Juggling – or – How to Become a Juggler

Benjamin Domask – CircusTalk

Juggling or How To Become a Juggler: the annotated edition is another piece of juggling literature from Modern Vaudeville Press aimed at increasing the fact-checked and scholarly approach to understanding the history of juggling. Thom Wall, author of Juggling: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages and professional juggler, annotates a re-release of one of the earliest books written to share information for approaching juggling as a profession by Rupert Ingalese.

Two special gifts are received from reading this book. First, we are presented with an opportunity to read a manual written by a professional juggler in 1921. These chapters contain stories of old variety performers, anecdotes of personal growth learned in the art of juggling, and revelations of how similar the professional world of the performing artist is to today’s industry.

Second, our ‘humble editor’ Wall, gives footnotes addressing the inconsistencies presented as ‘fact’ as well as clarifies terminology or references that us early 21st century readers will not understand as immediately as an early 20th century reader. Wall uses primary source evidence instead of relying on personal anecdotes or assumptions helping our art form grow academically alongside the artistic and cultural work being done. The footnotes happen purposefully and are presented in a guiding and mentor-like voice, creating a sense of trust between editor and reader. I found myself excited to find another footnote and hear another bit of information as though I were piecing together a puzzle of juggling history.

The original book itself has the ability to stand its ground without annotations, though! Ingalese takes his readers on a journey that begins with a short historical introduction of his juggling beginnings. Quickly, he shares his first teaching of the art form: how and where to practice. Even quicker, we are moved along into ball juggling and progressive steps to become comfortable with the basic patterns (already established as the cascade and shower!) Here he leaves us with encouragement that, with practice and a few years time, we too can become seven ball jugglers.

The next few chapters provide insight of what had been standard juggling routine elements: Balancing, Plates, and Bottles. Each of these topics are presented in a similar progressive fashion as the ball juggling chapter with illustrations and references to the industry. Wall annotates beautifully worthwhile ideas for professional jugglers of today.

We then reach a chapter providing ‘a few hints on juggling clubs.’ Ingalese respects the relatively new style of juggling with clubs but gives caution that to be a good club juggler, “its practice absorbs all the available time and attention that can be bestowed upon it.”

The final chapter of Ingalese’s manual presents a good amount on ‘tricks with hats, umbrellas, and etc..’ Etc. being props such as cigars, matches, and monocles. Now viewed as ‘classic’ tricks in the juggling community, we learn how standard these tricks were in 1921 and Ingalese gives performance suggestions which suggests that juggling had a certain formal expectation when being presented! It helps to know that our humble editor himself specializes in many of these tricks and helps give clarity and background to the development of methods and ideas behind the tricks Ingalese shares.

Juggling or How To Become a Juggler: the annotated edition is a welcomed addition to any juggler’s (or historian’s) library by connecting jugglers of today to the jugglers of the past. Any teacher of juggling would benefit from reading the book to know some of the earliest standards of transmitting the skill and Wall’s additions aid in accurately passing along our artform’s technical history.