IJA Judging – A Manifesto

Notes from a discussion between Lana Bolin (IJA competitor (2001/2002) and judge (2004/2005), Françoise Rochais (IJA Individual gold medallist (1995) and performer and judge at international circus festivals), and Luke Wilson (IJA competitor (1999) and judge (2011) and performer at international circus festivals).

We believe the current judging system in use by the IJA (International Jugglers’ Association) for the purposes of deciding the Juniors, Teams and Individuals Championships to be over-complicated and flawed. We believe it to be overly focused on delivering fast and non-debatable results, at the expense of not allowing the opinions and experiences of the invited judges to contribute to the results.

We understand that it is the result of past issues with the judging systems used, but we fail to see its strengths and advantages over previous systems.

Until recently, the judging criteria was divided into two broad categories (technique and performance), weighted at sixty and forty percent respectively. The system now in use has split these categories further, into a total of seven wide aspects to be considered by each judge. Each category is ranked from 1 to 5 points, with a multiplication factor then taken into account. This has coincided with a move away from weighting the technique over the performance side, with the results now reflecting a percentage of 45/55, technique vs. performance.

Execution (x4)
Entertainment Level (x4)
Degree of Difficulty (x3)
Theatrical Framing (x3)
Creativity (x3)
Element of Risk (x2)
Stage Presence (x1)

A separate tally of Deductible Drops is also added in, with a deduction of 0.5 points per drop. This number may be any value up to and including the actual number of drops, at the judge’s individual discretion.

Although it may appear useful to define so many categories, we feel it detracts from a judge’s ability to rank the acts as she sees fit, and brings in a number of ambiguous factors.

Why separate Execution from Degree of Difficulty (how well you do the trick from what trick you do)? This can have the affect of rewarding poorly executed hard tricks, as a calculated risk against loosing some points in Execution.

How can one usefully define “Element of Risk”? As it stands now, five people standing on stage juggling three balls each should earn more points than two people doing the same three ball cascade. Or juggling three new and potentially slippery clubs earns more points than juggling worn-in ones. Juggling is, by definition, a series of risks. Any discussion of risk is simply a discussion of technique. At best this category is unnecessary, at worst, we find here again the possibility to reward poor technique (more points for a five club cascade if it looks like it is about to drop at any moment!).

We find these three categories to be unnecessary breakdowns of the “technique” aspects of a juggling act, just as we find the four remaining categories to be unnecessary breakdowns of the “performance” aspects.

In addition, we fail to understand the use of a drop count left to each judge’s discretion. Coming from the viewpoint of juggling performers, a drop is a very clear violation of the performer’s intentions, impacting both the technical and performance aspects of good technique. The impact or otherwise of drop events should be judged on the overall effect that it has on the performance.

The judges are invited due to their knowledge and experience of juggling as a performing art, and should not need such hand holding.

We understand that an argument for this system of judging is to avoid lengthy discussions and arguments between the judges, so as to speed up the decision process. Why is this necessary? Events this year (2011) in the calculation of the Teams scores show that errors can still occur.

Is there any strong reason to announce the championships results directly after the championships show? Most other serious circus competitions allow the judges ample time to discuss and come to their conclusions, and announce the winners in a separate ceremony AFTER the completion of the final competitions. Sometimes the winners are notified beforehand, sometimes not. But the artificial, and unnecessary, pressure to have speedy results is not there.

With no time pressure on the judges to reach their verdict, isn’t the chance higher of reaching more informed and accurate decisions? An exchange between judges allows individual expertise and experience to come to the fore, and so can avoid the possible issue of any one judge lacking specific technical or historical knowledge that should be taken into account when judging competitors against one another.

If it is felt that the sub-categorisation of technique and performance into these seven aspects is useful as a guide to judging, then it is necessary to define each element in a far more precise way than is now done, and to consider whether said categories are really the correct ones to be focussing on!

In conclusion, we fail to see the advantages of the current system, and propose a return to the older system of judging, based on two criteria. For clarity, we suggest the two categories “technique” and “artistic”. We believe “artistic” to be a better and more specific term than “performance”, as the latter could include both technical and artistic considerations. The relative split should be either 50/50, or slightly favouring the technical side, eg 55/45. Discussion between the judges should be endured and encouraged, with ample time allowed for them to reach a decision. The winners should be announced the day following the competition show, which not only allows a more complete discussion of the acts, but which can also give the competitions more importance and weight at the festival.

The IJA Stage Championships have nurtured, produced and showcased some of the best juggling acts in the world today. We feel that the judging system in its current form is in best case ill-defined, and in worst case detrimental to the art of juggling.

Lana Bolin
Françoise Rochais
Luke Wilson

July 2011


I am currently in Seattle, USA, doing shows at the Moisture Festival: http://www.moisturefestival.org/

It is thusly named because of the rain… They didn’t lie to me.

In my big collection of VHS tapes back home are held many performers who appeared on the Paul Daniels Magic Show in the 80s and 90s. Two of the most inspirational performers to me from that era, and from those tapes, are Johnny Fox (sword-swallower) and Frank Olivier (juggler).

I doubt I would be doing this job if it weren’t for them. Really.

Last week, I held Johnny Fox’s hand in the curtain call, and last night a slightly drunk Frank Olivier jumped on a pull up bar and wrapped his legs around me.

Give me a moment, I am tearing up a little…

OK, I’m back…

Just before the show with Johnny, I was pacing around as usual, with my clubs in my hands. He asked me if he could check them out. Somehow, I managed to say “no”. Of course, he understood, and watching his prep, he clearly understands rituals and habits, but still…

I hate it when people ask to touch my clubs.

Although not uniquely custom built to my body and needs, ordering a 95mm, standard length, hard bodied, non-wrapped, extra light club in the colour of my choice (probably white) from Renegade gives me a good amount of personal connection to the club. I know the people who build them, and I have visited the small workshop where they are born.

I always do my final backstage warm-up with the clubs that I will use on stage. They need to get focused and ready too. It is their responsibility to make my juggling look good. Their weight keeps me slow and calm, and their solidity gives me one certain thing to keep hold of during my time on stage. Different stages have different heights, different lights, different floors. Even different audiences. But one thing is always the same: the clubs that come on stage with me.

I was working in the Krystallpalast Varieté in Leipzig, Germany, on the night of December 31st, 2003. Just after midnight, a fire broke out on stage. My partner at the time, Ilka Licht, was one of the first to see the flames, and, as audience and artists started to run from the burning theatre, she ran instead in the opposite direction, backstage, to grab our club bag. A little later the two of us and our clubs stood safely in the cold watching the smoking building. It never occurred to us that she perhaps shouldn’t have taken that risk…