There is no more iconic juggling prop than the juggling club. Balls are used in lots of sports and activities. Rings aren’t obviously a juggling prop to most non-jugglers. But if someone sees three club-like objects, they immediately think of juggling. Today we will look at the early history of solo juggling with 6 clubs. However, let’s review the history of 3 to 5 clubs first.
The first person to juggle three clubs was James Dewitt Cook, who was known as the King of Clubs. This Cincinnati, OH native was a champion club swinger who eventually learned to juggle three clubs sometime in the early 1870s.
James Dewitt Cook
The first juggler to perform 4 clubs was club swinger Charles Hoey. Hoey famously was unable to collect the four clubs without dropping, so the curtain would close on him while he kept the clubs aloft.
The first person to juggle 5 clubs has traditionally been considered Ben Mowatt Jr., but Charlie Holland has recently written an eJuggle article showing that Will Hanvarr might be the first.
Ben Mowatt Jr.
Now we come to the subject of this article: 6 club juggling. It is believed that the first person to toss juggle 6 clubs was Pat McBann (whose real name was Pat McGreevey). He juggled 4 in one hand and 2 in the other, but it is not believed that he ever performed the feat in his act. The exact year when Pat accomplished 6 clubs is unclear, but it was most likely somewhere between 1904 and 1908. Pat and his twin brother Henry were members of the Juggling Johnsons and also appeared as the Juggling McBanns. Pat died on stage at the Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin.
Another juggler who apparently juggled 6 clubs in practice was Jack Greene. Between 1905 and 1919, Greene was a member of various early juggling teams, including Frear, Baggett, and Frear; the Altus Brothers,; Greene and Piche; and Green and Greener.
He wrote the following account of his one successful juggle of 6 clubs that occurred around 1909.
Being able to toss three in either hand gave me the nod to go ahead for six. Realizing what I was up against, I didn’t take it very seriously, but just fooled around with it on and off for several years. One day in Pittsburgh about 1909 a reporter came back stage to interview us. At that time we were billed as the Altus Brothers. During this interview he asked if anyone ever juggled six clubs. My partner, Dan Mahoney, spoke up and said that I could do six, saying it as though he was speaking of a three club shower. The reporter asked me if I would do it. Any showman is by nature not adverse to publicity of any kind, so I consented to try it. We went to the stage and after the lights were turned on for us I attempted the six club juggle. After several attempts I completed it to about a ten-count and caught all six clubs. It was the first time I’d ever completed the trick, and it proved to be the last also, I never tried it again. It was too much work for what little I got out of it. There was a nice write-up about it later but it was so garbled that it didn’t make sense in places.
You may wonder how I started the six-club juggle. Here’s the way I got them in the air: Hold four clubs in the right hand and two in the left, toss the two in left hand in the air (triple-turns), reach over and take one from the right hand, mix it in with the first two to do three in the left hand, and from there the three in the right hand start off on their merry journey through space. Six clubs in the air takes up quite a bit of room and if the clubs are not in their proper channels the only thing left to do is to hold your hands over your head in a protective manner and step out of the way of the cord of wood coming down at you.
The first juggler that we know who performed 6 clubs was John Breen of the Breen Family Jugglers. You can read about this very interesting family by clicking here. Breen used basket weave clubs rather than the wooden clubs used by others of the time. John was the first juggler to perform a five club shower and juggled five clubs with another balanced on his forehead. He was also the first to perform 6 clubs, doing so around 1908 or 1909. You can see an advertisement of him performing this feat below.
John Breen was also the first person to juggle 7 clubs, which will be examined in a future article. Unfortunately, John Breen passed away from tuberculosis in 1912 at the age of 21.
The next person we know to juggle 6 club-like objects was Enrico Rastelli. Much has been written about this icon of juggling, but for those unaware of him, a quick Google search will give you plenty to read. In the 1920s, Rastelli performed a long run of 6 sticks while balancing another stick and a ball on his forehead, which you can see in the following video at the 5:14 mark.
Japanese-born juggler Togo performed with six long sticks in the 1930s. Below is a video of him juggling 5 of these sticks, doing three in one hand and two in the other.
The next juggler we know who performed six clubs or sticks was Rudy Cardenas. Rudy was a child prodigy and performed with 6 sticks around the age of 10 or 11 in the early 1940s. By the time he reached adulthood, he had removed the 6 sticks from his act and replaced it with other skills. Below is one of his sticks, which is on display in the Museum of Juggling History.
Next we come to Soviet juggling icon Alexander Kiss. Kiss originally juggled with sticks similar to Rastelli and Cardenas, but eventually switched to clubs. He juggled six before tossing one back to an assistant mid juggle and continuing with five. You can see this at the beginning of the following video from 1960, which shows him using sticks.
The next video is from ten years later in 1960 and shows him juggling 6 clubs at the 0:29 mark.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Spanish juggler Ant Platas (1930 – 2012) performed 6 tennis racket juggling.
Erwin Steiner was a member of The Villams, whom you can read about here, and Les Dougalls, whom you can read about here. He was one of the very few jugglers to perform 6 clubs during the 1960s and 1970s.
In the early and mid 1960s, Soviet juggler Albert Petrovski, best known for his work with up to 11 rings, juggled 6 sticks/clubs, as you can see below.
Evgeni Biljauer (born 1947) is yet another Russian juggler who worked with 6 clubs. He was most likely the strongest of the jugglers we’ve mentioned so far since Rastelli with 6, showing the ability to juggle 6 clubs while balancing another club or while bouncing a ball on his head. You can see his amazing skills with 6 clubs by clicking here.
Anatoli Miagkostoupov and Victor Pilipovich, the Two Miagkostoupovs, graduated from the circus school in Kiev in 1980. Sometime in the mid 1980s they added side by side juggling of 6 clubs each to their act, which you can see at the 0:50 mark in the following video.
Qian Jian Ping was a member of the Qian Brothers juggling trio from China. In the mid 1980s, he demonstrated amazing control with 6 badminton rackets, which you can see in the following video at the 4:32 mark.
The Qian Brothers <– Video page on JTV
Now we come to Anthony Gatto. His juggle of 6 clubs in the 1986 IJA Seniors Championship was the first time that I saw 6 clubs juggled and marks a turning point for the juggling community. With this and subsequent videos, the juggling community saw that 6 clubs was attainable. You can see Anthony perform 6 clubs in that act at the 5:57 mark of the following video.
From that point on, 6 club juggling became more and more common place, even though it was still rarely performed. Twenty years ago, David Cain, Vladik Miagkostoupov, and Francoise Rochais were three of the few doing so in their acts.
6 club juggling is now quite common and many tricks and patterns have been done with 6, including 360s, back crosses, splits, columns, and various siteswaps. Jugglers such as Wes Peden, Toby Walker, and Stefan Brancel continue to push the limits on what can be done with 6 clubs. A future article will examine the history of 7 club juggling, so please be on the lookout for that.