This article was written in 2004, before I became a performer.
Photo of Yuki Ueda and Benjamin West at the Vancouver Art Gallery meet up Saturday Circus.
If you pass by Science World on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, you will see pins flying through the air, people juggling seven balls at a time, unicyclists circling around and juggling, people on each other shoulders practicing routines and myself, contact juggling an acrylic ball or two. It is the Vancouver Juggling club, where many jugglers crawl out of their dark basements where the practice and gather as a community. This community understands the many reasons why juggling is an amazing tool to learn about your mind, body and spirit.
Personally, I am a contact juggler. I do toss juggling, as many as four balls at a time, but contact juggling is something that awes me every time I pick up my ball. You’re probably wondering what contact juggling is, as it is not a very common form of juggling. If you have ever seen it, it might have been on a movie called the Labyrinth where David Bowie appears to have crystal balls, which magically float through the air. That is the illusion of this magic juggling trick. A crystal clear acrylic ball, inverting any images, which go through it, never leaves contact with your body. Your body, moving quickly underneath the ball gives the appearance that this three-inch bubble is floating above your hand magically.
When introduced to contact juggling, I was in the midst of a depression. Unable to really enjoy many moments in my life because I was carrying the weight of sadness everywhere I went. My obsession started immediately when I picked up my first ball. For an instant, the first instance since I was a child, I was in that moment. Focused on the ball awkwardly drawing circles around my palm I dropped it. That moment was something that needed to be captured again. It gave me hope that my sadness could be put down for a moment as I played.
Apparently contact juggling has a high learning curve. There are not many people who contact juggle; because of the time and practice it takes to get good at it. Determined to understand, and wanting to play, I chased the ball, pick it up and awkwardly follow the imaginary line in my palm. Slowly I start to understand the relationship between my hand, and the ball. The one-pound of weight becomes something normal to carry on the back of my hands. For the first time I understand that I have the capability to learn anything I want to, and get good at it.
Now, my balls come out every opportunity they have to play, setting me in constant motion. Best done outdoors, on a grassy field I find myself going to outdoor festivals because they are conducive to contact juggling. All three days at these festivals I have ball in hand, feeling the perpetual motion. On-lookers are amazed by the dance that my balls and I do. They gawk, and just for an instant my eye catches theirs. I drop the ball. All the focus that I have put into these balls is lost with one notion that I am being watched. My focus shifted from the ball to them watching me. People are not conducive to focusing on the ball.
I pick up the ball, chat for a moment about what I am doing and re-focus. A person telling me it looks good certainly brings confidence, but this tells me I need to work on my performance skills. The ability to focus on my juggling although people are around is a lesson needed to be learned. Knowing that this is something not many can do would lead me to opportunities if I could perform it well. Focus is something I often lack, so this lesson is a large one for me.
My body has thanked me numerous times for juggling. Having an extension of ones self, an object that does not leave contact, creates lessons one would never know otherwise. If not fully keen it’s dropped. The sensation of a smooth caress tingles as a drop of water would if it was just one drop, rolling down your arm. This creates flow and grace to the movement, where I am otherwise clumsy. Becoming aware of the fine motor skills, while going to a beat of the psychedelic trance, has greatly increased my awareness of my body and its interaction with the world around.
I lift the ball and begin again. Balancing and catching, as I move through the details of space and time, my body has become a physics experiment. Fumbling through the limitations, I often wonder how my body knows where the ball is before my mind. I often find the ball in my hand, before my mind has a chance to look. Gravity is now my research. To know the law gives me the ability to defy it.
The balls I own are now scratched, dull and chipped. I keep a steady thought that I am not allowed to fear dropping the ball. This lesson, although bad for the balls, has allowed me free range to play uninhibited, and reach larger goals. The lesson that I am allowed to be less-than-perfect has also given me the confidence to go to school, opening me up to greater learning where I was once quite fearful of looking stupid. In fact, upon dropping the ball now I find there are many boys who leap out of their chair to chase my ball to allow me to play again.
I was so happy the day I happened upon the Vancouver Juggling club. I now know that I am not alone in my love for manipulation of objects. Knowing others who teach and learn together as a community is a bonus in my life. It has solidified my ideas of juggling as an art and a science. Makes me see that performance of this kind is inspiring to watch (as I gain inspiration from peers). Makes me understand my own ability to learn and focus playfully. It also brings together many of us freaks whom were once lonely fools hiding out in our parent basement.
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