MORE: Rural | City | Food | All galleries

My Trip to the IJA Juggling Festival

Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Participants: About ten members of the Club JJ - Columbus Jest Jugglers (MySpace,, plus several hundred other jugglers

Club JJ in Columbus is sort of an anarchist organization, a diverse crowd brought together by a common passion. Nobody wants to be in charge, they just want to juggle. The main rule is show up any Thursday evening at Schiller Park (or the rec center) in Columbus, and people of all skill levels will be hanging out, talking, and throwing things around, pushing the line in physics separating chaos and order. Generally at least ten or twenty people will be there.

The IJA juggling festival this July was fantastic. It was a week-long juggling meet in a huge convention center room with gaudy carpeting. All these great jugglers would be practicing crazy stuff at all hours! I could go practice after a show or workshop, and someone I knew would probably be there to say hello. After practicing something hard and getting tired of dropping stuff, it was nice to relax and watch people doing spontaneous tricks.

I've been getting in some practice at club passing and finding it mildly addicting. I think something about juggling stimulates my analytical mind in a way that complements abstract problems (like computer programming). Juggling brings the rest of your body into the picture--balance, coordination, focus, control, etc. It's a kind of real-time problem-solving between your body, juggling props, and gravity. This article summarizes some wide-ranging benefits to juggling. I guess you can look at a lot of sports that way.

Here's a rare one-minute video of Owen and me passing clubs (above, or YouTube link).

Taking it a bit slower (half speed - YouTube link), here's the play-by-play. Note that I'm not really warmed up. First off I throw the white club with double spin over Owen's shoulder to an invisible person who drops it. Owen kicks up the club with his foot. About 45 seconds in, I throw another double to Owen's right hand, off target, but he catches it somehow. Then I try to catch Owen off balance putting too little spin on another double, but he catches it upside down and tosses it back. I try a third double which he again catches, and I drop one of my clubs in frustration at his effortless skill. Meanwhile an anonymous juggler goes to town with five clubs in the background.

In the last third of the video I throw a double from my left hand to Owen's left. It lands on target and Owen catches it and silently acknowledges my supreme skill. Then Owen does the same to me, at the same time I throw him another double to his right hand, off target, and gravity takes over from there.

Passing clubs with different people and learning various patterns was tons of fun and I could feel my mind expanding (sometimes hurts)! My reward for three days' practice was on the final evening, I was juggling three clubs and threw a double with my right hand and had enough time to do a flourish and keep going without dropping anything! It looks pretty cool and I've wanted to do that for more than a year.

Jest Jugglers banner (Scott, Tom, Lynn, and Owen)

Me, Tom, Lynn, and Owen drove down from Columbus at the same time. Here we are sitting quietly after a long day.

Tug-of-war - Tom vs. Scott at juggling festival

That's a view of the convention room, with Tom and I playing tug-of-war on small platforms. You try to get the other guy to lose balance and fall backwards or forwards by faking him out by how hard you're going to pull on the rope. It's pretty tough!

Tug-of-war - Adam vs. Olivia

Adam victorious against Olivia in tug-of-war. Laughter ensues.

Downtown Winston-Salem, NC

A shot of some people enjoying a beautiful evening in downtown Winston-Salem.

Tom's beer sampler, Foothills Brewery, Winston-Salem

Tom ordered the beer sampler at Foothills Brewery. I liked the People's Porter, and Total Eclipse Stout, which was also Tom's favorite (not shown).

I-26 overlook, north of Asheville, NC

After the festival, Tom and I take off and drive west toward the Appalachian mountains. Here's a view from an I-26 overlook.

Tom and me on Mt. Mitchell, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Here we've wound our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway into the clouds on the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell. Storm clouds ran around below us like marauding armies, attacking neighboring peaks. (If you remember the Undead Army finishing off the huge elephants in the third Lord of the Rings movie, it wasn't quite like that, but it's fun to think about.)

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Clouds creeping among the ranges.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

The sun started pouring out as we descended.

Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC

The next day we explored Asheville, North Carolina--a town-sized version of San Francisco. Tom and I were amazed by the Battery Park Book Exchange. I want to come back there and work remotely on my laptop.

Grove Arcade, Asheville, NC

The elegant Grove Arcade where I got a quart of cherries for the ride home.

Chevron Trading Post and Bead Company, Asheville, NC

The Chevron Trading Post and Bead Company. Without Tom's encouragement (and offer to run back to the car and feed the meter), I never would've decided among all the stars to by. I bought a yellow one and a blue one.

Great trip, and Tom was a valiant traveling companion and was great for putting up with me and a cold I just wasn't able to get over!


Frank L said...

Looks like they had you in a padded room all week!

samuel said...

the squating position necessary for playing that tug-of-war game makes all of the participants looks more evil and cunning (think Gollum in Lord of the Rings).