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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Swigart


by Nym M. K. Nevarez. DRAMATICS. May, 1993.

Have you ever watched a juggler throwing knives or bowling balls or flaming torches into the air, and wondered, "How does he do that?" Actually, it's a lot easier than it looks. Once you understand the technique, all it takes is practice to juggle like a pro.

When you're starting out, you'll want to practice with something more user-friendly than knives of flaming torches. I suggest three socks -- just single socks, all the same size and weight, rolled up really tight. They're a little light and bouncy, but they're easy to grab. Grabbing is extremely useful in juggling' without it, jugglers would have a hard time keeping things in the air.

If you'd prefer something heavier, try three tennis balls, three baseballs, or three small oranges. I like to juggle oranges because when I'm ready for a break, I have a nice juicy snack in my hands. Whichever three items feel comfortable in your hands, and are not too big, too small, too heavy, or too light, are the ones you should stick with until you get some juggling beanbags.

Now we juggle. While you're learning, I suggest standing against a bed or table that doesn't quite come up to your waist. This is so you don't have as far to reach to pick up the items you drop, and you will drop some of your throws at first. Don't worry about it. Every good juggler started out this way.

Cradle one item in the palm of your hand. Squeeze it gently. Remember the grabbing I mentioned earlier? This is it: palm up squeeze gently. Relax your shoulders; bring your elbows in close to your body. Now throw the item in a nice arc, so it goes over from one hand to the other at about eye level. Your hand should move inward, almost like you are splashing water in your face. First the item is thrown from one hand, then the other, in a motion that's something like an eggbeater. The ball should travel in a figure eight pattern. When you catch the ball, let your arm drop down and continue inward smoothly, then throw it to the other hand.

Practice this for a while until you get good at it. This is the foundation of juggling: getting your body to remember how to throw nice and smooth, to exactly the right place at the right time. It takes lots of practice, but after a while, it becomes second nature.

Once you've got the knack of getting your throw to come down to your other hand easily most of the time, you're ready for the second step. Hold one item in each hand. Before you throw anything, picture in your mind how the toss should look. Envision your first throw going over in a nice arc to your other hand. As it passes the point right in front of your eyes, you will toss the second item just to the inside of the one coming down into your hand. It should go in as smooth an arc as the first one, which you picture catching in that hand now. Did you see the smooth arcs? Good. Now try it. Practice these tosses for a while until the motion feels comfortable.

By this time you may be getting a little annoyed at how and where your throws are going. Perhaps as you are throwing your items wildly, or perhaps your timing if off. Maybe when the first item is coming down to your other hand, you get flustered and throw the second item just anywhere, to make room in your hand for the incoming one. These things happen to everyone who reaches this step. Picture in your mind again how it should go, and work on getting the second throw as smooth as the first.

Once you're consistently making two smooth throws, you'll probably need to work some more on catching the first throw, because concentrating on the second throw usually messes that catch up for a bit. It takes a while for your brain to get used to thinking about two things at once. After some more practice you'll be making two nice throws and catching them neatly.

Now practice the throw starting from the other direction. That is, if you threw the first item from your right hand, now throw it from your left.

You should practice that last step really well, because you are going to need smooth arcs from both directions and good grabbing skills for the next step. Hold two items in your right hand and one in the other. In your right hand, the first item you are going to throw should rest on your fingers, just above the other one, which should be in the palm.

Picture how juggling is going to look before trying it. Throw the finger item up first. As it reaches the point right in front of your eyes, throw the item in your left hand in a smooth arch to the right hand. Catch the finger item in your left and, and as the second item in the air reaches the point right in front of your eyes, throw the third item from your right hand. Catch the second item in that hand. As the third time reaches the point right in front of your eyes throw the first item again, this time from your left hand. Catch the third item in that hand. Your hands are moving in a circular motion, catching, tossing, and circling back for the next catch. Get the picture? Practice this for a little while and then take a break. You have juggled.

I think the best way to get good is to practice often for short periods of time. If your throws are going too far out in front of you, causing you to lunge forward, stand facing the wall. If your throws are curving back over your head, focus on the items crossing the air from one hand to the other in smooth arcs in from of your eyes. Remember to relax your shoulders and arms. Take a break now and then and eat one of your oranges. Don't eat your socks.

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