School teacher loves sharing joys of juggling

Discover why this grade-school teacher works nights and weekends showing kids and adults how – and why – to learn juggling …

SE Portland resident, educator – and juggler – Zach Vestal demonstrates the “cascade pattern” used in three-ball juggling.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Teaching his third-grade class at Buckman Arts Focus Elementary School doesn’t fatigue Woodstock neighborhood resident, Zach Vestal – it invigorates him. Vestal harnesses his energy by teaching the art and skill of juggling at Portland area libraries.

“I think all kids should be exposed to juggling,” Vestal explained, while getting ready for a Saturday workshop not long ago. “It uses both halves of the brain. Research shows that it’s excellent for hand-eye coordination. But more important is the boost of self-esteem that a person gets when he or she learns to juggle.”

That’s why juggling is part of his classroom curriculum. “Most people can learn it in about an hour. When you learn something that seems like a daunting or impossible skill, it opens your mind to the possibility of learning other new things. And, it’s really good exercise.”

Vestal demonstrates that chin-balancing, with a spinning plate on a stick, is an art related to juggling.

A life-long juggler
Vestal said he learned to juggle when he, himself, was in third grade. “I enjoyed it so much, I started teaching others how to juggle right away.”

This love of teaching led him to work with the “Circus of the Kids” organization, which still holds circus-arts training camps along the east coast.

Timmy Borcean tries his hand – actually, his nose – at balancing a feather.

Short class; lots of practice
“Juggling dates back to 2000 B.C.,” Vestal tells the class. “Juggling and balancing are two of the earliest forms of public entertainment in recorded history.

With that, he picks up three balls and starts juggling.

“The most common way to juggle balls is the ‘cascade pattern’,” Vestal said as he demonstrated. “Each ball passes underneath the ball that precedes it. Once you have the basic cascade pattern down, there all kinds of tricks and variations you can do.”

As he continues his demonstration, he misses a ball and it drops. “Oops! There was a sudden gust of gravity in the room!”

Vestal also demonstrates juggling large wispy scarves, commenting that this is the easiest way to learn the basic cascade pattern.

The demonstration ends with the instructor showing balancing – an art allied to juggling – using a spinning plate on a stick and a feather.

A group of students make their own juggling balls, using latex balloons and (clean) kitty litter.

Student-made juggling balls
On tables at the back of the room Vestal has several stations set up, permitting students to craft their own juggling balls.

“These latex balloons actually make good juggling balls,” said Vestal. “You’ll be able to make a set here today and take them home. We fill them with kitty litter – CLEAN kitty litter!”

Within the hour, students were practicing the basic skills shown them by Vestal. Some quietly complain after they’ve dropped their balls numerous times, but Vestal tells them, “Remember, there is no juggling without being willing to pick up fallen objects.”

Faith Cox and Brandi Van De Riet practice juggling using their newly-made, do-it-yourself balls.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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