Juggling is a physical human skill involving the movement of objects, usually through the air, for entertainment (see object manipulation). The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, where the juggler throws objects through the air. Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as props. The most common props are balls, beanbags, rings, clubs, and bouncing balls. Some performers use dramatic objects such as chainsaws, knives and fire torches. The term juggling can also refer to other prop-based circus skills such as diabolo, devil sticks, poi, cigar box manipulation, fire-dancing, contact juggling, hooping and hat manipulation.
The word juggling derives from the Middle English jogelen to entertain by performing tricks, in turn from the French jongleur and the Old French jogler. There is also the Late Latin form joculare of Latin joculari, meaning to jest. "Juggling" has come to mean, colloquially, any activity which requires a constant refocusing of one's attention from an overall goal to multiple subsidiary tasks, for example "Juggling Work and Family", the title of a PBS documentary, This colloquial meaning is similar to the non-computer use of the word multitasking.
The earliest record of juggling, a panel from the 15th Beni Hassan tomb of an unknown prince, shows female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Juggling has also been recorded in most other early civilizations including Chinese, Indian, Greek, Aztec (Mexico) and Polynesian civilizations.
In Europe, juggling was an acceptable diversion until the decline of the Roman Empire, after which it fell into disgrace. Throughout the Middle Ages most histories were written by religious clerics who frowned upon the type of performers who juggled, called 'gleemen', accusing them of base morals or even practicing witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in marketplaces, streets, fairs or drinking houses. They would perform short, humorous and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some kings' and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been able to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy and storytelling).
In 1768 Philip Astley opened the first modern circus. A few years later he employed jugglers to perform acts along with the horse and clown acts. Since then, jugglers have been associated with circuses.
In the 19th century variety and music hall theatres became more popular, and jugglers were in demand to fill time between music acts, performing in front of the curtain while sets were changed. Performers started specializing in juggling, separating it from other kinds of performance such as sword swallowing and magic. The Gentleman Juggler style was established by German jugglers such as Salerno and Kara. Rubber processing developed, and jugglers started using rubber balls. Previously juggling balls were made from balls of twine, stuffed leather bags, wooden spheres or various metals. Solid or inflatable rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls made ball spinning easier and more readily accessible. Soon in North America, vaudeville theatres employed jugglers, often hiring European performers.
In the early to mid-20th century, variety and vaudeville shows decreased in popularity due to competition from motion picture theatres, radio and television, and juggling suffered as a result. Music and comedy transferred very easily to radio but juggling could not. In the early years of TV, when variety-style programming was popular, jugglers were often featured. But developing a new act for each new show, week after week, was more difficult for jugglers than other types of entertainers - comedians and musicians can pay others to write their material but jugglers can’t get other people to learn new skills on their behalf.
In the early 1950s, more people began juggling as a hobby. The International Jugglers' Association began as a club for performing jugglers, but soon non-performers joined and started attending the annual conventions. The IJA continues to hold an annual convention each summer.
World Juggling Day was created as an annual day of recognition for the hobby, with the intent to teach people how to juggle, to promote juggling or for jugglers to get together and celebrate. Traditionally it is held on a Saturday in mid June.
Most cities and large towns now have juggling clubs. These are often based within, or connected to, universities and colleges. There are also community circus groups that teach young people and put on shows. The Internet Juggling Database maintains a searchable database of most juggling clubs.
Since the 1980s a juggling culture has developed. The scene revolves around local clubs and organizations, special events, shows, magazines, web sites, internet forums and, possibly most importantly, juggling conventions. In recent years there has also been a growing focus on juggling competitions.
Juggling conventions form the backbone of the juggling scene. The focus of most juggling conventions is the main "hall": a large space for open juggling. There will also be more formal workshops in which expert jugglers will work with small groups on specific skills and techniques. Most juggling conventions also include a main show (open to the general public), competitions and juggling games.
Juggling can be categorised:
The object, method, style and number of jugglers can vary. For example, a single juggler could be juggling different objects (say a ball, a club and an orange), could start by toss juggling them, then start bouncing the ball as part of the routine, and finally start passing the objects between themselves and a second juggler.
Juggling world records are tracked by the Juggling Information Service Committee on Numbers Juggling (JISCON). All the records listed on the JISCON page represent the longest runs with each number and prop that has been authenticated using video evidence. As of September 2006, the records for each prop are:
Each of these records is what is known as a "flash", meaning each prop is thrown and caught only once. Some jugglers, and some juggling competitions, do not consider a flash to be "real juggling" and use "qualifying juggle" (a term taken from the International Jugglers' Association's Numbers Competition) to denote a pattern where each prop is thrown and caught at least twice. The JISCON records for qualifying runs are:
Juggling tricks and patterns can become very complex, and hence can be difficult to communicate to others. Therefore notation systems have been developed for communication of patterns, as well as for discovering new patterns.
Diagram-based notations are the clearest way to show juggling patterns on paper, but as they are based on images, their use is limited in text based communication (email and the internet). Ladder Diagrams track the path of all the props through time, where the less complicated Causal Diagrams only track the props that are in the air, and assumes that a juggle has a prop in each hand. Numeric based notation systems are more popular and standardized than diagram-based notations. They are used extensively in both a written form, and for those "fluent" in juggle-speak, in normal conversation.
Siteswap is by far the most common juggling notation. In its most basic form, vanilla siteswap, each pattern is reduced to a simple sequence of numbers, such as "3", "97531" or "744". However, vanilla siteswap can only notate the most basic alternating two-handed patterns, with no deviations from a very strict set of rules. If one of these rules is broken, say an extra hand is added, the same string of numbers will result in a wildly different pattern than first conceived. For slightly more complicated patterns, extra rules and syntax are added to create synchronous siteswap, to notate patterns where both hands throw at the same time, and multiplex siteswap, to notate patterns where one hand holds or throws two balls on the same beat. Other extensions to siteswap have been developed, including passing siteswap, Multi-Hand Notation (MHN), and General Siteswap (GS).
Beatmap is a numeric notation which can notate any number of hands or juggling props, and in any rhythm, with no added complexity to its basic structure. Within beatmap it is possible to notate not only the balls in a pattern, but also the hands or arms of the juggler, as well as the position, location or orientation of the body of a juggler. Luke Burrage, the inventor of beatmap, claims that beatmap can more accurately describe more patterns than all ladder diagrams, causal diagrams, mills mess state transition diagrams, vanilla siteswap, synch siteswap, passing siteswap and multi-hand notation combined. So far use of beatmap is very limited, as most jugglers and all juggling software understand only variations of siteswap.