4. Juggling grapevine (2023)


There is a culture of idiosyncrasy in juggling, whether it is knowing and desired, or just happens to people that juggle, there is a culture of wanting to create your “own thing”. Juggling things, patterns or tricks that have not been juggled by others. And I would argue it is not (only) competitive, in a sense of wanting to succeed the most demanding variation within a framework, most objects, most turns under, most backcrosses etc.

Regardless of this tendency or desire for idiosyncrasy, one first learns the existing, known patterns and tricks, the patterns one saw someone else do, using the props one saw someone else use. I guess, by definition, when youlearnsomething, that something has to already exist so that one can learn it, right? Or is it possible to learn a completely new technique for example, or are you then creating that technique? The next person then learns it from you.

Sometimes it is ok to do other people’s things, sometimes it can be frownedupon by the juggling community. There seems to be a varying degree of ownership over tricks, patterns, styles, and props. We might say someone has a unique exceptional technique, sometimes we call it their style. The desire of wanting to be special is also learned from our juggling/circus culture. Why is the culture the way it is? Is it because of the industry, the markets? Or is it something more inherent to the thing we do?

If a juggler has come up with their own new prop or set, Michael Mochen’s big triangle for example, copying the set or prop is somehow seen worse than copying someone’s style, copying someone’s patterns is the next worse, then when it comes to single tricks it can go both ways. Interestingly, when one uses and evolves someone else’s techniques, that seems be more easily culturally accepted, for example we adopt club techniques from Andreas as soon as we see him come up with a new one. In the spectrum, using a special prop somebodybecomefamous for is seen as the worst, imitating (knowingly or not) someone’s style is seen as not so bad, regardless of the fact both are coming from a juggler’s creation. And I don’t think it is a matter of the copied prop being the “act” of someone, someone’s livelihood, any more than the adopted technique is somebody else’s “act”.

As we come up with new things, our own things, we want to show them, share them. Then someone else picks it up and continues. We may just learn a pattern from our friend or idol, but besides the pattern we also easily pick up the way in which the pattern is done. Timing, posture and pathway are all part of the pattern, but behind those things, there is style. Also, some micro-techniques, like how to catch and hold the ball, wrist position and angle, club handle grip etc. are things that we might or might not pick up. Behind this, there is another thing we pick up, which is the idea that this particular pattern is worth learning, we give it enough value that we too want to learn it. We learn to like certain things and ways, and we learn to find some things more interesting than others.

The imperfect ways to spread your findings are, in my opinion better, than the “perfect” way. Imperfectlike,I’d say,telling someone about a style or technique instead of showing a video. Some notations are kind of perfect in their lack of fullness. Daniel Simu has done very meticulous research on juggling notation; I recommend reading his blog (link below). Simu points out (among many other things) that the most common sheet music notation is also imperfect, and allows space for interpretation, call it artistry if you like.Imperfectnotation is still closer to perfect than a video or a recording, in my opinion, because the notation, although does not have all the information, it also does not have any extra information like a video or a recording does. It is not telling you the whole truth, but it is not lying either.

The way juggling techniques evolve is quite fascinating, when I started there was hardly any body balances or rolls done with clubs. Besides the balance cascade on the forehead from the1980-90’s and Billjauer’s single chest balance (in sequence of balances from forehead, nose, chin, to chest while looking away from the juggling). Then site-swaps started appearing and body balances started replacing site-swap numbers, I saw Toby Walker with the 423 and 4 as a shoulder balance in the late 1990’s. I did a reverse cascade with falling balances from shoulders in a show in the year 2000* (HALAL, with Miika Nuutinen), I did it inspired by my memory of seeing Toby’s 423 and the old Biljauer forehead reverse cascade. I wanted to juggle the way Toby did, I saw no moral or other issues in me trying to juggle like him. The problem is, nobody knows how Toby juggles, I would argue, not even Toby!

I mean, to be honest I don’t know how I juggle. The point of this is, that although I might know that I’m juggling a site-swap 423 with a 4 as a shoulder balance, but the level of detail that goes into doing it will forever remain a mystery. Still, I was able to learn that specific pattern from my memory, from the idea of that pattern. Michael Polanyi argues in his book “Personal Knowledge”, that it is because of this unawareness of the intricate scientific details, we can learn how to do things, like juggling or cycling. If I had to analyse the forces needed to throw, the mathematics and physics of juggling first, and then try to create the juggling repeating those integer values of forces, it would be impossible, incomputable by my brain. I might point out that the title of Polanyis book is hilariously genius, I mean, how canknowledgebepersonal? Knowledge is facts right, the most impersonal thing we can think of, science!

Many of us know the feeling of being on stage and suddenly imagining in what one is about to do next, and just gettingoverwhelmed by the complexity andridiculousnessof the intention to try and do such a thing, rationally it seems impossible! Then, some minutes later, without even thinking about it we go on stage do it, success the feat we imagined impossible few minutes ago, perform what I planned to perform, success is assuming one managed to shake off the conscious thinking.

Styles, techniques, and tricks spread like gossip, or a rumour, whispers in the great grapevine. In the end, nobody knows where a particular rumour or gossip appeared, and few really care to try and find out. The idea behind the gossip, or rumour gets forgotten and the truth will be covered under the gossip, the gossip is the new truth. The rumour starts feeling real, the trick you learned becomes your own once you’ve done it many times. What is remarkable about gossip is that the source can never carry any responsibility or ownership of itself, not only the rumour has stolen the future where the source could take responsibility, but the rumour has also stolen the future where the source is not responsible. (More about responsibility on upcoming posts…)

When things become industries, like contemporary circus, there are some gossips and rumours, techniques, and styles one must put forwards to belong in that group. The weird, the new, no matter how genuine, will at first feel alien, until it has been repeated and spread enough to be normal.Feyerabend’sstated this as follows: ”How is the ‘irrationality’ of transition period overcome? By the usual way; determined production ofnonsenseuntil the material produced is rich enough to permit therebelsto reveal andeveryone elseto recognise (the) new universal principles.”

I have an early memory of a famous Finnish magician teachingme how to be successful with your work, his advice was that you need to have an act that can be clearly described in one sentence and everyone will instantly know who it is. He said that everyone knew him as “the magician that has a satellite antenna on stage.” He is in fact very very successful.

Daniel Simu notation research: https://danielsimu.com/research/

ps: This post was written in a recidency at Cirko - Centre for New Circus in Helsinki

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