Balancing has long been a part of the performing juggler’s repertoire. Early juggling prop catalogs, which can be seen here and here, attest to the wide array of balance props and routines that were popular over a hundred years ago.
Today’s jugglers still utilize balance tricks in their acts, even if they don’t have multiple unique props with which to do so. Props can be balanced on body parts or on other props that are held by a juggler. Most of us don’t think too much about what type of balancing we’re performing, though. In this article, we will take a look at the many types of balance tricks that jugglers can do. We won’t get into the physics of balance too much. If you’d like to examine the science behind balance, click here to read a very thorough but user friendly article on balance. Some of the ideas discussed there will be quite useful in understanding balancing tricks in general and some of the terms I’ll use in the next section.
Dynamic vs. Static Balancing
Jugglers often talk of a balance of an object or set of objects as being either a dynamic balance or a static balance. A dynamic balance requires constant adjustment by the juggler to keep the base of support (where the juggler contacts the object) directly aligned with the center of gravity (the average position of an object’s weight distribution). In simpler terms, a dynamic balance requires work on the juggler’s part to maintain the balance. Usually this is done by the juggler visually perceiving that the object is moving out of balance and thus moves the base of support to realign with the object’s center of gravity. Some very talented jugglers, such as Cinthia (La Flaka) Buitron, have learned to maintain dynamic balances with no visual cues. They can do so completely by feel rather than through sight.
A static balance is a balance that does not require work by the juggler to maintain the balance. This is usually because the center of gravity is very low on the object and the base of support is very wide. Balancing a water bottle with only a fifth of the bottle filled with water on your head is much easier to balance than a full water bottle because the center of gravity is much lower with the partially filled bottle. It is much easier for the an object to become unbalanced the farther away the center of gravity is from the base of support. As long as those two are vertically aligned, the object will stay balanced.
To say that an object is maintained in either a dynamic balance or a static balance is over simplifying things. In reality, balances fall along a spectrum ranging from very dynamic to very static, based on how easy it is to get the center of gravity of the object to be out of alignment with the object’s base of support. For some objects, the center of gravity is actually located within the object providing contact with the base of support. Below is one such example. the sword’s center of gravity is within the mannequin’s head.
A thin pole is going to require a much more dynamic balance, and thus be more difficult, than a head pedestal of the same height and with the same center of gravity because the head pedestal will have a wider base of support. If the head pedestal is made so that the bottom of the prop is weighted, that shifts the center of gravity closer to the base of support and makes it even easier to balance.
Now that we’ve got the technical jargon out of the way, let’s look at some specific types and variations of juggling balances.
As I stated earlier, to say a balance is purely dynamic or purely static is an oversimplification, but generally speaking, we’ll discuss objects as being in ranges of dynamic, mid-dynamic, static, and internal static. In the category of dynamic balances would be vertical balances of poles, clubs, swords, sticks, and other similar props. As I stated earlier, these require continual effort on the part of the juggler to maintain the balance. This is done by moving the contact point between the juggler and the prop (due to visual or kinesthetic perception) so as to realign the prop’s center of gravity over the base of support. This is the most common type of prop balancing that jugglers do.
Mid-dynamic balances are those that require some correction of alignment, but not necessarily continual correction. For example, with a well made head pedestal, only when the juggler moves his or her body significantly does a correction need to be made. Head pedestals can be stood upright on a level floor and not fall over. The same can not be said of most objects that are typically balanced dynamically. At the same time, not much effort is necessary to knock over props that belong to this mid-dynamic category.
Head pedestals from Ernest Montego, Ursula Hill Lauppe, Betty Gorham, Billy Tirko (2) and Eddy Carello Sr..
Static balances are those that require no or very little effort by the juggler to maintain. They typically involve a prop that has a very low center of gravity and a wide base. A drinking cup with a wide base that has the bottom inch filled with pennies is not going to tip over unless a lot of force is applied to the top. A bean bag resting on a juggler’s head would be another example of a static balance. The cup of water on my forehead in the following photo is another example of a static balance. It adds perceived difficulty to the trick without really adding any additional effort by the juggler.
Internal Static Balances
Internal static balances are those where the center of gravity of the balanced prop is within the body part of the juggler contacting the base of support. In other words, the center of gravity is below the contact point. A spinning plate with a divot on the bottom easily balances on the stick because the plate’s center of gravity is located under the plate and within the stick. In my show, I sometimes pick a volunteer from the audience and tell them that they can balance 10 sticks on their head with only one stick touching their head. I then arrange the ten sticks and place them on the volunteer’s head so that the system of sticks has its center of gravity within the volunteer’s head. You can see this trick in the following photo.
This trick is based on the old trick of balancing multiple nails on the head of another nail.
The following video shows some other examples of these internal static balances.
A popular use of this type of balance is in belly dancing, where a curved sword is balanced on the dancer’s head.
Gyroscopic balances are those where the balance is achieved not through alignment corrections but because the object is spinning and is kept upright due to gyroscopic stability. The most common use of this for jugglers is in ball spinning. A well spun ball does not need to be actively balanced, as the spin keeps the ball balanced along its axis. As more balls are added to a spinning stack, the system becomes more dynamic. Gyroscopic balance is involved in plate spinning, rug spinning, and other juggling skills.
Double Angled Balance
A double angled balance is where a dynamic balance is achieved on top of a fairly static balance forming a right angle with pivot points at two spots. The classic golf club trick is the most famous of these balances, which jugglers have been doing since at least the 1700s. Sometimes a very static third balance is added on top of the dynamic balance, but this is a non-pivoting balance. The follow video shows me doing several different double angled balance tricks using golf clubs and tennis rackets.
Side By Side Shared Control Point Dual Balance
Peter Bone is a master of odd types of balances. The video below shows him balancing a short pole on his nose and a long pole on his forehead at the same time, controlling them both with head movement.
Rotational Correction Double Balance
A classic trick invented by Enrico Rastelli is triple ball stack balance. Click here to read an entire article about this trick. To maintain such a balance, a rare type of correction is necessary, rotating bottom ball, which rotated the top ball. You can watch Peter Bone’s mastery of this trick in the following video.
Double Inverted Pendulum Balance
A double inverted pendulum balance is a double balance of two stacked linear objects. The only juggler I’m aware of who has learned this type of balance is Peter Bone, who can balance a feather on top of a club that is balanced on his nose. Click here to see Peter doing this amazing balance. Usually double inverted pendulum balances are done by robots, as you can see below.
A Borzykine balance, named after its inventor Yuri Borzykine, consists of bouncing a ball on a platform that is attached to a pole that is balanced on the juggler’s head. It is a very difficult balance. The following video shows Earl Shatford running 7 rings while doing a Borzykine balance.
Rotational Motion Balance
Rotational motion balances are dynamic balances where rotational motion is imparted to objects held on the balanced prop by exerting an up and down motion to the balanced prop. The Salerno Ring would be the most famous example of such a balance.
Another type of rotational motion balance involves spinning rings on the top horizontal arms of a T shaped pole that is balanced.
Bouncing Linear Balance
A bouncing linear balance involves bouncing a linear prop while maintaining a dynamic balance of the prop. Alexander Kiss’ bounce club is the most famous version of a bouncing linear balance.
Erwin Steiner of Les Dougalls also used a bouncing club, which you can see in use by clicking here. Jenny Jaeger performed a rotating bounced balance trick, which you can see at the end of the following short video.
Dynamic Spinning Balance
Tricks often will combine multiple types of balances. For example, spinning a ball on a stick which is then balanced on a juggler’s chin combines gyroscopic balance and dynamic balance. Some tricks combine these two types in such a way that the prop that is being dynamically balanced is visibly spinning. These tricks typically have a plate, bowl, top, or ball spinning at the top, which imparts spin to some prop under it. At the base of this prop is usually a third prop or some type of bearing mechanism that allows the prop above it to spin freely. Below are several of these types of balance tricks.
My friend Ernest Montego performed a unique spinning dynamic balance using a two plates and a loop of wire. You can see video of this trick, which is pictured below, by clicking here.
Swedish juggler Gaston (Robert Dahlström) has recreated several impressive old dynamic spinning balance tricks, which you can see in the following video.
If you’re aware of any other types of balances that jugglers perform, please feel free to contact me. I’m sure that there are some that I didn’t think about.