by Joyce Howard 

We're waiting in one of those endless lines at the local amusement park. One of my boys pulls three beanbags out of his pocket. Soon many beanbags are flying through the air between all five of us in controlled chaos. Bystanders ask "How do you do that?" By the time we get to the front of the line, we've taught several of them to juggle three beanbags and made some new friends.

Juggling is one of those skills that fascinates everyone. My husband learned to juggle at fourteen and taught me when we met in college. All three of our boys learned when they were about six years old. We're not with a circus, but just a regular suburban family - dad is a systems analyst with the power company and I work out of our home in sales and training of a hands-on math curriculum. Our three boys play in the high school band and on sports teams.

Juggling is our fun hobby, but it has become a nice part-time job for all of us. Over the past ten years we've done hundreds of short juggling shows for local schools, scout groups, churches, sports camps, and festivals. Our boys have earned spending money and saved for special trips and college.

This cottage industry juggling has taught us much about running a small business. There's marketing (creating business cards and handing out flyers at meetings), negotiating fees, scheduling, and sending thank you notes and invoices using the computer. Best of all my boys have learned public speaking and stage presence. They're not nervous about performing in front of lots of people. We started with small birthday parties and now entertain entire schools and festival crowds. Juggling shows are entertainment, so comedy and style are necessary parts. I love the creativity and spontaneity our boys have developed through their juggling activities.

We have taught scarf juggling to many school children as well as some adults. We recently did a group exercise at Coca-Cola here in Atlanta for a Worldwide Media Summit. We taught media managers from 70 countries around the world to juggle scarves. We started with a few comedy juggling routines of our own and then proceeded to teach the group. At first they were timid and reluctant to try it themselves, but after the first few throws of the scarves the entire room was filled with neon puffs of color. Imagine this - a huge conference room of professional people (who control 2 billion advertising dollars for Coke) - all playing like children, learning something new, and having a blast!

Another benefit from our juggling hobby has been all the wonderful people we've met, both jugglers and audience. We go to several juggling festivals each year to visit with other jugglers and learn new skills. There's always something new to learn - one more object, a new prop, a new trick. We even have games like combat (everyone starts juggling three objects and the last one left juggling wins) and joggling races (running while juggling).

What do we juggle? Almost anything smaller than a table - including balls, rings, clubs, torches, and gerbils. My youngest son juggled gerbils at a birthday party. It didn't hurt them at all - they were juggled many times and lived long gerbil lives.

So how do you learn to juggle? We've taught hundreds of people and haven't found anyone older than six who can't learn if they really try. Find a juggler willing to teach you or visit your local bookstore and buy Juggling for the Complete Klutz (comes with three beanbags). It's actually a very simple skill, but it must be learned in small steps. Most important - drops are a part of juggling - everybody does it. All it takes is patience and practice. Remember that everyone feels like a klutz when they learn a new skill.

Most magic stores carry juggling equipment, but beanbags and tennis balls work fine for beginners. Children younger than six can learn pre-juggling skills starting with nylon scarves and beanbags. PE teachers love juggling because it uses both the right and left sides of the body equally and is great for coordination. When my youngest son started playing baseball, his coach called him the "velcro fly man" because any fly ball hit near him ended up in his glove. He'd been catching balls for years with his juggling.

Once you learn to juggle three beanbags, you'll want to learn how to do clubs. Then the next big step is learning to pass clubs between two people. At juggling meetings and festivals one of the main activities is passing clubs among four, five, six, sometimes ten or more people! We try all sorts of different patterns and rhythms. It's very aerobic and lots of fun.

Juggling torches can be very intimidating with the flames flashing past your face, but you soon learn that it's just like juggling clubs. If you catch one on the flaming end of the torch and let go quickly, you won't get hurt. The worst problem is the soot from the burning lighter fluid. Juggling torches is very flashy and a real crowd pleaser. 

My boys have found that juggling in the park or on the beach is a great way to meet other kids. People of all ages gather to watch and the party begins! For more information about juggling visit the Atlanta Jugglers Association or International Jugglers Association.