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Juggling: The Books

The history of instructional juggling books in English is, from my perspective, also the story of the rise of hobbyist juggling since the 1940s. In the 1940s, there wasn’t much of a juggling community in America. Professional jugglers found themselves in the company of magicians at conferences like the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) and reading publications like IBM’s monthly issue of The Linking Ring. What juggling books there were, be it Rupert Ingalese’s Juggling, or How to Become a Juggler (1924) or Will Goldston’s Juggling Secrets (1911), were aimed at performers. Hobbyists, though, are not necessarily interested in sharing their juggling with an audience. So, some of them instead “learned how to juggle from articles written in Popular Mechanics by Charles Career… one of the few sources of juggling information before World War II” (“40th Anniversary”).

In 1944, though, that all changed. After graduating from electrical engineering, a juggler named Roger Montandon started up a little press above the Wait Manufacturing Company plants where he worked. He published a newsletter called the Jugglers’ Bulletin, which “gave voice to a wide scattering of jugglers who had no way previously of sharing their interests” (“40th Anniversary”). Montandon’s Bulletin gave advice to jugglers, hobbyists and professionals alike, and it became the first community to develop around juggling in America. It even helped the American juggling community stay in touch with jugglers from around the world who would write into the Bulletin. It was in the Jugglers’ Bulletin that Montandon started calling for an organization dedicated to jugglers like the ones magicians already had. So, in 1947, at the IBM convention, Montandon, Art Jennings, and six others founded the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA). The IJA continued publishing the Bulletin, and then an IJA newsletter, then Juggler’s World, then JUGGLER magazine, and now they have stopped print publications entirely in favour of online community organization through eJuggle, an e-mail newsletter, YouTube, and other social media.

Today, the juggling community learns and gathers mostly online, but it was Montandon’s print publication that first organized an international community of juggling hobbyists. That publication was also integral to the formation of the IJA, which, to this day, serves as a gathering place for jugglers to watch, learn, discuss, and perform juggling.

Modern, popular, hobbyist juggling instruction in books came with the publication of Juggling for the Complete Klutz (1977) by John Cassidy. Recognizing that juggling instruction up to this point had been largely directed at performers, Klutz‘s mission was “to take juggling off the stage and pass it around… juggling really isn’t a spectator sport” (Cassidy). Cassidy and his pals Darrell Hack and B. C. Rimbeaux sold the first copies out of a backpack on their bicycles and when they counted up their profits ($35), they realized they had the beginning of a movement on their hands. Their book sold a million copies in the first decade of sales and continues to be sold with its three iconic cube-shaped bean bags attached. Now a subsidiary of Scholastic Inc., Klutz Press went on to find entrepreneurial success and publish many more how-to guides for other hobbies.

Morgan holds two editions of Juggling for the Complete Klutz

Another man who recognized juggling’s importance as a hobby at this time was Dave Finnigan, AKA Professor Confidence, who learned to juggle at 34. After he got the “juggle bug,” he dropped out of his Ph.D., published four books on juggling, and was nationally recognized for his juggling tutorial video series. He also started manufacturing inexpensive beginner juggling props under the company name “JuggleBug.” His book The Complete Juggler (1987) is dedicated to the IJA and expounds on the many benefits of a juggling hobby. Not only does Finnigan teach juggling technique, including “Certification Requirements” sections to track your progress, but he also encourages the development of juggling as a hobbyist community. He shares ideas for juggling games, how to teach others to juggle, and what to do if you want to host a juggling festival. Finnigan’s book mirrors the accessible and joyful juggling instruction in Cassidy’s book, but expands on it to include diverse props (cigar boxes, hats, devil sticks, etc.) and recognize the hobby as more than just a physical skill, but also a community that grew around it.

Other influential instructional books have come out since the ‘70s and ‘80s, like Charlie Dancey’s Encyclopaedia of Ball Juggling (1994) and Compendium of Club Juggling (1995), but I’ll admit, I didn’t learn to juggle from a book. My dad taught me. And then I joined a juggling club where I learned from fellow jugglers who welcomed me into their community. Today, when I learn new juggling, it’s either at a juggling festival or online through YouTube channels like Taylor Tries and Lauri Koskinen Juggling Mastery. When I started juggling the five-ball cascade, I turned to former Cirque du Soleil performer Thom Wall’s website and his article “Everything You Need to Know About Five Ball Juggling.” I never thought that I would buy a juggling instructional book for a reason other than building my juggling book collection (which you can explore in the YouTube video that accompanies this article).

Then, in 2020, Thom Wall published Juggling: What It Is and How To Do It. Wall’s book represents the leaps and bounds that juggling has taken since Finnigan’s book was published in 1987. Wall teaches his reader site swap, which was only just emerging as a juggling notation at the time of Finnigan’s writing. So, whereas The Complete Juggler teaches a trick called “The See Saw,” Wall’s book teaches this trick as “The Box,” or (4,2x)*. Wall’s book also features chapters with guest authors on creativity in juggling, presenting juggling for an audience, and plagiarism in juggling performance–all topics that have been touched on in previous publications, but guest authors Jay Gilligan and Fritz Grobe bring new ideas to the table. It is with Wall’s book that I made advances in my club balancing technique, so it is the only juggling technique instructional book that I personally refer to regularly.

Montandon, the hobbyist that kicked off this juggling revolution, may have gotten inspired to juggle by watching vaudevillian W.C Fields’ “The Old Fashioned Way,” but he learned HOW to juggle from a BOOK. To this day, many hobbyist jugglers discover their love of juggling through books like those mentioned above. Books are the hobbyist juggler’s best friend.

Before I close out this article, I want to mention a few other notable juggling texts on my shelf. My collection is not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’d like to see all the books I’ve collected thus far, you can watch my YouTube video on the topic.

Pearls of Juggling: A Journey into the Art of Juggling for Performers and Enthusiasts (2016)
And
Meeting Life: Lessons from a Young Juggler’s 1996 Travel Journal (2023)
Anthony Trahair

Anthony Trahair is a juggler and self-proclaimed “playfulness catalyst” who was inspired to write Pearls of Juggling after reading Finnigan’s book Zen of Juggling (1993). Trahair’s book is an instructional manual and spiritual guidebook that encourages its readers to explore playful, creative, expressive, and mindful juggling movements. This message is echoed in the beautiful illustrations throughout the book by students at The International School of Comics in Italy. Trahair’s new book, Meeting Life, teaches these lessons again through his own personal journey. After his Chemistry degree, Trahair traveled to France with only a backpack and a love of juggling to guide him, and Meeting Life catalogs that adventure. I’m looking forward to picking up this new book, and if you are too, you can buy your copy now on Amazon.

The Mathematics of Juggling (2002)
Burkard Polster

In his review of this book, mathematician and juggler Allen Knutson argues that this book was not written for an audience of jugglers and asserts, “[T]his is not the book to buy in order to first learn to juggle.” Rather, this was the first book-length study of the juggling notation “site swap,” which was discovered simultaneously by three different groups of jugglers in the 1980s. The focused interest in investigating juggling at the time, Knutson suggests, could be due to the popularity of the Klutz book I mentioned above. So, if you understand complex combinatorics AND you love the circus–check out this book.

The ABC Tour: 26 Shows. 26 Letters. One Juggler. (2022)
Jon Udry

Besides juggling instruction, history, theory, and meditations on the joy of juggling, another genre of juggling book is the biography of a juggler or juggling company. I’ve spoken previously about Juggling Trajectories, which traces the history of Gandini Juggling from 1991-2015, but I recently picked up a new book within this genre: juggler and comedian Jon Udry’s The ABC Tour. This book documents Udry’s attempt to perform juggling in 26 different locations, each of which corresponds to a consecutive letter of the alphabet. So, for C he juggled in a Castle, for H he juggled at a Hairdresser’s, and for V he juggled in a Van. There are many delightful surprises in this book and I won’t spoil them all. This might be the funniest book I own and I want you to discover its stories for yourself! I will say, though, that N is for Naturist Resort, and yes, there are many high-quality colour photographs throughout the text.

From Ingalese to Klutz to Jon Udry in a Pigpen, I am grateful that the authors above, and many more, have chosen to publish book length explorations of my favourite pastime. Montandon’s Juggler’s Bulletin is where the juggling community got its start, Juggling for the Complete Klutz brought the skill to the masses, and today a myriad of juggling books are being written on every topic imaginable for hobbyist and professional jugglers alike. After reading this article, I hope the phrase “juggling the books” starts to take on a new meaning in your life!

Works Cited

“40th Anniversary.” Juggler’s World, vol. 39, no. 2, Summer 1987. dev.juggle.org/history/archives/jugmags/39-2/39-2,p2.htm. Accessed 15 Feb. 2023.

Cassidy, Jon. Juggling for the Complete Klutz. Third Edition, Klutz Press, 1989.

Knutson, Allen. Review of The Mathematics of Juggling by Burkard Polster. Notices of the AMS, vol. 51, no. 1, January 2004.

Images provided by the article's author
Morgan Anderson
PhD Candidate -CANADA
Morgan is a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University in Toronto, ON. She is also a hobbyist juggler and has performed at juggling festivals across North America. A long-standing member of Cirkus Syd’s international Circus Thinkers Platform, Morgan was a co-editor and chapter author for the group’s 2020 and 2022 Circus Thinkers publications, and co-presented/performed alongside Dawn Dreams at the 2021 Circus and Its Others conference. She is currently involved in Cirkus Syd’s Circosonic project which investigates where circus and sound intersect. When not writing, Morgan loves to run, train on the silks, and make videos for her YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/morganeua

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Morgan Anderson

Morgan is a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University in Toronto, ON. She is also a hobbyist juggler and has performed at juggling festivals across North America. A long-standing member of Cirkus Syd’s international Circus Thinkers Platform, Morgan was a co-editor and chapter author for the group’s 2020 and 2022 Circus Thinkers publications, and co-presented/performed alongside Dawn Dreams at the 2021 Circus and Its Others conference. She is currently involved in Cirkus Syd’s Circosonic project which investigates where circus and sound intersect. When not writing, Morgan loves to run, train on the silks, and make videos for her YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/morganeua