There are some tricks that were popular during a certain period of time and then seemingly disappeared from the juggling landscape. I can’t think of a better example of this than the triple ball stack balance. I don’t mean a triple ball spin stack, which is one of my favorite tricks to perform. While that trick is rare, the trick discussed in this article involves no spinning at all and was apparently not duplicated from at least 1960 until just the past several years. It involves a very difficult and seemingly impossible balance. The triple ball stack balance is done by holding one ball in your hand and balancing another ball on top of the held ball and balancing a third ball on top of that one. The balls are usually medium to large in size and the hand never touches the top two balls.
The earliest known performer of the triple ball stack balance was the legendary Italian juggler Enrico Rastelli (1896-1931). This was one of his well known tricks, as can be attested by the following pictures of him doing it.
As you can see, Rastelli used balls of various sizes and even used different sized balls within the balance. He also did it while doing other balances. This demonstrates his true mastery of this very difficult trick. You can see Rastelli perform the triple ball stack balance while balancing a ball on his head and a ball on his foot while standing on a ball by clicking here.
Another very famous juggler that performed the triple ball stack balance was Massimiliano Truzzi (1903-1974). Since he was a student of Rastelli, it should come as no surprise that Truzzi would feature the trick in his act. Like Rastelli, he could do the balance as part of a more complex trick.
Click here to see video of Truzzi performing the triple ball stack balance.
The clearest video of the trick from the first generation of it’s performers features the Danish juggler Leon Rabello. Rabello was born in 1912 and was filmed in 1936 by British Pathe. The detail of the film is clear enough to see the minute adjustments made to maintain the balance. Click here to be taken to the British Pathe page to see the video.
The triple ball stack balance was also performed by Rastelli’s nephew Paolo Bedini in the 1940s and by Sarno, about whom little is known. Pictures of both performing the trick can be seen below.
The trick was also performed by Nikolai Barzilovich and by Freddy Kenton, both of which you can see doing the trick below.
Bringing The Triple Ball Balance Into The 21st Century
From the time of Truzzi’s retirement in 1960 until the early part of the twenty first century, the triple ball stack balance appears to have been relegated to a trick only viewed in pictures and video. About ten years, however, several jugglers took an interest in reviving this nuanced trick. Chief among them was Peter Bone from the UK. He had seen pictures of Rastelli doing the trick and had assumed that it was somehow gimmicked. After seeing the Rabello video, he saw that it wasn’t a gimmicked trick with a single balance point, but a mulitple point balance done by making constant corrections via moving and rotating the bottom ball. At that time he was also studying Robotics and AI at university and so was interested in balancing from a control systems perspective. Bone had already learned to balance a peacock feather on a club on his nose and so had some experience with multiple point balance tricks.
I asked Peter how his first attempts at the trick went. Here’s what he had to say. “The trick felt impossible when I first attempted it, despite first learning the double stack to quite a high level. It felt unlike anything I had tried before. However, it didn’t take long to get a basic enough feel for it to see how it could be possible. I quickly realized that by rotating the bottom ball you could keep the balls in a straight line and by moving you could keep the line upright. It was relatively easy to make 1 or maybe 2 corrections but much more difficult to do it consistently for a long time without the errors getting larger and larger. After around a year of trying it and reaching around 5 seconds (mostly with luck) I felt I wasn’t improving any more and gave up.”
This wasn’t the end of Peter Bone’s journey with the trick though. “I started talking with Beinn Muir about the trick at BJC 2012. He was interested in learning it and was interested in any insights I had and discussing the best way to learn it. One thing he mentioned was that all the historical jugglers have some kind of pattern on the ball. We agreed that this probably helped a lot because you could see the ball rotating. We both worked out ways to put a pattern on the ball. I could have just drawn something random on the ball, but the engineer in me wanted to do it neatly and symmetrically, so I worked out a way do put a geodesic pattern on the ball using a 3D printed model (seen in one of my videos). So the pattern is not so much a decoration as a practical means of visual feedback. The pattern help massively. When I started working on the trick again with the patterns I made much more rapid progress. The patterns let you see when the balls start rolling against each other much earlier than you would from just the ball positions, which means you can make smaller and more rapid corrections. It also allows you to judge the angular momentum of the balls. Originally I just had a pattern on the top ball, but quickly found that a pattern on the middle ball also helped.”
When I asked Peter about the importance of choosing the right type and size of ball, here is what he said. “The type of ball is quite important. I knew that the larger the ball, the easier the trick would be from a physics perspective (larger objects take longer to fall). However, there’s a point where it becomes too difficult to grip the lower ball well. I found that the largest ball I could grip often gave my hand cramps after a few minutes of practice. I settled for 15cm diameter rhythmic gymnastic balls (made by Togu). These balls are also very grippy, which stops them slipping against each other when making corrections, and are quite heavy, which gives a better feel for the movement of the balls (feedback to the arm). I found these balls online for a bargain at 50p (UK) each and so bought 6 of them. The pressure in the balls makes some difference to the difficulty. I initially learned with fairly low pressure but now have the balls pumped up quite hard. I’d like to try it with some similar non-inflatable balls. It would be good if someone made some 15cm stage or body rolling balls.”
Bone made a series of videos detailing his progress in learning the trick. I’ve included three of these below that show not only his progress, but some of the research and development that Peter applied to assist him in the process.
Taking The Trick Further
Bone can now maintain the 3 ball stack balance for over twenty seconds and has a number of variations, including a very nice one that can be seen by clicking here. As we’ve already seen in the pictures of Rastelli, Truzzi, and Bedini, combining the triple ball stack balance with other balances is certainly possible. It’s also possible to juggle with the other hand, as was demonstrated by Peter Bone. However, Enrico Rastelli and Massimiliano Truzzi each demonstrated ball stack tricks that many jugglers strongly doubt could be achieved without gimmicks, such as spacers, indentations, or flat spots on the balls. These would make the tricks single point balances rather than multiple point balances. Both Rastelli and Truzzi did the triple ball stack balance on one foot, as can be seen in the following pictures.
In the Rastelli picture, the bottom ball is gripped in his instep, making some adjustment possible, but certainly not to the degree that holding a ball in your hand would be. In Truzzi’s case, the bottom ball is balanced and not gripped, making multi-directional adjustments impossible. The stacked balance doesn’t end with three balls, however. Massimiliano Truzzi performed a four ball stack balance on both his hand and his foot, as can be seen in the following pictures, which have never been published until now.
Andrew Conway reported in an old rec.juggling post that Truzzi’s son, Marcello, told him that the balls used for the four ball balance were slightly gimmicked with indentations, making the trick a very precarious single point balance. Marcello’s son, Kris, tells me that he was unaware of his grandfather using any gimmicks. Even if these later tricks are gimmicked and single point balances, as seems the case, they are still very impressive feats.