By Henry Slack published in Juggler's World magazine Winter 1988-89

To be a successful juggler, you've got to learn to give up control.

"But wait, " I hear you saying, "That's backwards. After all, isn't the whole idea of juggling to learn to control the throwing and catching of objects? "

That control is an illusion. You are not really controlling your juggling pattern. You want proof? Well, you dropped something last time you were practicing, didn't you? (If not, welcome to the Liar's Club!) That ball or club did not go where you wanted it to go. Accordingly, you did not control it, nor do you control anything that you throw.
Sure, you control it in your hand, but then you let go of it to throw it in the air. Anything can happen then: wind; ceiling; tree; they can all interfere. And the reason that they can interfere? It's because you gave up control. You took your hands off of your prop. As Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

So you have already learned how to give up control, just by letting go of the objects that you're flinging. You trust in gravity that the objects will come back where you can reach them... but you really don't control them while they're in mid-air.

"Hold on a minute, " you interrupt me again. "You say I've got to give up control, but then you tell me that I already gave up control of props just by throwing them in the air? Then why tell me I've got to give up control?"

Because you still believe in control. You want to control your audience, as well as all your props. In reality, there are a lot of things you don't control, such as the traffic, the weather, the people in your audience, and whether they've heard all your jokes before. So don't think you can control anything except your reactions.

That's right. A juggler who believes himself or herself to be in control of the audience is really upset by a drop or a heckler. Both say that you don't have the control that you thought you did.

The better way is to give up control, and prepare instead for mistakes. Learn drop lines. Learn responses to hecklers. And mostly, learn to trust yourself to make a good response. Once you can do this, you'll be willing to take risks.

"What you're saying then is that instead of practicing until I have a perfect routine. I should aim at a looser routine that allows me to respond somehow and take risks. I'm not sure that I can always respond the best way."

When you start out, you certainly won't be at the peak of your abilities. But you can learn. You can train yourself. The response to a heckler that you didn't think of until the next day will go into your file of responses. When you do use it, your audience will think you just thought of it. It's just a learned skill.

Let's see if! can make this clearer with an example. Stand on both feet and pretend as though you are going to fall over. Wave your arms to prevent it. Not very realistic, is it? You're not risking anything.

Now take a risk. Give up the control of two feet, and balance yourself on the heel of one foot. Wave your arms to gain your balance. It's much more realistic that you might lose your balance.

"I'll say! I almost fell over! What's the point? "

The point is, when you're on one foot, you actually have less control, but more response. And that's what people want to see. And you don't fall over, you have developed the skills to catch yourself before you fall. But to convince your audience that you are about to fall over, you want to be about to fall over. Don't try to act it, do it!

I haven't worked this all out, but by giving up control, you realize that you can take risks, and cover for any drops. On both feet, there's no risk, and no excitement. On one foot, the risk and excitement are there for your audience to see.

"So when I give up control, I can take risks. Okay, I can see that, and I do it some already. I've learned a lot from the performing I've already done. So, you said at the start I'd be a successful juggler when I do this?"

Yes, successful in the sense that you will get more and more skilled at entertaining an audience. And in the long run you can release your clown.

Your clown is that secret player inside of you who always takes risks and doesn't worry about what people think. If he wants to smash a cream pie in someone's face, he will. Jugglers, scorning gravity's rules, can make an easy transition to the clown, flaunting society's rules. You can do it once you learn to give up control and take risks.

(Henry Slack is an engineer and writer, as well as a charter member of the Atlanta Juggler's Association. He performs as Professor Henry Huggler, his clown.)