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Fundamentals of Juggling

Lucien Love has been juggling for 19 years and has showcased his skills in two talent shows.

Juggling is a fun hobby and an easy skill to pick up (pun intended). It involves minimal time commitment and, in most cases, you can learn while doing something else, such as watching television. Kids and adults alike love to watch jugglers, and you'll be a hit if you pull them out during parties or get-togethers.

© Nusho4ka | Stock Free Images

© Nusho4ka | Stock Free Images

Choosing Your Gear

You can juggle if you have virtually any three objects of roughly equal size and weight. Sure, you can use three objects of differing sizes and weights (one exercise for those wishing to learn how to juggle clubs, for example, involves using two balls and one club and then progressing to two and then three clubs. Clubs are outside the scope of this article), but as a beginner, your best bet is to keep things simple.

When selecting your gear, you want to keep two things in mind: shape and material. In a nutshell, your best bet is to go onto Amazon or Ebay or your favorite online shop and find bean bags designed specifically for juggling.

What Not to Use and Why:

  • Tennis balls: Bad for the beginner. You might think they're perfect for juggling because they come in sets of three, they're of equal weight, and they fit nicely in the palm of the hand. If you're planning to do your practicing on sand or grass, maybe they'll work for you. However: juggling balls are round and you're going to spend the vast majority of your initial juggling career dropping the balls, and tennis balls roll when dropped. You'll spend a lot of time chasing balls if you're juggling inside on hard wood or outside on pavement, which tends to frustrate.
  • Rocks: Also bad for the beginner, even if you find three of relatively equal size. When you're not dropping the balls as a beginner, you'll find that they tend to fly in unpredictable directions while you master throwing them at a predictable height and in a controlled direction. There's a good chance that you'll hit yourself in the face or head multiple times while learning.

So what you'll want to look for are bean bag-type juggling balls. The brand Klutz makes some fantastic balls for learning how to juggle and comes with a booklet that works well alongside this article. Your humble author uses balls by a company called Flames N Games which are leather, harder, and do tend to roll -- however your humble author also drops them at a lesser frequency than a beginner, so you might wait until your skills are intermediate before looking into these balls.

In summary, you want balls that will stay in place when you drop them and won't result in a concussion when they come down on your head.

How to Juggle: Step One

The first step to learning to juggle is familiarize yourself with posture. At the same time, you want to dive right in and get used to bending down to pick up wayward juggling balls.

You're going to start with three balls and throw them into the air as though you're juggling, however you're not going to bother trying to catch them. This step familiarizes you with how to hold the balls and how they'll look while airborne.

Regarding posture, you should stand erect with your feet about shoulder-width apart and relax your shoulders. Avoid looking at your hands. Instead, gaze straight ahead. Juggling is a fun and relaxing hobby, so if you're feeling anxious and your body is tight as a drum, you're doing something wrong.

Grab your three balls. Hold one in your left hand. Hold the other two in your right hand. One of the balls will sit in the curve of your fingers while the other will sit in your palm. The one in your fingers is the first one you'll throw and the one in your palm is the third.

You've probably seen jugglers before so your main concern at this stage is to emulate what you've seen. First throw the one in your right hand, then the one in your left hand, then the other one in your right hand. Let all three fall to the ground.

Do this about a dozen times. Ideally, you want to aim to throw the balls at or just above eye level. See the video for a demonstration.

Step Two: Practice With One Ball

Once you're familiar with throwing the balls, ditch two of them.

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Now that you have one ball, throw it back and forth between your right and left hands. You want the ball to arc consistently and hit its peak at approximately eye level. You also want to maintain the posture you practiced in step one: keep your shoulders relaxed and your eyes level.

How many times should you practice throwing the one ball? It's subjective. The important thing is to focus on getting consistent throws every time. You might find it tempting to jump right in to three balls, but juggling three balls is no different than juggling one ball—it's one of those situations where the only difference is in your mind.

Again, see the video for a demonstration.

Step Three: Add a Second Ball

Now you're handling two balls.

Start by throwing the ball in your right hand. As that ball reaches its apex and begins its descent, throw the ball in your left hand. You'll start hearing a nice, smooth auditory rhythm as the balls contact your palms: 1-2...1-2...1-2.

You're still practicing consistent arcs. Each ball should reach its apex at approximately the same spot: eye-level, directly in front of your face roughly between the eyes. There's a good chance at this point that you'll start seeing mid-air collisions, so hopefully you spent plenty of time practicing your picking-up skills in step one.

Step Four: Juggling Three Balls

As you've probably guessed, you're moving up to three balls at this step.

Start by throwing the first ball in your right hand. As that one reaches its apex and starts to descend, throw the second ball in your left hand and catch the first ball. As the second ball reaches its apex and starts to descend, throw the third and catch the second. Lather, rinse, repeat. Juggling three balls is one of those tasks that translates poorly to a written description so see the attached video for a visual.

Another problem contributing to translating juggling to the written word is that there's something intuitive about juggling. Once you start getting the hang of it, you enter into a sort of Zen-like trance where you become hypnotized. Contributing to the trance is the soft rhythmic thumping of the balls as they land in your palms: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3, etc.

You'll drop them. You'll throw them. They'll go sailing across the room. If you're practicing near a body of water (say, a pool) one will go in the pool. If you're practicing inside, you'll hit the light overhead. And speaking from experience, if you have a laptop anywhere nearby, at least one ball will land directly on the keyboard. As a matter of fact, juggling balls seem magnetically attracted to whatever item in the room would cost the most money to replace.

However with practice, you'll find that you drop them less and less.

How to Juggle: the Realistic/Cynical Definition

If you start feeling dejected about dropping the balls, consider this realistic-albeit-somewhat-cynical definition:

Juggling is the act of seeing how long you can keep three objects from falling.

Realistically, whatever you're juggling will fall sooner or later. The world record for three-ball-juggling in regards to duration is, at the time of this writing, held by one David Slick, who maintained a three-ball juggling pattern for twelve hours and five minutes.

Your goal, while juggling, is to incrementally increase the amount of time between when you start the juggling pattern and when one of them hits the floor. Maybe you keep it up for a minute at first. Then two minutes. Then three, five, etc.

A Helpful Practice Exercise

One exercise that might help you extend the amount of time you're able to maintain a pattern is to use the television as a sort of timekeeper.

For example, let's say you're watching a traditional 30-minute program with two commercial breaks. You might start juggling at the beginning of the program and see if you can maintain the pattern until the first commercial break.

Similarly, you can start juggling at the start of the commercial break and see if you can maintain the pattern until the program comes back on.

This particular method works best if you've reached a point where you can maintain a three-ball-pattern with some consistency because otherwise you might find that the program creates too much of a distraction.

Take care to stand well away from the television or you might send a bean bag directly into the center of the screen.

Pitfall: The Half Shower

One common mistake that new juggers make is to confuse the cascade with the half-shower. While you'll probably learn both if you spend enough time juggling and pushing your limits, it is better to start with the former and learn the latter later.

The half-shower involves throwing one ball into the air in an arc with the right hand while the left hand catches the ball and chucks it horizontally along the waist into the right hand, creating an overall circular/triangular motion.

Logic behind learning the cascade first: the 3-ball-cascade is a smoother, more relaxed pattern. Because the balls in the half-shower are moving faster (specifically, the ball moving from the left hand to the right) it tends to feel more frantic.

Additionally, regardless of the pattern you learn, you're going to spend a considerable amount of time picking balls off the ground when you start learning. With the 3-ball-cascade the balls fall straight down to the ground, whereas if you miss the catch with the cascade you'll end up literally throwing the ball several feet to one side or the other, meaning you'll be walking AND picking up balls.

Why do beginners make this mistake? That's a matter for debate. When you see cartoon characters juggling, they tend to employ the half-shower instead of cascade, so maybe people unconsciously assume that the half-shower is the "traditional" pattern.

See the video below to see the half-shower in action.

© 2018 Trevor Prescott


Trevor Prescott (author) from USA on September 15, 2018:

You might find it fun to mess around with the dryer softening balls, too. Even if you only have one or two, you can practice the arcs.

RTalloni on September 15, 2018:

How fun! Enjoyed this read. :) It's funny that just last night I was holding clothes dryer softening balls (the ones that have the little round knobs all over) and wondering if I could learn to juggle. I tossed the two a bit, just for fun, and realized that in this last quarter of my life learning to juggle would be very beneficial. And here you are with this neat info. Thanks! Now I need to check out the real deal for juggling balls. If I'm a complete fail at it my grands will enjoy them. Loved the vids!

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