November 13, 2006

Jugglers Defy Gravity With Balls, Pins at Festival

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Students appeared to break the laws of physics with their dexterous antics at this weekend’s 10th annual Big Red Jugglefest. The festival included three days of open juggling, a show in the Statler Auditorium Saturday evening and workshops. The show, titled World Class Juggling, included Thomas Dietz, the reigning World Juggling Federation champion.

Juggling is a “pretty big subculture,” according to Cornell Juggling Club member Patrick Morse ’07, with its own terms for different techniques and tricks, such as “720s” and “five club back crosses.”

In addition to its own jargon, juggling has its own inner conflict, which exists between the artistic performance-based jugglers and technical competition-based jugglers over what the objective of routines ought to be. While an ordinary audience might be thrilled watching someone catch knives or flaming torches, experienced jugglers would be unmoved.

They know that “it’s a low heat flame, and the knives are dull, there’s no real danger,” Morse explained. “It’s showy, but there’s no real technical difficulty.”

Conversely, a challenging routine that would impress jugglers would likely bore viewers unfamiliar with the skills involved in the tricks. To deal with the mixed audience at Saturday’s show, both technically focused jugglers such as Dietz, as well as performance-oriented entertainers like Mark Hayward, were featured.

“We’re trying to cater to both groups,” said Juggling Club President Greg Billing ’08.

Festivals like this past weekend’s show allow jugglers to come together. Juggling is an individual activity, with occasional work in pairs. However, jugglers can work in even larger groups, by making formations shaped like a circle, a star or the letters Y or M. People also play games such as “combat,” a demolition derby of sorts, where the players all juggle three clubs and run at each other until the last one left juggling is the winner.

Sandra Koski, a visitor from New Hampshire who has been juggling for over 20 years, explained the appeal of the festivals.

“We just hang out and juggle. It’s a social aspect you only get to see a few times a year,” Koski said.

An up-and-coming event is footbag, as a club formed on campus just this year. Known to most people as hacky-sack, the term footbag was coined to differentiate the competitive from the casual, although both terms are used. Footbag participants at the Jugglefest could be identified by their shoes, which had the front toe and side panels cut out to improve performance.

“We’re where snowboarders were 20 years ago, making our own stuff,” explained Ken Somolinos, grad.

Danny Petrick, a juggler from Ohio, elaborated on the difficulties playing a developing sport. “It’s small, groups are scattered so it’s tough to play with other people.”

But there are advantages. “It’s young enough that people are coming up with new tricks, new combos. Things that people thought were impossible a year ago,” Somolinos said. A major perk of coming up with a new trick is being able to name it, resulting in combos like “mobius to bedwetter.”

Footbag has different categories for competition. One involves performing as many tricks as possible in 30 seconds and another is a two minute routine. There are also categories for best single trick and best three tricks.

Juggling competitions are judged in a similar manner to gymnastics.
Different tricks are awarded different point values, and competitors are scored on how well they perform, as well as their ability to transition from one trick to another. There are different categories for different objects juggled.

Big names such as Dietz inspired a larger turnout than usual, attracting members of juggling clubs that don’t usually attend, as well as increasing turn out from existing participants. The Queens College Juggling Club was excited about attending workshops run by high profile members of the juggling world.

“It’s a nice facility with a lot of talent,” said club member Mike Delorme.