Fun is in the air as jugglers converge at Reed College

With balls, beanbags and clubs in hand, discover why hundreds of jugglers – some of them trekking half way around the globe – say they gather just to throw things around …

Juggling like a pro is 9-year-old Duncan Silversides.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“You think you’ve had problems in an airport?” asks Ben Schoenberg, co-owner of the world-famous juggling store, Serious Juggling, as he sets up his booth in the gym at Reed College.

“Try getting past security, packing a set of these,” Schoenberg says with a mock-serious wicked grin, as he holds a set of deadly-looking, but finely-balanced, juggling scimitars.

A non-competitive gathering
We’re welcomed to the event on September 29 by Albyn Jones, one of the organizers of the Portland Juggling Festival.

“Although we took last year off, otherwise we’ve been holding it annually for the last fifteen years,” he tells us.

This is a non-competitive festival, Jones says. “Some professional jugglers worry someone stealing their tricks and routines. But, perhaps only 30 of our 300 folks are professionals.”

Demonstrating his skill with the clubs is Woodinville, Washington’s Brien McCrea.

World-class event
Portland Juggling Festival, we learn, is the largest such regional festival in the world.

“Jugglers from across the United States, and performers from Europe, Japan, and Canada come to hang out and, well – juggle,” says Jones. “We get together for the camaraderie. And, we offer a lot of workshops, showing how to do new tricks.”

As Jones explains it, the “tricks” are unique patterns and sequences which jugglers perfect, to catch and re-launch multiple items.

Jugglers of all ages
Not all jugglers are men; Chao-Ching Wu and Carol Harvey say they came down to the three-day festival from Bothell, WA.

“I admired others who juggled, and wanted to admire myself – so here I am!” Wu says.

These girls just want to have fun: Chao-Ching Wu and Carol Harvey say they “love their juggling toys”.

“It’s about everyone having fun with their toys. People, of every age, come together with because of their toys,” explains Harvey, as she and Wu continue “passing clubs” between them. “I’ve been doing it for five years.”

We watch in amazement as 9-year-old Duncan Silversides, from Victoria, BC, juggles three – then four – balls, like a pro.

Says juggling is a social activity
Most jugglers with whom we speak say they enjoy the “social aspects” of their juggling avocation.

Leader of a large Bothell, WA juggling club, Tom Gaines, is “passing clubs” with his juggling buddy, Don Reinhardt.

“For me, the attraction is social,” confirms Jones. “I do like juggling as an activity for myself; I’ll stand alone in my living room and juggle. But it is really fun to juggle with other people.”

Tom Gaines, leader of the Bothell, WA, “Juggle for Fun” club says their 25 member group (many of them at the festival) is sponsored by their city’s parks and recreation department. “We get together every week to enjoy juggling, and teach the art to folks in our community.”

Eight-year old Maya Leshikar practices riding the unicycle.

We ask Gaines to reveal the secret of juggling. “Being willing to pick up the balls after you drop them, and try again,” he advises with a knowing smile.

By the time we leave, airspace in the Reed College gym is cluttered with balls, beanbags, rings, clubs, and knives – almost any item one can catch, then throw.

Although early in the morning, the Reed College gym is a juggling jungle.

Most of practitioners demonstrate professional proficiency and perform with great dexterity. But we see – even the best of them – occasionally stoop over, pick ’em up, and try again.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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