Find a new way to keep all those balls in the air with Dave Altman
Published in the New Life Journal in 2005

What is juggling? It is discovering and exploring balance. We talk of eating a balanced diet, juggling our schedule, and finding a balance between work and play. When Anthony Gatto, one of the best jugglers in recorded history, was a small child (about three years old), he saw his father, Nick, juggling with his fellow circus performers. Little Anthony wanted to play too. Nick got a rolled up piece of paper with a paper clip and told Anthony when he could balance that on his nose, he could juggle with the grownups. When Anthony was four years old, he could juggle four clubs. He would juggle three while balancing a club on his nose and drop that club into his pattern and juggle four clubs. He had to do that because his little hands couldn't hold all the clubs to start off with. Anthony now holds several world records in juggling and is still improving. Anthony's early experience with balancing probably played a large part in what he is able to do today.

There is a strong link to mind and body, and juggling helps connect the two. There is a stronger mental aspect to juggling than the physical aspect. However, the physical center is a little easier to feel. Once you discover a physical balance through juggling, it can point the way to discovering a mental and/or a spiritual balance.

Balance is what causes a dancer, an ice skater, or gymnast to look so graceful. Balance is a fundamental element to all movement and juggling is the discovery and exploration of the balance that exists within all of us. Learning to juggle is part of a process. After learning a basic cascade with three balls, different patterns and more objects can be added. Each addition presents a new challenge and creates a new refinement in the exploration of balance.

While many people only associate juggling with clowning and children's birthday parties, there is more to the art of juggling than providing entertainment to small children.

Enrico Rastelli, considered by some to be the best juggler in history, called juggling one of the highest forms of transcendental meditation. There is evidence of jugglers in ancient times. The Egyptians learned juggling from India and juggling has been practiced for many centuries around the world, in Japan, China, South East Asia, Iran, and Tibet. The Aztecs and other native Americans had jugglers, also. Jugglers in these early cultures were often prominent in the religious and mystical rituals.

The fact that juggling is relatively uncommon and a unique activity is part of its attraction; however, it is not as uncommon as one might initially think. Most cities have local juggling clubs, many colleges and universities have a juggling club as well, and there are juggling festivals that happen throughout the year around the globe. These can be found on the internet and there are numerous websites devoted to the art and practice of juggling.

Juggling is well within the abilities of the average person. Most people can have success with juggling within the first hour and can be fairly proficient in juggling three balls in a couple of weeks. Juggling can boost the self-esteem by accomplishing something that seemed out of reach. The act of juggling can clear the mind and improve the ability to focus. Juggling is an enjoyable form of exercise. After learning to juggle, it can have a profound effect on day-to-day living because it develops an appreciation of the potential grace in all activities.

Juggling causes an awareness of your center in a similar way that yoga, dance, or meditation might. It also strengthens the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. There is some preliminary research indicating that juggling actually increases brain function. Becoming ambidextrous is another positive effect caused by practicing the art of juggling.

The best way to learn juggling is from person to person contact with a juggler; however, here are a few hints and basic instruction. Okay, the big moment has arrived, juggling three balls. After learning three balls, you will forever be known as a juggler. Start by standing balanced. Did you think otherwise? Balanced means upright and tall, yet still relaxed.It actually takes less effort to be balanced than it does to be unbalanced. In learning to juggle, the tosses are slightly above head height, so strength is not an issue. Use only the arms to make the tosses, keeping the rest of the body still and relaxed.

Have two balls in one hand and one in the other. The hand with two balls initiates the juggling pattern. The first ball is thrown in a diagonal path to a point slightly above the head height and in front of the opposite shoulder, the hand that had only one ball to begin with makes the second throw, and the third throw is done by the hand that did the first throw. Each toss is done the same, that is, diagonally to a point slightly above the head height and in front of the opposite shoulder. The pattern forms an X, with the middle of the X corresponding with the midline of the body, each ball will pass through this point, but not at the same time. The top two points of the X are the points where the balls are thrown, and finally, the bottom two points of the X are where the hands are located.

In addition to balance and the ability to focus, rhythm is a very important element in juggling. This is controlled by the consistency and the height of the tosses. The higher the tosses, the slower the juggling pattern will be; however, the margin for error decreases with more height, so there is a balance (there's that word again) between choosing a height which slows the pattern to a comfortable speed and not so high that the tosses come down beyond arms reach.

Good luck with the juggling and hopefully you can use the basic elements of juggling to help you live a balanced, focused, and rhythmic life.

Dave Altman is the president of the Atlanta Jugglers Association and has over twenty years experience as a professional juggler, a masters degree in education, and is an active member of the International Jugglers Association. He can be contacted for info on workshops and classes through the Atlanta Jugglers Association's website or at 706 923 5500 or voice mail 770 427 3903.