The evolution of juggling | Jay Gilligan | TEDxHelsinki


Translator: Wataru Maeda Thank you. (Applause) (Finnish) Thank you, thank you. So, my name is Jay. I’ve been juggling for 28 years. I grew up in America, where I learned
to juggle at the age of eight. And it wasn’t until 10 years later
that I came to Europe for the first time and I saw European-style juggling. And in European-style juggling, actually, Finland and the other
Scandinavian countries are big influences in that style, and I didn’t understand anything. So, I’ve been juggling for 10 years, and in America, juggling
is really based upon skill. So, for example, when I would juggle, if I learned a trick
with my dominant hand – I’m left-handed, so I throw under the leg
with my left hand – I would throw under the leg
also with my right hand so you can see that I’m very skilled,
that I learned the trick on both sides. As well, the other tricks
in American juggling are looping, repeating patterns, for example, this trick here. It just keeps going and going. It’s the same shape. It doesn’t change. The rhythm is the same. As well, another big part
of American-style juggling can be that it’s symmetrical. So, here’s a pattern
that’s the same on both sides. (Laughter) And again, you can see
that it loops and it repeats and it doesn’t change, and the rhythm is the same:
the steady beat. So, when I came to Europe
and I saw the kind of juggling – and again, Scandinavian style as well,
it’s similar to European style – it looked a bit like this. (Laughter) And you can see that looks
really strange to me, compared to the first style
of juggling that I showed you. There’s a lot of starts and stops. The patterns don’t repeat. They don’t happen on both sides. It’s asymmetrical. Again, in America, where I grew up
and I learned to juggle, I would begin with a big start, and then, I would keep juggling and at the end,
a really big, clear finish. Like this. (Applause) (Finnish) Thank you. But here in Eastern Europe
and Scandinavia, this kind of juggling
was very broken down. The rhythm started and stopped. It was hard for me to figure out. So, I was really intrigued by this, and I wanted to learn how to juggle
like somebody from Finland, for example. And along this journey, I discovered many different things, not only about the kind of juggling
that I was doing, but by the objects that I was using because one thing that was the same
in America and in Europe is the kind of objects we juggled. So, there’s the juggling ball. There’s also juggling club, which of course you flip, and … the juggling ring. These are the three main props
that jugglers use. I’ve been juggling
this circle of plastic for 28 years. I’ve put in 20,000 hours of rehearsal
with this prop alone, not the balls or clubs, just with rings. That’s two years of my life, constantly juggling
this circle of plastic: no eating, no sleeping, two years non-stop juggling. (Laughter) I’ve built a career
out of this circle of plastic. I make my living with this. It’s how I eat, it’s how I pay my rent, and I know it very well. It can do lots of different things. I know exactly what
this piece of plastic will do. But it wasn’t until 19 years
after I started juggling that I asked myself, “Why?” (Laughter) (Applause) “Why is this ring like this? Why is it this shape, this thickness,
this weight, this material?” The only thing my friends and I
had ever wondered about before was maybe the color. For example, I need
to have a nice bright color if I have a black backdrop
and I’m going to be doing a performance. Or if I’m rehearsing, for example,
in a racquetball court, which is quite popular for jugglers, they have a white ceiling,
and then I would need a dark-colored ring. But that was the end
of my thought process about this object. When I learned to juggle,
that’s just what it was. It was just always there as far as I knew. And even in 2003, when Mister Babache, which is a juggling prop
manufacturer from Switzerland, they released this ring … here – and you can see it’s bigger – even then, it didn’t spark
anything in my mind. I’ve seen bigger rings before. But the thing was, bigger rings,
they’re not for throwing in the air. They’re called spinning rings. So, I could spin a ball on my finger and spin a ring around a part of my body,
on my arm, maybe on my leg, because the bigger size
makes it easier to get the right rhythm to keep it spinning. Even then, when I saw this ring,
I thought, “Ah, it’s a spinning ring.” I just know that you don’t throw
this one in the air. But then, in 2004, Mister Babache released this ring. And this ring, it made me question everything
because this ring makes no sense. (Laughter) It’s small, it’s too small. You can see I have very large hands. It’s too small. The weight is very bad. If I want to throw a normal ring, I put a little bit of a spin on it
to keep it stable in the air. But this ring, it
doesn’t have enough weight. Even if I spin it, it’s kind of light,
it bounces around. I don’t know why it exists. I mean, Is there really
a big gap in the market for small, child jugglers
who are struggling? (Laughter) You know, they are on the street corners because they can’t use this:
they’re too big or … I don’t know. I never heard about that. I don’t know. So, when this ring came out,
it made me want to do two things. Number one: it didn’t really make me want
to find out why this ring was this size. Rather, it made me question
why this ring was this size. So, I wanted to find out the history
of my juggling props, which isn’t really
in the juggling culture. And for sure, in other genres,
this doesn’t seem very revolutionary, but juggling is such a young art form that these questions
are just coming up now. So, I wanted to find out
why this ring was this size, and also, I wanted to find tricks, juggling tricks that you would do
with the small ring that could only be done
with the small ring and thereby justify its existence. And so, before I show you
some of those tricks I’d like to tell you
why this ring is this size. It turns out my friend made that ring. And his name is Dave Finnigan. He goes under the stage
name of Professor Confidence, and his motto is,
“A touch is as good as a catch.” (Laughter) And he wrote the first
juggling book that I bought, that I learned to juggle from. And I’m very fortunate to know this man, and so I sent him an email, and I said, “Hey, why are these
juggling rings this size?” And this is what he wrote me back: “It was in Taiwan in 1976. I had just learned to juggle in Seattle and wanted to get
juggling props made in Asia but had no samples from which to work. I had just seen one good ring juggler
at the Delaware convention. He was a guy named Spider-Man, who cut his rings
out of sheets of plastic. There was no standard
13-inch juggling ring yet. So, I was in a plastic factory in Taiwan, and I was telling the proprietor,
Mr. Tsai, about rings. He had a cookie tin on his desk,
so I used it to draw a circle. Then, I found another
round item in the office and drew a circle inside of that circle. We used that as the template
for the first rings we made. (Laughter) (Applause) So … a cookie tin. Two years of my life. (Laughter) I would guess in other fields
of study or art, there’s a lot of research
that goes into manufacturing, optics, a lot of planning. There’s a really popular
three-ring trick I’d like to show you. Looks like this. Juggle the rings. Flip one. They all go on the head. Now, that’s a very standard trick, a very standard technique
for me as a juggler. What would have happened … (Laughter) if the factory owner was on a diet? I don’t know. (Laughter) Had a smaller cookie tin? I don’t know. It would be a very different trick. Wouldn’t go on my head. My whole life’s work’s based around
being able to put the ring around my head. It’s very strange. You already hear the prejudice
in my opinion about these props because I say that … this is a normal ring. And this we call a baby ring
or a small ring. And this is a big ring. But of course, jugglers
who start out today, they just know
that there’s a 40-centimeter, a 32-centimeter, and a 24-centimeter ring. They don’t see the difference
the way I do when I started out. I’d like to show you a few of the tricks
I found with this baby ring, 24 centimeters, that can only be done using this ring. There’s a French juggler Denis Paumier and an American juggler Sean Blue, who started to combine
these smaller rings with the larger rings. And suddenly, tricks like this
became possible. (Applause) So, you can see, by using
the different-sized rings together, it allows me to throw them
at the same time. That same technique, using these normal rings
that I started out with, they always go the same height, so it’s very difficult to catch them
in the same hand at the same time. So, this new size of ring, suddenly,
made a new technique possible. And as well, Oskar Wrangö of Sweden, he started to play with all three
different sizes of rings. And I have a few tricks
that I made with that. (Laughter) (Applause) (Laughter) (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. You can see this kind of juggling,
it’s very different than the style of juggling
I showed you with the three balls where everything
was looping and repeating. It’s very much more, in one way, European. So, this investigation led me to make what’s called the Manipulation
Research Laboratory. We did three projects, and of those projects,
we studied and tried to find out what were the different shapes
we could juggle, what kinds of materials could be used
in different techniques. And now we’ve collaborated
with Renegade Juggling from California and Tom Kidwell. We’ve made different kinds
of juggling objects. For example, instead of a circle,
why not a triangle? Again, this might not seem
so difficult to grasp. Well, hey, we have a circle. Let’s use a triangle,
a square, an octagon. But in juggling, this is where we’re at
right now with the art. It’s really exciting. I love it to be alive right now because we get to find
all these new things. But they are very, very basic, I think. So, I’d like to show you a trick
you can do only with three triangles. It looks like this. (Applause) (Finnish) Thank you. And you can imagine
that’s not possible with the rings because there’s not the pointed edge
to hook the triangle and so. I’ve been talking a little bit
about tricks you can only do with different-sized rings
or only do with the triangle. Let me show you one trick
as a different example. I’ll do something with five triangles that you can actually do
with five rings or five squares. Alright, so it looks something like this. For example, take five objects
that have a big hole in the middle, and take six places around your body. So, for example, we’ll go with … left foot, on the head, elbow, left hand, we’ll do right elbow, and also, the right foot. And in this pattern, all we do
is move the triangles or the objects around the body to each hole in sequence. So, the first thing I can do is change
from my left foot to my right foot. Then this one in my hand
goes to the left foot. The head goes to the hand. This one goes back on the elbow. From this elbow onto the head. And finally, from the right foot
back to the right elbow. And in this way, I can juggle these five triangles, (Laughter) but it’s not specific … to only five triangles. It can be five rings, five squares. But I can show you one more image
that you can only do with five triangles. It looks like this. Yeah, that’s it. Thanks. (Applause) Now, my friends Denis and Sean were playing around
with these different-sized rings, and they combined them together. For example, the big ring
and the small ring, they combined them, different sizes. What if we keep the same shape
and instead of changing it to a triangle, we keep a circle, but we join them together so they’re linked and as well, combine this with an entirely
different shape such as a ball? And I’ve prepared a little
choreography for you with that. (Music) (Applause) With Renegade Juggling,
we’ve made Renegade Design Lab, which is like a boutique juggling company
that makes different juggling props. We’ve taken different kinds of props
and combined them together. For example, today,
we’ve seen the juggling ring, which, again, has a very
large hole in the middle. And we tried to combine this
with other different shapes, for example, the traditional juggling club and what it would be
if it had a large hole in it as well. So, the result are these clubs. It’s a normal juggling club
but with a big hole in it. Of course, they can be used
in the normal way again. But having this hole in the club
allows for different techniques that were never possible before,
such as this one. (Applause) So, images like that
were never possible before in juggling until we started to define and combine
the different shapes together. All of this investigation
into the history of juggling props made me want to find an object
that had its own history in the moment, an object that would leave a concrete path
of where it’s been as manipulated. And I’d like to show you
one option I have for that. Now, I can juggle these balls of string
in the normal way as I would three balls, but as they move through space, they’ll leave a record
of where they’ve been, and it makes normal juggling
a little bit more complicated. (Laughter) And you can start to see
not only where the object has been in relationship, for example, to my body if I throw behind the back or for example, under the leg, but also you can start to see
the relationship of my body to the object if I try to unwind the string on purpose. And in this way, we have a record
of where all these objects have been the entire time they’ve been manipulated. Here’s that pattern again
I showed you at the beginning. (Laughter) (Laughter) (Applause) So, one last thing I’d like to show you, and that is, out of all this research
into using new juggling props and new juggling shapes, it’s also led me back to where I started: that original ring that I spent thousands of hours with. Through doing this new work, it’s allowed me to come back
and see this in an entirely new way. So, I’d like to show you now
a little bit of juggling using these new ideas. (Music) (Cheering) (Cheering) (Applause)

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