Understanding

I am not sure how useful this little essay will be. I have a feeling it should be a Vlog, but that seems like too much effort, in case it simply turns out to be another rant about juggling…

I want to talk about tricks. “Tricks” has almost become a dirty word amongst certain levels of the “modern” circus world. But I am shameless, and am happy to admit that tricks make me happy. If technique defines an emotional state, so can tricks define technique. On a slight sidetrack now, I was thinking earlier of the Christian Slater skateboarding movie from 1989, Gleaming The Cube. Which I loved. What I remember most was being impressed at all the different skating styles he showed (street, vert, freestyle), and how they were shown as being tied to his emotional state (OK, I may not have explicitly thought that at the time). When he was angry, he went out to his backyard and shredded the half-pipe. When he was sad and lonely, out came the freestyle deck. Pretty cool.

Anyway, I want to write about juggling tricks. My example shall be a trick which has become somewhat of a standard over the last ten years or so, although when I started doing it I hadn’t seen it done before. The basic concept is of catching a club by the wrong end, and making a small half-spin throw to the same hand to get it back to the handle (commonly known as an Oh-shit). The small step I made was to have that throw and catch happen blind, behind the back.

Not a ground-breaking idea, but it made me happy. It developed thusly, in 1999 or 2000:

First trick: throw a club behind the back with a single spin, having it remain behind the body. Make the next catch and throw with the hand you just used, then catch the “behind the back” club back in that same hand. The club in question is thrown and caught at the same point in space. Quite easy.

Second trick: make that same “behind the back throw and catch”, but have it happen with no intermediate catches from the hand in question. No peeking, the club should remain unseen by the juggler at all times. Rather hard.

Third trick: the easier version! Change the “behind the back throw and catch” from a single spin to a half spin (an Oh-shit!). This means it barely has to leave the hand, and is therefore very easy to do. As a bonus, it also, I think, looks better. (I later saw Maksim Komaro’s solution to this same problem. He changed the pattern he was using to add time to quickly spot the club, making the single spin variation quite doable. But I still wanted the blind version!)

So, there was the trick. A behind the back thrown and caught Oh-shit. Without getting too much into overly technical details, there are several possibilities of patterns (another dirty word!) for doing this trick. The obvious ones (to a juggler) are called 423 and 522. I chose a hybrid pattern, 52242, to be my default for this trick. The reasons for this I shall get to soon.

I started to perform this trick in my act, and did it at juggling conventions and showed it at workshops. The process to find the trick was very easy and obvious, and no doubt others found it to. It is now a very common “new juggling” trick.

And everyone else I have seen do it does it in one of the obvious patterns: 423 or 522.

I might be overly cynical about it, but I get the impression that most people think of the “trick” being the little half-spin throw, and the pattern that it is done within as a necessary evil: an afterthought, perhaps. Simply a shortcut to get to the “trick”.

As I wrote before, tricks make me happy. And so I want my juggling to show each trick in it’s best possible light. I chose my odd little hybrid pattern because (I believe) it is constructed in a way that brings attention and focus to the (very small) trick that it makes possible. The throwing order of the hands, the relative heights of the throws, the planes the clubs move in, the way that my body and head have to move to allow the pattern: these things bring the focus to the place I want it to be, and so, I hope (and believe) make the tiny little “throw and catch” moment clear, interesting and IMPORTANT to my audience.

The moment we stand on a stage and show our juggling, we must have a complete understanding of what it is we are showing. It is not enough to do some tricks, no matter how happy they make us. Each trick must be understood, selected and, if necessary, added to or pruned in order to give our audience the show we want them to have.

We should understand our tricks, so we can present them in the best way possible.

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