Juggling is a physical skill involving the manipulation of objects for recreation, entertainment or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling. Juggling can be the manipulation of one object or many objects at the same time, using one or many hands.

Sir Ravi The Juggler01:35

Sir Ravi The Juggler

Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as props. The most common props are balls or clubs or rings. Some jugglers use more dramatic objects such as knives, fire torches or chainsaws. The term juggling can also commonly refer to other prop-based manipulation skills such as diabolo, devil sticks, poi, cigar boxes, contact juggling, hooping, and hat manipulation. All these skills are forms of object manipulation.


The word juggling and juggler derive from the Middle English jogelen (to entertain by performing tricks), in turn from the Old French jangler. There is also the Late Latin form joculare of Latin joculari, meaning to jest.[1] Although the etymology of the terms juggler and juggling originate as far back as the 11th century the current sense of to 'juggle', meaning the manipulation of objects for entertainment, only originates from the late 19th century.[2]

Origins and historyEdit

Main article: History of juggling

Ancient to 20th centuryEdit

File:Early Egyptian juggling art.jpg

The earliest record of juggling is suggested in a panel from the 15th Beni Hasan tomb of an unknown prince, showing female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Juggling has been recorded in many early cultures including Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Aztec (Mexico) and Polynesian civilizations.[3][4]

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 practising 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.

20th centuryEdit

Main article: Modern juggling culture

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 cannot get other people to learn new skills on their behalf.

In the early 1950s 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 Juggling Edge[5] 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 today has evolved and branched out to the point where it is synonymous with all prop manipulation. The wide variety of the juggling scene can be seen at any juggling convention.

Juggling conventions or festivals form the backbone of the juggling scene. The focus of most of these conventions is the main space used 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.

Popular forms of jugglingEdit

Main article: Forms of juggling
File:Juggler in devizes england arp.jpg
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Juggling can be categorised by various criteria:

  • Professinal or amateur
Juggling up until the latter half of the 20th century has been principally practised as a profession. Since the 1960s, and even more so from the 1980s, juggling has also been practiced as a hobby. The popularity of juggling acts performing outside the circus has meant an increase in the number of professional jugglers in the last 30 years. Festivals, fairs, retail promotions and corporate events have all booked juggling acts. The increase in hobby juggling has resulted in juggling stores opening and numerous juggling conventions being run to fulfil the needs of an increasingly popular pastime.
  • Objects juggled
Balls, clubs, rings, diabolos, devil sticks and cigar boxes are several types of objects that are commonly juggled. Other objects, such as scarves, knives, fruit and vegetables, flaming torches and chainsaws, have also be used.
  • Method of juggling
The best known type of juggling is (toss juggling): which is throwing and catching objects in the air without the objects touching the ground. Bounce juggling is bouncing objects (usually balls) off the ground. Contact juggling is manipulating the object in constant contact with the body.
  • Trick juggling
This type of juggling involves performing tricks of varying levels of difficulty. The tricks can use the basic patterns of toss juggling but add more difficult levels of object manipulation. Other tricks can be independent of these basic patterns and involve other variations of object manipulation.
  • Number of objects juggled
Numbers juggling is the goal of juggling as many objects as possible. This is often the initial goal of beginner jugglers as it is commonly seen in the circus and stage juggling acts. Numbers juggling records are noted by a number of organisations.
  • Number of jugglers
Juggling is most commonly performed by an individual. However, multiple-person juggling is also popular and is performed by two or more people. Various methods of passing the objects between the jugglers is used — this can be through the air (as in toss juggling), bounced off the ground, simply handed over, or a number of other ways depending on the objects and the style of juggling. For example, one variation is where two club jugglers stand facing each other, each juggling a 3-club pattern themselves, but then simultaneously passing between each other. Another variation is where the jugglers are back-to-back and (usually) any passes to the other person travel over their heads.
  • Sport juggling
Juggling has more recently developed as a competitive sport by organizations such as the World Juggling Federation. Sport juggling competitions reward pure technical ability and give no extra credit for showmanship, or for juggling with props such as knives or torches.Albert Lucas created the first sport juggling organization in the early nineties - the International Sport Juggling Federation,[6] which promotes joggling and other athletic forms of juggling.

Juggling world recordsEdit

Main article: Juggling world records

Toss juggling and club passing world records are tracked by the Juggling Information Service Committee on Numbers Juggling (JISCON).[7] The records listed on the JISCON page represent the longest runs with each number and prop that have been authenticated using video evidence. Similarly bounce juggling records are monitored and recorded by

File:Jugglers Circus Amok by David Shankbone.jpg
File:Lexington Barbecue Festival - Juggler.jpg
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Juggling performanceEdit

Performance styleEdit

Professional jugglers perform in a number of different styles which are not mutually exclusive. These juggling styles have developed or been introduced over time with some becoming more popular at some times than others.

Circus jugglingEdit

Traditional circus style juggling emphasises high levels of skill and sometimes large scale props to enable the act to 'fill' the circus ring. The juggling act may involve some comedy or other circus skills such as acrobatics but the principal focus is the technical skill of the jugglers. Costumes are usually colourful with sequins. Variations within this style include the traditions from Chinese and Russian circus.

Comedy jugglingEdit

Comedy juggling acts vary greatly in their skill level, prop use and costuming. However they all share the fact that the focus of the performance is comedic rather than a demonstration of technical juggling skill. Comedy juggling acts are most commonly seen in street performance, festivals and fairs.

Gentleman jugglingEdit

This style was popular in variety theatres and usually involves the use for juggling of some of the elements of a gentleman's attire - namely hats, canes, gloves and cigars - and other everyday items such as plates and wine bottles. The style is sophisticated and visual rather than comedic.

Themed jugglingEdit

Jugglers perform themed acts, sometimes with specifically themed props and usually in themed costumes. Examples include jesters, pirates, sports, Victorians and chefs.



Jugglers commonly feature in circuses, with many performers having enjoyed a star billing. Circus jugglers come from many countries and include those from Russia and other Eastern European countries, China, Latin America and other European countries. Some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years are from Eastern Europe, including Sergej Ignatov, Andrii Kolesnikov, Evgenij Biljauer and Viktor Kee (featured in Cirque du Soleil productions).

Variety theatresEdit

Variety theatres have a long history of including juggling acts on their billing. Vaudeville in the USA and Music halls in the UK regularly featured jugglers during the heyday of variety theatre in the first half of 20th century. Variety theatre has declined in popularity but is still present in many European countries, particularly Germany. Television talent shows have introduced juggling acts to a wider audience with the newest examples being Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent.


In North America jugglers have often performed in casinos, in places like Las Vegas.Germany and the USA have produced some of the greatest jugglers from the past 50 years, most notably Francis Brunn from Germany and Anthony Gatto from the United States.

Festivals and fairsEdit

Europe has a wide variety of festivals and fairs where juggling acts are sometimes booked to perform. Music, food and arts festivals have all booked professional performers. The festivals can range from very large scale events such as Glastonbury Festival to small town or village fairs. The acts may differ from year to year or an one act may become a regular feature at these yearly events.

Historically themed eventsEdit

Renaissance fairs in North America and medieval fairs in Europe often book professional jugglers. Other historically themed events such as Victorian, maritime, and large scale festivals of history such as the one organised by English Heritage regularly employ juggling acts as part of the event.

Street performanceEdit

In many countries such as the UK, USA, Australia, Spain, France jugglers perform on the street (busking). Street juggling acts usually perform what is known as a circle show and collect money at the end of the performance in a hat or bottle. Most street jugglers perform comedy juggling acts. Well known locations for this kind of street performance include Covent Garden in London, Faneuil Hall in Boston, Outside the Pump Rooms in Bath, Prince's Street in Edinburgh, outside the Pompido Centre in Paris, Circular Quay in Sydney.


Juggling has been performed in space despite the fact that the micro-gravity environment of orbit deprives the juggled objects of the essential ability to fall. This is accomplished through 'two-person' juggling passing multiple objects between them. Juggling in space was demonstrated by Greg Chamitoff and Richard Garriott[source?] while Garriott was visiting the International Space Station as a Spaceflight Participant in October 2008. Their juggling of objects while in orbit was featured in 'Apogee of Fear', the first science fiction movie made in space by Garriott and 'Zero-G Magic', a magic show also recorded in space by Chamitoff and Garriott at that time.

Notable jugglersEdit

Main article: List of jugglers

Juggling notationEdit

Main article: Juggling notation

Juggling tricks and patterns can become very complex, and hence can be difficult to communicate to others. Therefore notation systems have been developed for specifying 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. 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 juggler has a prop in each hand. Numeric notation systems are more popular and standardized than diagram-based notations. They are used extensively in both a written form and in normal conversations among jugglers.

Siteswap is by far the most common juggling notation. Various heights of throw, considered to take specific "beats" of time to complete, are assigned a relative number. From those, a pattern is conveyed as a sequence of numbers, such as "3", "744", or "97531". Those examples are for two hands making alternating or "asynchronous" throws, and often called vanilla siteswap. For showing patterns in which both hands throw at the same time, there are other notating conventions for synchronous siteswap. There is also multiplex siteswap for patterns where one hand holds or throws two or more balls on the same beat. Other extensions to siteswap have been developed, including passing siteswap, Multi-Hand Notation (MHN), and General Siteswap (GS).


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989: juggling entry
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  8. Psht. The book was better.

Further readingEdit

  • Dancey, Charlie 1995 Compendium of Club Juggling Butterfingers, Bath ISBN 1 898591 14 8.
  • Dancey, Charlie 2001 Encyclopedia of Ball Juggling, Butterfingers, Devon ISBN 1 898591 13 X.
  • Finnigan, Dave 1987 The Complete Juggler, Vintage Books, New York ISBN 0 394 74678 3.
  • Summers, Kit 1987 Juggling with Finesse, Finesse Press, San Diego ISBN 0 938981 00 5.
  • Ziethen, Karl-Heinz & Serena, Alessandro 2003 Virtuosos of Juggling, Renegade Juggling, Santa Cruz ISBN 0 9741848 0 2.
  • Ziethen, Karl-Heinz & Allen, Andrew 1985 Juggling: The Art and its Artists, Werner Rausch & Werner Luft Inc, Berlin ISBN 3 9801140 1 5.

External linksEdit

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