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Juggling is a form of skillful, often artful, object manipulation. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, where the juggler throws objects through the air. Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as "props," the most popular being balls, beanbags, rings, clubs, or bouncing balls. Some performers use "dangerous" objects such as chainsaws, knives, and fire torches, although when done by a trained performer using the proper equipment are far less dangerous than they appear. Juggling also includes most prop-based circus skills such as diabolo, devil sticks, poi, cigar box manipulation, fire-dancing, contact juggling, and hat manipulation.

The word "juggling" derives from the Middle English jogelen, to entertain by performing tricks, in turn from the French jongleur and the Old French jogler. There is also the Late Latin form joculare of Latin joculari, meaning to jest.[1] As the root of the word suggests, the act of juggling has traditionally been done to please an audience for the purpose of creating joy for the spectator.


History of juggling

Ancient times to twentieth century

The practice of juggling has been recorded for thousands of years. The Chinese book of Lie Yi talks of a Lan Zi juggling seven swords during the spring and autumn period of 770 B.C.E. to 476 B.C.E. Another example of early juggling history is from the story Tain Bo Challenge, which describes Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel, "take eight flaming torches and throw them in the air, and catch one and throw one and they did not touch one another."[2]

Another early example was Tagatus Ursus (53 C.E.-117 C.E.), on whose grave was inscribed the claim that he was the first to juggle using the object of glass balls.

Pierre Gringoire, who died in 1538 C.E., was known as the "King of Jugglers." During the same time period, the emperor of Hindustan talked of jugglers using wooden rings, and in 1528, Christoph Weiditz created some drawings of Aztec jugglers.

In Europe, juggling was an acceptable diversion until the decline of the Roman Empire, after which it fell into disgrace. Throughout the Middle Ages, most histories were written by religious clerics who frowned upon the type of performers who juggled, called "gleemen," accusing them of base morals or even practicing witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in marketplaces, streets, fairs, or drinking houses. They would perform short, humorous, and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some kings' and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been able to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy, and storytelling).

In 1768, Philip Astley opened the first modern circus. A few years later, he employed jugglers to perform acts along with the horse and clown acts. From then until the modern day, jugglers have been associated with circuses.

In the nineteenth century, variety and music hall theaters became more popular, and jugglers were in demand to fill time between music acts, performing in front of the curtain while sets were changed. Performers started specializing in juggling, separating it from other kinds of performance, such as sword swallowing and magic. The Gentleman Juggler style was established by German jugglers such as Salerno and Kara. Rubber processing developed, and jugglers started using rubber balls. Previously, juggling balls were made from balls of twine, stuffed leather bags, wooden spheres, or various metals. Solid or inflatable rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls made ball spinning easier and more readily accessible. Soon, in North America, vaudeville theaters employed jugglers, often hiring European performers.

Twentieth century—birth of a hobby

In the early to mid-twentieth century, variety and vaudeville shows decreased in popularity due to competition from motion picture theaters, radio, and television, and juggling suffered as a result. Music and comedy transferred very easily to radio but juggling obviously did not. In the early years of TV, when variety-style programming was very popular, jugglers were often featured, but developing a new act for each new show, week after week, was impossible. Comedians and musicians can pay others to write their material but jugglers can’t get other people to learn new material for them.

In the early 1950s, more people began juggling as a hobby. The International Jugglers' Association began as a club for performing jugglers, but soon non-performers joined and started attending the annual conventions, and in particular World Juggling Day (to teach people how to juggle, to promote juggling or for jugglers to get together and celebrate), traditionally held on a Saturday in June.

Most cities and large towns now have juggling clubs, often based within or connected to universities and colleges. There are also community circus groups that teach young people and put on shows. The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of most juggling clubs.

Since the late 1980s, a full juggling subculture has developed. The scene revolves around local clubs and organizations, special events, shows, magazines, Web sites, Internet forums, and, possibly most importantly, juggling conventions. In recent years there has also been a growing focus on juggling competitions.

The focus of most juggling conventions is the main hall, a large space for open juggling. There will also be more formal workshops in which expert jugglers will work with small groups on specific skills and techniques. Most juggling conventions will also include a big show (open to the general public), competitions and juggling games. The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of all conventions in the past and future.

Learning how to juggle

Beanbags are usually the object of choice for instructors, since they do not bounce.[3] Instructors start out by teaching a beginner the proper keys of consistency and repetition. The basics consist of learning how to three-ball juggle, because it is the usual beginning point in learning how to become a master at the activity. After mastering three-ball juggling, the student can usually learn how to bounce juggle, and juggle with more objects and tricks.

Popular forms of juggling

Juggling can be categorized by a number of factors, such as:

Objects juggled. Hence, there is ball juggling, club juggling and rings, as well as diabolo, devil sticks and cigar box manipulation. Handkerchiefs are another popular object, as are chainsaws, knives and flaming torches. Really, almost anything can be juggled and hence this category in only limited by practical concerns about size in particular. Three of the more common types of juggling are clubs, rings, and balls. Other types of popular objects are burning newspapers, hammer and nails, fluorescent props that leave a trail as they are traveling, and bicycle hoops.

Method of juggling. The classical and best known form, involving throwing and catching objects in the air without touching the ground, is toss juggling. Bounce juggling involves objects (usually balls) deliberately bounced off the ground. Contact juggling involves manipulating the object in constant contact with the body. There are many different variations to the contact juggling and they can involve using heel kicks to make a ball travel over the head, heading the ball, kicking the ball, or chest bumping the balls.

Performance style. This may include the gentleman juggler—using everyday objects such as hats, canes, plates, wine bottles, and cigars; comedy Juggling—the juggling skill is secondary to the comic character and jokes of the performer; sport themed—the performers dress in sporting attire and juggle sports equipment such as tennis rackets, footballs, or even snooker balls; traditional circus style—presenting pure skill with precision, skill and panache. Cultural extensions of the traditional circus style include: Chinese circus—using mainly rings and badminton rackets, fantastic costumes, concentrating on numbers juggling; Russian folk—colorful costumes and characters, unique props with acrobatics.

Number of objects juggled. There is a common distinction made in juggling between trick juggling and numbers juggling. In trick juggling, the main aim is to perform exceptionally skillful and impressive manipulations with the objects juggled. Numbers juggling, by contrast, has the single-minded goal of juggling as many objects as possible. Many books teach prospective juggle an object to a specific number.

Number of jugglers. Juggling is most commonly performed by an individual. However, multiple-person juggling is also frequently performed by two or more people. The essence of this kind is that some method of passing between the jugglers is used, either through the air (as in toss juggling), bounced off the ground, simply handed over, or numerous other ways depending on the objects and the style of juggling. For example, two club jugglers may stand facing each other, each juggling a 3-club pattern themselves, but then simultaneously passing between each other at preset timings. Back to back juggling is also possible, or various other combinations.

The object, method, style and number of jugglers can be quite fluid. For example, a single juggler could be juggling several different objects (say a ball, a club and an orange), could start by toss juggling them, then start bounding the ball as part of the routine, and finally start passing the objects between themselves and a second juggler.

Juggling world records

Dave Critchfield & John Jones, The Bounce Dicks, bounce passing 18 balls.

Many juggling world records are tracked by the Juggling Information Service Committee on Numbers Juggling (JISCON). All the records listed on the JISCON page represent the longest runs with each number and prop that has been authenticated using video evidence. As of September 2006, the top records for each prop are:

  • Rings/Plates: 13 rings for 13 catches by Albert Lucas in 2002.
  • Balls/Beanbags: 12 beanbags for 12 catches, first done by Bruce Sarafian in 1996.
  • Clubs/Sticks: 9 sticks for 9 catches, first done by Bruce Tiemann in 1996.

Each of these records is what is known as a "flash," meaning each prop is thrown and caught only once. Some jugglers, and some juggling competitions, do not consider a flash to be "real juggling" and use "qualifying juggle" (a term taken from the International Jugglers' Association's Numbers Competition) to denote a pattern where each prop is thrown and caught at least twice. The JISCON records for qualifying runs are:

  • Rings: 10 rings for 64 catches by Anthony Gatto in 2005.
  • Balls: 10 beanbags for 23 catches by Bruce Sarafian in 2001.
  • Clubs: 8 clubs for 16 catches by Anthony Gatto in 2006.

There are jugglers who claim to have equaled or bettered these records, but have not submitted video evidence to the JISCON. Anthony Gatto, Vova Galchenko, Jason Garfield, and Thomas Dietz are recognized as the greatest jugglers in the world, holding numerous world records and entering the most difficult kinds of juggling contests such as the famous WJF Competition. Jason Garfield had demonstrated juggling 8 clubs for 8 catches and 11 balls for 11 catches.

Top jugglers

Anthony Gatto

Anthony Gatto is considered by many to be the top current juggler in the world. He was born in Manhattan, New York, in 1973, and started juggling at the young age of four. At the age of eight, he entered into his first juggling competition, walking away with a gold medal.

By the age of ten, Gatto was getting offers to perform in hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada, and did his act at the Flamingo Hilton

Gatto has 11 current world records and owns a gold medal at the Festival International Du Cirque De Monte Carlo, the most prestigious event in the circus world. He is the only juggler in history to win the gold crown at the event.

Jason Garfield

Garfield started juggling at the age of eleven and has gone on to win 20 gold medals and set two world records since he began. He has written a book on juggling and produced a DVD on it as well. In addition, he has founded the World Juggling Federation, and has had seven juggling competitions aired on ESPN.

Vova Galchenko

Vova was born in Penza, Russia and performed with his sister Olga Galchaenko until 2005. Vova first did his act as a part of a four team group that traveled through Russia and Europe. In 2003 they moved to the United States of America to compete in competitions and travel to perform. In 2004 with the help of Jason Garfield they entered and won a competition and completed one of the best passing routines ever.[4]

Juggling venues

Juggling is often used in circus arts, such as in Jennifer Miller's Circus Amok

Circus. Circuses typically employ one or two jugglers per circus. This means that only the best, most advanced jugglers perform in traditional and established circuses. Many circus jugglers are from Russia and other Soviet block states, products of very prestigious circus schools. Other traditions are represented, such as Chinese acrobatics schools, and traditional circus families that are often Latin American or European. Some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years are from Eastern Europe, including Sergei Ignatov, Evgenij Biljauer and Viktor Kee (featured in Cirque du Soleil productions).

Jugglers would often dress up as clowns and perform this art with several objects ranging from bouncy balls to scarves.

Variety Theaters still do business in Europe, particularly Germany. In North America, the closest thing to variety shows are in casinos, in places like Las Vegas, where jugglers perform alongside singers, comedians, and others. As with circuses, the demand for jugglers to perform in variety theaters and casinos is far lower than jugglers seeking work, meaning only the best, most dynamic performers find regular work in the top venues. Germany and the U.S. have also produced some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years, most notably Francis Brunn from Germany and Anthony Gatto from the United States.

Renaissance and Medieval Fairs in North America and in Europe can also offer short-term performance venues for professional jugglers. With the increasing popularity of such venues (and with the continued success of Medieval/Renaissance themed restaurants) the ancient art of juggling finds a home.

Street Performance. Especially in tourist destinations (Spain, Cyprus, London) entertainers can be found on the street, busking. Street performers often include juggling and comedy in their shows. The most famous locations for this kind of street performance include Covent Garden, in London, and Faneuil Hall, in Boston.

Juggling notation systems

Juggling tricks and patterns can become very complex, and hence can be very difficult to communicate using everyday language. To get around this problem, various notation systems have been developed for communication of existing patterns, as well as for investigating and discovering new patterns.

Diagram-based notations are the clearest way to show juggling patterns on paper, but as they are based on images, their use is limited in text based communication (email and the internet). Ladder Diagrams track the path of all the props through time, where the less complicated Causal Diagrams only track the props that are in the air, and assumes that a juggle has a prop in each hand. Numeric based notation systems are more popular and standardized than diagram-based notations. They are used extensively in both a written form, and for those "fluent" in juggle-speak, in normal conversation.

Animation of Siteswap 3, also known as a 3 ball cascade

Siteswap is by far the most common juggling notation. In its most basic form, Vanilla Siteswap, it is very easy to use, as each pattern is reduced to a simple sequence of numbers, such as "3," "97531," or "744." However, vanilla siteswap can only notate the most basic alternating two-handed patterns, with no deviations from a very strict set of rules. If one of these rules is broken, if, for example, an extra hand is added, the same string of numbers will result in a wildly different pattern than first conceived. For slightly more complicated patterns, extra rules and syntax are added to create Synchronous Siteswap, to notate patterns where both hands throw at the same time, and Multiplex Siteswap, to notate patterns where one hand holds or throws two balls on the same beat. Other extensions to siteswap have been developed for specific purposes, including Passing Siteswap, Multi-Hand Notation (MHN), and General Siteswap (GS).

Beatmap is a relatively new numeric notation which can notate any number of hands or juggling prop, and in any rhythm, with no added complexity to its basic structure. Within beatmap it is also possible and easy to notate not only the balls in a pattern, but also the hands or arms of the juggler, as well as the position, location or orientation of the body of a juggler. Luke Burrage, the inventor of beatmap, claims that beatmap can more accurately describe more patterns than all ladder diagrams, causal diagrams, mills mess state transition diagrams, vanilla siteswap, synch siteswap, passing siteswap and multi-hand notation combined. So far use of beatmap is very limited, as most jugglers and all juggling software understand only variations of siteswap.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, (1989).
  2. www.juggling.org, Research in Juggling History. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  3. Juggling, a Basic Introduction.
  4. Vova Galchenko Homepage, Vova and Olga Retrieved December 22, 2007.


  • Darbyshire, L. and J. Siddall. 1993. Juggling, A Practical Introduction To Mastering The Skills and Techniques of Juggling. Running Books. ISBN 1561382248
  • Polster, B. 2002. The Mathematics of Juggling. Springer Publishing. ISBN 0387955135
  • Summers, K. 1987. Juggling with Finesse. Finesse Press. ISBN 0938981005

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