The long view
July 20, 2016
Tony laughing purple t-shirt_388x259 I am often amazed at what I see some younger jugglers do, way beyond what I did at their age, during the early 80’s when I was winning (some) national and global competitions. Since that time, the number of brilliant and talented jugglers offering incredible displays of art, performance, and skill, from all parts of the world, has gone far beyond what my early contemporaries could have imagined. It is inspiring and humbling to see. There are a few reasons for this evolution:
  • There are more jugglers now than there were in the ‘old days’.
  • There is better access to resources for budding amateurs, motivated students and professionals.
  • We are standing on the shoulders of earlier generations, including legendary jugglers like Enrico Rastelli, Francis Brunn and more recent trailblazers such as Michael Mosche (for artistic creativity) and Sergey Ignitov (for pure skill). These role models have paved the way and raised the bar for all of us.
Internet video sharing amplifies all of the above things. Seeing these successes can also be disconcerting. Sometimes I wonder if the great quantity of stellar performances, live or on video, has the potential to intimidate or discourage aspiring jugglers. In my early, budding years I had enough skill to impress a girlfriend, whose admiration of my three-club double backcrosses and belief in my career potential helped my own confidence and motivation. But if I had access then to some of today’s best juggling videos, I wonder if I may have decided that I would never be able to equal these performers, in ANY area of juggling, in spite of her encouragement. Those great internet videos did NOT yet exist, either to inspire or to discourage me, I persisted with the means I had at the time, and my juggling career grew. Now I love teaching and want to help younger and aspiring jugglers to stay inspired and motivated. Here are a few things I learned along the way. You don’t have to be technically perfect in order to be a great performer. As a young person, I was advised by a number of experienced performers that entertaining an audience was more important than technical prowess, and perhaps even the only thing that really mattered. I had difficulty believing that advice, at the time. I felt that I had to be a superior technical juggler in order to be worth watching. I looked down on jugglers if I thought they conned audiences by performing gimmicks or by pretending that easy tricks were difficult. Now I am still inspired by incredible technical achievements, and admire many jugglers that followed Anthony Gatto. But I also appreciate the intelligence and well-crafted art that many jugglers employ to make entertaining acts that are not technically difficult. Develop a few things that are unique to you, that you love doing. I still love juggling, after 37 years. I’ve picked a few things I like that I think are unique, and that I always work at improving. For example, I hold a world record for bouncing a ping pong ball off the edge of the paddle. There is one other guy out there who challenges my videos on (damn him!), but I usually beat him again (until the next round). And then there’s contact juggling, which I helped develop. But what I really love now is developing funny characters and working with kids. Keep learning. I like that feeling of accomplishment when I finally get a trick that I have never done before, when I can feel that I am physically and mentally synchronized and my body has internalized the efficient way to do something really complex. Have a balanced life. I nurture interests beyond juggling: community volunteering, politics, family, outdoor exercise and being in nature. I don’t spend 4-6 hours a day juggling, so I don't expect to achieve the technical finesse of people who practice that much. But I still do love juggling and I practice regularly. Help others to be happy. I like helping people to enjoy and appreciate the experience of watching me perform. And I like helping my juggling students figure out what they do that is unique, so that they, too, find their place in the wild, wonderful world of circus arts. It can be a great life if you stick with it.


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