November 10, 2003

Balls Fly at Jugglefest

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Balls, clubs, devil sticks, unicycles and acrobats traversed the Ramin Room in Bartels Hall throughout the weekend. The room, also known for its large indoor rock-climbing facility, served as the location for the seventh annual Big Red JuggleFest hosted by the Cornell Juggling Club. The event also featured the world-champion teenage juggling duo, Volva and Olga Galchenko.

Jugglers from the Northeast, the West Coast and overseas participated in this year’s festival. Several other colleges also made a presence, with groups from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the State University of New York at Oswego, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester.

According to Cornell Juggling Club president Adam Benlifter ’04, it takes “two long months” to organize the event.

Benlifter estimated that on Saturday about 130 to 200 jugglers were present. Juggling commenced on Friday night, but most of the college clubs arrived on Saturday. The juggling also continued yesterday.

There are other juggling festivals in the area, with the Rochester Institute of Technology having one similar in size to Cornell’s JuggleFest. The JuggleFest is unique in another way as well — it is completely free to attend. This includes attendance to the many lessons offered throughout the day, unlike the conventions held by the International Juggling Association, in which participants are charged upwards of $200.

Brian Louisos of the U. Mass juggling club pointed out that the quality of the jugglers at Cornell was just as good as at the IJA conventions.

“It’s nice to meet other jugglers and just have a place to juggle,” said Nic LeBlond of Corning, who has been coming to the JuggleFest for the past three years.

“It’s not so popular in the general public,” he added.

Louisos noticed a different trend at Amherst, where the participants in the juggling club increased from 13 to 20 people in one year with many beginners in the club.

Starting juggling can be a very hard yet rewarding experience. Many jugglers start out with balls and then move on to clubs which resemble bowling pins but are not nearly as heavy. However, there is no conventional way to begin.

David Sheck, a local resident who started juggling five years ago in the San Diego area, said that a lot of practice was required for him to get where he is today. Giving advice for prospective jugglers, Sheck said, “Don’t give up if you don’t get it right away.”

Sheck always wanted to learn how to juggle, and after he took lessons with his father he found a local circus where he could pursue his skill. Currently he is looking for a circus in this area where he can continue in his pursuit.

Along with the less structured juggling, five interactive lessons in various related topics were spread throughout the day. These included lessons covering five ball, devil sticks — tricks with two sticks in hand manipulating a third, larger stick — along with club passing, three ball and tumbling.

The lessons attracted quite a bit of attention. About 15 people watched devil sticker Larry Rundle give them advice on different devil stick tricks such as the “helicopter,” which is when the middle stick is spun around in circles by the other two. He also covered spinning, where one stick is used to spin another one around.

The advice Rundle gave to master the devil sticks was to eliminate any form of a social life, take hallucinogens and practice over and over again. (He added that the hallucinogens were optional.) Indeed, much of the crowd got into the devil sticking by trying his moves out during and after his lesson.

Attending these lessons were not only students, but also adult and teenage jugglers.

Among the more accomplished attendants were a 13- and 16-year-old world-renowned juggling duo, Olga Galchenko and her brother Volva, who hold the world record for club passing. Club passing involves multiple clubs passing from person to person. The Russian duo can pass as many as 11 clubs to each other. The pair live in New Hampshire, and both came down for the JuggleFest and to perform in the juggling show at the State Theatre on Saturday night.

They also gave a club passing lesson where they showed off their skills in not only passing the clubs to one another but also turning around and spinning while doing so. A large crowd gathered to watch the accomplished pair.

The show at the State Theatre included the Russian pair; Hilby, the famous Ithaca juggler who performs at the Ithaca Festival and other local events; Ivan Pecel and Jen Slaw.

“The standard is very high,” said Greg Owsley, a juggler from the University of Rochester at JuggleFest.

He pointed out that the State Theatre show would be unique because the audience is composed of fellow jugglers. Indeed, many of the jugglers at the festival were planning on going to the performance.

Not only was juggling included in this year’s event, but there was a contingent of about six unicyclists riding around on the artificial grass. Later on Saturday night a unicycle competition was scheduled where the riders could show off their skill.

The diversity in performers was made clear with the gear strewn about on the floor, ranging from the fairly conventional clubs and balls to nunchucks, machetes and swords. Tables were also set up by various juggling vendors selling their juggling goods.

“Everyone here has a common link,” Owsley added.

Archived article by Ted Van Loan