toss jugglers like to make fun of poi. People start to cringe when someone pulls out a bull whip or shaker cups at a festival due to the annoying noise. Another prop that gets a lot of disdain is the whistling diabolo. In fact, whistling diabolos are a common target of juggling memes, as you can see in the following images.
Created by David Cain
Meme created by Teddy McNuggets
Meme created by Scott Steiskal
Meme created by Mike Moore
Meme created by David Cain
Meme created by David Cain
When I first started juggling, the only diabolos you could buy were bamboo whistling diabolos. I learned diabolo using one of these. They were not well balanced, hard to use, and easily broken.
This type of diabolo was the standard diabolo for many hundreds of years. It takes 17 steps to create one by hand, using simple hand tools.
I’m currently working on an article about the history of diabolo in China, but suffice it to say that this version is quite old.
In the late 1980s, rubber European-style diabolos made their way to the juggling community and whistling diabolos almost completely disappeared from the juggling community. Hard plastic whistling diabolos would occasionally be seen and heard, leading to the disdain found in the earlier memes.
In the past few months, I attended the IJA Festival and the European Juggling Convention. Among the 5000 jugglers at these two events, I didn’t see anyone with a whistling diabolo. I even had a diabolo player approach me at EJC and ask me if whistling diabolos were a real thing. I assured him that they were. One of the vendors there even had a European-style whistling diabolo, but I found it extremely hard to get to whistle.
As a result of some recent conversations, I’ve learned that many younger jugglers and diabolo players have never heard a diabolo whistle. Therefore, I decided to try out the various whistling diabolos, both Chinese style and European style, found in the Museum of Juggling History and see if I could make them whistle. While I’m not a world class diabolo player, I have been performing with the prop for almost 30 years and can get them up to a reasonable speed. The following video shows the results.
As you can see, some of the diabolos created great sound, some barely hummed, and some did nothing at all. I’m sad that I broke one of my favorite diabolos, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I hope you enjoyed this examination of one of juggling’s most hated props. I also hope you gained some appreciation for it as well.