Juggler's Shifty Legs and Snaky Torso

By Xah Lee. Date:

One thing the juggling clods should learn is that, when you juggle, never shift your feet.

When you watch jugglers, even world's top professionals in their professional presentation or performance, you'll inevitably notice their uncontrolled shifting of their feet that compensates their upper body's incompetence, making them looking majorly like a boor.

It is not that jugglers have to. I mean, if you can do 7 with penguin feet, do 5 without. And if you cannot, stick with 3 balls, 2 balls, or just 1.

The bottom line of the problems of the shifty legs of the jugglers is their mentality, where the western juggler's act has roots in vaudeville, the slapsticks, burlesques, those things associated with low-lifers.

For juggling to become a performance art, the first thing it needs is elegance and discipline. The shifty feet is the major distraction of the art of mathematical flying paths. (known otherwise poorly as juggling)

So, you jugglers out there, today's lesson is: Stop shifting your feet. Do not make it a habit of moving your leg or snaking your torso as a way to compensate your inaccuracies in throw. When you juggle, aim to move only the necessary part of the body -- your arms. Think of yourself as a machine with mechanical precision. (Make other bodily movement only when you want to, like a dancer, not as a side-effect of trying to catch/throw your props.) This will advance the respectability of juggling in the world's eyes. As a matter of fact, trade technical difficulty for elegance and precision. (Jugglers who only see the “I can do this!” aspect of juggling are a dime a dozen. There are thousands who can do 7 balls but looking like a dolt. While, it is almost impossible to find a 4 ball performance with a precision like a automata and elegance of a competitive ballroom dancer.)

Next time you see a juggler performing on stage who shifted his feet while the whole show is otherwise a “circus spectacle”, consider him a artless buffoon.


Adam wrote:

if top jugglers could juggle 7 balls with out shuffling they would, and i'm sure audiences would rather see some shuffling 7 ball cascade, than a perfect 5 ball cascade.

Exactly. It is the condition of the audience's association with juggling as a silly, artless, stunt-like act. When people watch ballet, they don't applaud for the height of the dancer's leaps, or the number of pirouette the performers can spin.

When in Olympics gymnastics (or even figure skating, diving), the winner is not the one with the most number of tumbles.

Ballroom dancing, Olympics gymnastics, figure skating, are associated with elegance and art, while juggling, stunt, burlesque, circus.

Why would a audience cry out for 7, 8, 9 balls instead of a artistic performance of 4 balls carried out in style? Because the Western Juggling Clowns, have conditioned the audience to perceive and expect juggling as a show of stunt.

As long as juggling is considered as a stunt, a circus act, a how-many-balls, or clowning, it will forever shroud the act with cheapness.

To change this, you need to start to change the juggler's mentality, and it is not “Look Ma! I can do this!”.

Adam wrote:

I think some people see juggling as a sport. Some see it as an art form. And indeed, it is a debate that seems to occur regularly here on rec.juggling. Is it an art, or a sport? Well the answer is its what ever you want it to be. Those that think its a beautiful art form, want to make everything fluid, creative and possibly with no shuffling.

Others who treat it as a sport, want to push themselves as far as there body and mind can go, and when you do reach such boundaries, its impossible to not re-correct yourself in the pursuit for that extra elusive ball, or that extra elusive catch.

Say, is math art or science? is kung fu art or skill? is masturbation art or sex?

Juggling, as the way it is in the western world, is not art, nor is it sport. It is, as i said, stunty, show-off, circus material, a artlessness.

As a subject of art, it needs to have fineness and style, and painstaking perfection with expression, with at least some understanding of the history of performance art and art in general. (if you do study art, may it be the classical painting, sculpturing, or performance art in theaters or dancing, you understand that there are quite a few humanity class you are required to take)

It is not luck, that ballet or piano playing is surrounded with a air of class. While, as examples, break-dancing and guitar playing are in general crass.

Now, as for sport, which is a alternative view that we can promote juggling. However, juggling as it is performed or expected, is still far away from being a sport, less a respectable sport.

For a act to be a respectable sport in modern world, it must be competitive and with fairly good standard of judgment.

Our cock -- Jason Garfield -- has lead juggling towards this orientation with his World Juggling Federation with his associated yearly competition. This is similar to how the X-Games brought skateboarding, BMX biking, inline skating and other street teen activities to some respectable height.

It is a good thing. However, juggling as a sport as shown in WJF still has ways to go before it reaches the same stage of Olympic sports such as Gymnastics or figure skating. Note that in these sports, any inadvertent bodily movement such as shifty-feet is a major disgrace, even beginners knew, while in WJF, Jason himself does shifty-feet openly without being aware of a shame, and you can have penguin-feet and snake-torso and still win a medal.

In gymnastic or figure skating, it not just how many tumbles you can do. Style, elegance, plays a role as important as technical difficulty. In juggling as a spectator sport lead by WJF, at its infant stage, is still largely judged on “Ma, look i can do this!”

Let's not digress: Remember, you are not a clown. You have full control of your body. Don't do shifty feet or snaky torso. Don't be a slob.

Steven wrote:

In spite of the obvious troll, the subject isn't without merit.


Note that the subject is not about “should dancers do more with their feet, or more with their arms?”, or “rock style versus rocking style?”.

But -- if you will -- insist on that topic, then let me join you with my personal take.

I'm a reclusive juggler. So, i don't really have a routine or in preparation for competition or shows. I just juggle for myself, as in the study of math, and with my appreciation of math, of juggling's great exhibition of the mathematical beauty of the combinatorial variations of flying paths.

I do only ball juggling (disregarding my teen history here), and i focus on 3-ball freestyle and as well currently 5-ball juggling. For 5, i'm currently trying to perfect smooth switching between cascade and reverse cascade. In this particular act, there's great mathematical beauty to be appreciated, in the sheer pattern of the ball's changing paths.

(Juggling that focus on the beauty of ball-path pattern, is better known as siteswap juggling, due to fact that the pattern is written down using a notation called siteswap. Henceforth i'll call pattern-juggling as siteswap juggling.)

I hereby make a few comments and tips on siteswap juggling:

• Juggling as a performance, can be _purely_ a show of siteswap juggling. No bodily movements (except the arms), no facial expression, no speech, but showing the sheer beauty of the balls flying in the air with varied patterns. This focus, is almost never seen on stage. (for various reasons, some of which i've addressed in previous articles) Juggling as a pure siteswap performance should be encouraged.

• When doing siteswap juggling, try to bring your arms wider than you would normally. This will bring out the pattern more beautifully. Remember here, when doing siteswap as a performance, your goal is to show the beauty of the patterns of the path of flying balls. So, you want to practice precision. You want to have a extremely steady beat. (A good tip is to juggle to dance music) Try to make the balls fly a perfect, smooth, wide, arc. Make each of the ball's path distinct. Avoid jerking or jumpy throws. Make the balls go as slow as possible. (Note: perfection of siteswap as a performance is enormously difficult. In my judgement, Jason Garfield, widely considered as possibly the best or second best of ball juggling in the world, is fit only to perform 5-ball site-swap. For ball jugglers who can qualify for 8, it is safe to say they are only at the stage of perfecting 4-ball siteswap.)

• Use colored balls. Normally, jugglers tend to use balls all of the same color. This in some way makes the juggling pattern seem more uniform and smooth. However, if you focus on siteswap, you should use balls of different colors. They don't need to be all different colors, but at least one or two colored balls. When you use colored balls, you will notice the beauty of orbits in your pattern. (That is, the path made by a particular ball, which will be different than other ball's path. Different siteswap have different number of orbits. The exact path of a particular orbit is itself varied. Imagine a ball being a brush that leaves a ink in a vertical canvas. Some orbit will draw a side-way figure 8, while other orbit will be like a arc, etc.)

For a clear appreciation of how colored balls bring out the pattern in a siteswap, first look at: siteswap 57233 with white balls. Then, look at: siteswap 57233 with colors balls.

Besides the mathematical appreciation of juggling, i'm also what you might call a artsy fellow, who has great appreciations of the arts and humanities, and including performance arts. Hence, i find it a great solace and consolation of my soul, in advancing juggling as a art form. In particular, besides the siteswap as a performance aspect, but as a whole-body performance carried out with style and expression, as in modern competitive dance of all sort of styles.

In this aspect, there is nothing more fitting than the spectacular and infinite styles expressible as 3-ball freestyle juggling.

However, there are great obstacles in making 3-balls juggling as a respectable performance art or competitive sport, and most of these stem from the clowns, asses, dorks, that make up the bulk of jugglers.

For example, among jugglers (of which greater than 99% are men), there's a macho sentiment that look down on 3-ball juggling, considering it trite, tricks, children's play. Relevant here is the notion and aspiration called “number-juggling”, which takes the philosophy of more-is-better.

Besides this macho discredit, there are is also the juggler-as-slobs ambiance prevalent among jugglers. The jugglers in general are of T-shirts, sneakers, classlessness, vagabond, circus freaks. These folks, with their stupidity and lack of taste, are a significant barrier of 3-ball free-style becoming a richly expressive and yet technically difficult formal art as that of figure skating or international competitive ballroom dancing.