This chapter is about how to hold a ball. Don’t argue! There are many different holds, most of which you would never think of as out of the ordinary, some of which you would never think of how to get into, and one or two which are difficult to get out of. The Palm and Cradle holds are the most important for us, and are used in almost every move involving the hands.
This is usually just called Palm. Hold your hand out, palm up. Put a ball in the flat of the palm. Don’t bend your fingers, but let them relax. If you place the ball at the base of the fingers, you are technically still doing a Palm Hold, although it’s stretching the term slightly.
There are three basic ways to “hold” a ball on the back of the hand. The first is simply known as the "cradle". Hold your right hand out in front of you, fingers together, and palm facing the ground. Lower the middle finger to form a groove. Place your ball in that groove. The little finger may raise slightly – that's okay. This is also known as the "three-finger cradle", as three fingers support the ball. The second is the cradle that I prefer – the "two-finger cradle", so called that because the ball is balanced on two fingers. Place your hand in front of you in cradle position, fingers together. Form a slight 'V' between the index and middle fingers. Balance the ball there. This cradle solves some little problems with the windshieldwiper and similar moves. Make sure not to exaggerate the 'V', as it is hard to correct later! The third is used by a few CJers on the www.contactjuggling.org site, and is known as the "Vulcan cradle", after the Vulcan greeting gesture in Star Trek. Place your hand as in the two-finger cradle position, but form the 'V' with the middle and ring fingers. Personally, I find this to be awkward to use, but I'm sure there are people that will find it useful if they have trouble with the others. More advanced holds on the back of the hand include holding the ball right behind the knuckles of the first and second fingers (between the tendons), holding between the little finger’s first knuckle and the ring finger, and holding between the thumb’s knuckle, the base of the thumb and the first finger’s knuckle. You will most likely never get to use these, though – unless you come up with some very outlandish moves - in which case, submit them to www.contactjuggling.org to share them with the world!.
Put your thumb, index finger, and middle fingers up, with the tips held close to each other. You can balance a ball on the tips. This is used as a demonstration hold – it points out the ball. In the film, “The Labyrinth”, the first contact juggling clip begins and ends in this hold. Personally, I prefer the three-finger hold to this one, but a lot of people use this as their “Look! A ball!” hold. It is simple to do, and can be moved into (or out of) from the palm, open fist, or cradle holds.
For this, start with a hand palm up. Place a ball there, and wrap your thumb over it. Now turn the hand over so it is palm down. The ball should still stay in the palm, held there by the thumb. This can be used to great effect as a surprise in the middle of something routine. If you butterfly normally for a while, for example, then suddenly throw in a single Thumb Hold so the ball ends up under the hand instead of above it, the audience is usually surprised and then impressed.
Cradle Hold w/ Thumb Hold
This hold, while it is simply a combination of two other popular holds, pops up enough in contact juggling that I felt it needed to be pointed out on its own. The Thumb Hold is important to this hold, so should be practiced carefully. The Cradle Hold used here is the three-finger cradle. Although I am a great fan of the two-fingered cradle, it is simpler by far to use the three-finger version in this hold.
James Ernest says in his book that this is one of the only times he ever lets his fingers tense. It is a style decision. The hold is not right for everyone, but can be perfect for some moments. Form a fist, and raise the forearm so the fist is pointing up, with the index and middle fingers forming a groove along the first phalanges. Place the ball there. This is tricky to get into, and tricky to balance. Try tossing from one hand to another, keeping the same hold. Or, even harder – try placing your two fists together and roll the ball from one to the other.
This hold is also called the Cup Hold, as the shape of the hand is as if you were holding a large mug’s handle. Form a fist, with the fingers knuckles held in a vertical line so the index finger and thumb are on top. Place the ball on the slight dip formed near the end of the index finger. Mostly, this hold is used as part of a group of holds flowing into each other – it can look very good to “flourish” the ball with a series of holds.
Open Fist Hold
I call this the Open Fist hold because, from the Fist Hold, all you need to do is unfold the fingers and press the thumb in tighter to get this hold here. This hold is elegant from all sides, so is ideal for little pauses in your routine.
This hold is a good starting and finishing move. It is also fascinating when come by suddenly - The front view looks like the ball is just balancing on the end of the fingers. The side is even more magical sometimes. It can be very impressive when you are rolling the ball around your arms for a while, then suddenly stop with the ball apparently just balancing on your fingertips. Start learning this by making a tripod of your index, middle and ring fingers. Balance the ball on the fingertips. To begin with, the fingertips should be held wide apart, but as you gain experience, try to bring the fingertips closer and closer. Eventually, you come to a point where you can't bring the fingertips closer without bending the middle finger. Stop there - bending the finger makes the hold lose some of its appeal.
A lot of people hold their balls here by gripping the ball between the forearm and biceps. That is crude and unnecessary - The inner elbow is relatively flat, so all it takes is a little practice to be able to balance the ball there without a problem. Balancing a ball there while doing something else with the same arm is another thing altogether, but we'll get to that. This version of the hold is called the “Inside” Elbow Hold.
Outside Elbow Hold
Much harder to do than the Inside Elbow Hold, this one has a lot of possibilities. Robin Spehar, in the first video I saw of him, rolled a ball from the cradle to here, then paused in the act to hop the ball up and down there for a while. Joe DiNoto (the Golden Chicken) uses this in a strange variation of toss juggling’s “Mills Mess”. To learn this hold, you should first feel around the area with your other hand, while tensing, untensing, and moving the arm around in small ways. As you can see, I have let my right hand go limp in the picture. If you tense the hand, then the tendons of the arm shift and bunch in uncontrollable ways. I balance the ball at the base of the biceps, about two inches from the audience side of the forearm. Another interesting move, I see Robin doing very often, is to balance here, then keep the ball isolated while rolling it to the cradle, pass over the cradle to the other cradle, and do the same in reverse on the other arm.
This is not a beginners’ hold. Not because I think you won't be able to do it - with a few minutes practice, I'm sure you could be walking slowly around the room with no problems! No - it is an advanced CJer's hold because there are no simple ways to get into it. The simplest way to get into it is a toss to catch there (see Head Catch), and that is something I would refuse to teach any beginner because it is dangerous. Anyway - assuming you are an advanced CJer, here are my thoughts on the hold. To begin with, the ball is held just above the eyebrow muscles. Tense up your eyebrows (furrow them as if you were concentrating on something), and feel there - you will notice that with the muscles furrowed, you have a dip in the forehead - this is where the ball is held. With practice, the ball can be held without furrowing the muscles. I'd recommend this, as a move always impresses more if it looks effortless. Don't let the ball go below the eyebrow area - if it reaches the nose, it is difficult to get back to the forehead. If the ball starts moving left - move your whole body further left, and turn the head slightly to the right - this will cause the ball to roll a bit to the right - correcting the error. If it rolls to the right, of course, just reverse these instructions. If the ball starts rolling down towards the face, step slightly forward and lean your head further back. If it starts rolling further up the forehead, step slightly back and straighten up a bit.
This is another of the advanced CJers’ holds. There is no easy way to get into it. The most obvious ways – a roll up the arm behind the head, tossing to catch, and rolling from the forehead to the neck, are all advanced moves. Despite all that, this hold is extremely simple. Simply bend over at the waist, scrunch your shoulders up, and hold your head up so you’re looking straight ahead. The ball is cushioned at all sides – by the spine, the base of the head, and the shoulder muscles. The image here is of myself doing a neck hold with a 5” ball – it’s not a trick of perspective…
The Temple Hold is very difficult to keep steady. It must be done in a way that is awkward to the body (unless, of course, you are lying on your side as you do it), so a bit of flexibility is also required. Getting into this hold is a difficulty which all advanced CJers have to figure out at some point. The easiest way, in my opinion, is the first move of the “Butterfly With Head Hold”, where you simply roll the ball off the cradle and onto the temple. Robin Spehar (a comic artist who just happens to also be a fantastic contact juggler) submitted a video to contactjuggling.org of a small one ball show he did, in which he had the ball on the right Outside Elbow Hold, placed his head down so the right temple was on the ball, and flipped over towards the left and took the arm away so the ball was balanced on the right Temple Hold. In the image, I am holding the ball right at the front of the temple dip in the skull. I find that the bony rim of this area helps to keep the ball steady. Other people like to bring the ball further down so it is almost in the ear! This area is much more stable again, and makes your head contact juggling look extreme. I wouldn’t call that a Temple Hold, though – but go ahead and learn it anyway