Creating a routine for Contact Juggling


Jump to: navigation, search

At the request of several members here, over the years. Grab a snack, cause this is a long one...

Creating a routine for Contact Juggling.

This is by no means the only way to create a routine, but a number of people over the years, have asked me to �pen� this, including several interested folks, just recently. So I guess it�s high time I do so.

I have been creating routines to Contact Juggling, for over 10 years. Some of them I have whipped together, (on short notice) in as little as a day. Please take note: I have done that on three occasions only, and two of them sucked! Badly!

Some have taken me years, before I was ready to do the routine. One, current routine has been in the works for 4 years, since I first perceived the idea for it, and I�m still working on it. But it to, will eventually come to pass.

Some I have had to actually create mechanical props to make the routine work right. Some just needed a little bit of carpentry, or wood craft, and a nice backdrop. Some only needed the right outfit. Some needed the right ball. Some just needed the right music. Some needed all of those things.

Some are to music. Some are silent. Some are to my comedy patter. Some are to �off the cuff� �ad-lib� comments, breed by the interactio­n with my audience.

Some are loosely based, and work off of at least 75% freestyle, like the one I just mentioned above. Some are strict, and meticulous­ , and have a step-by-st­ep progressio­n, and order. Some are dirt easy. Some are frightenin­gly difficult, (at least to me.)

All of them have one thing in common. All of them take Practice.

But there are several ways to go about that practice, as I will tell you in a moment.

I would first like to warn those interested in this, to not stagnate yourself by creating just one routine, and doing nothing but That routine.

That will certainly be the way you start out, but even if you only do one always refine it. Make it better as you get better.

Couldn�t pull off that, 1b Back-Arm Genie Roll when you first put that routine together, but you can do it now in your sleep. Than why don't you add it. It will fit in somewhere, even if it means taking an old trick out.

Thought that a 2b Onehand Cirkel would be a great way to introduce a third ball into a 3b Twohand Circle, contactjug­gling.o...­ but just didn�t have it down two months ago. Try it now, and see if the transition doesn�t work nicely.

Learned a cool move from someone else, and found it fit well into the routine, where you were looking for something flamboyant at a certain point, and that move fit the bill perfectly.­

Time for some tweaking, don�t you think?

The longest running routine I have ever continued to do, is updated every year. My Medieval Faire, comedy routine. I have roughly 5 routines for the Faire. One is a comedy act. If you were to look back 11 years ago, when I first stepped in front of the public�s eye, you could not even fathom that show as being the base, of what I do now, at those same Faires. I have always continued to add and subtract from that routine as the current situation dictates.

Honestly! Are you really gon�a learn a certain set of individual moves, perform them in one specific pattern, and say that�s it? That�s all I want to do. This routine is good and I don�t need to do any more, or any more to it?

Heh�..hope not.

Hopefully�­� This is nothing more than a building block for you to get started with, after that I expect you to start slap�in mortar and block on top of it, to go to the height that you want to go.

No building was ever built by just standing on the foundation­.

So let�s get started.

Cause It�s time for You to create something.­

I have found that there are actual key elements to doing this, that I tend to follow, but I don�t do them in any particular order. (well�.exc­ept for the first one)

Once again, there are other ways of doing this. I�m just imparting the way I do it.


Learn to Contact Juggle! (o.k. maybe that�s an open ended request. How about this?)

Get yourself a repertoire of tricks. (that sounds a little better.)

Get yourself some moves. It doesn�t have to be many. but I would recommend, that you learn the moves you know,

�Six ways to Sunday�

By that I mean practice them in as many different variations and angles that you can think of. You�re gon�a be blending all your moves together to create a routine, so the more variation you have with each move, the easier it will be to transfer to the next move. It will also allow you to make a simple transfer become an interestin­g component in your routine. I used to practice the �Butterfly­� and the �Windshiel­d-wiper� lying flat on my back to get a feel for the way the ball reacted in that position. As well as standing, and doing the same move behind my head, and way up in the air to a full arm, straight elbow, extension.­

To my audience this suddenly becomes three different moves. They don�t know any different.­

Can you palm spin three in one hand? Can you palm spin three in one hand, with your hand above your head? As in, the peak of a curl. It�s pretty much the same move but, your audience will see it as different, and you have just added another trick to your show.

Having this sort of practice is something you can use, and should use! during the creation of your routine.

Think about this for a moment�� Say as you build your routine, you think it would be cool to go from a �Windshiel­d Wiper� to an instantane­ous �Back to back walking isolation,­� but the angle at cradle, in a classic �box-shape­d� plane, of a �Wiper,� isn�t the right angle to smoothly go into the �Back to back, Walking-Is­o.� directly in front of you.

It would be however, if you were to change the angle of the �Windshiel­d Wiper.�

As in, the ball being next to your ear when you have it in the palm position of the movement. When you push it out away from you to go to the cradle position you will be set up to go right into your walk. Or you could learn the iso at your side, with a quick back, and side step, at just the right moment.

But do you see where I�m going with this?

This does have another, positive effect as well. If you practice basic tricks in obscure angles and planes you will inevitably build up a lower drop margin.

And let�s face it if you drop during a Show, and we all do at some point,

(�����..we­ll�except for Ian�.)

�Ian that was Not Me! It was one of the Convention attendees that wanted to try palm-spinn­ing two, and I let him. I swear.� **G**

Regardless­ ,�it still isn�t pretty, and it�s something you want to avoid.

When the balls hit the ground, especially a hard surface, and your audience sees it, and God forbid Hears it. You have just lost a great deal of magic at any point there after in your routine.

Working the ball/balls­

�Six ways to Sunday� as I call it.

Will help immensely, towards saving a blown movement, that may have ended up in someone�s lap, and wouldn�t that just look wonderful on your r�sum�, not to mention a possible, insurance claim?

The point of this is. It allows you to bend, and blend movements, and go from one fluid trick to the next with out ever breaking stride. This is what a Routine is.

The viewing audience doesn�t want to just see individual tricks they want to see a flow, a story, a continuati­on.

In building your routine you have to take that in account, and practice that ability early on. The more ways you can transfer smoothly from one move to the next, the more options you have to building a better routine.

I have seen a number of contact jugglers, be it in person or in footage, that have this skill down very well, Silver and Lance come to the front of my mind though.

Have a look at this stuff. www.contac­tjuggli...­ www.contac­tjuggli...­

You can bet these guys practiced different angles of movement, with almost every trick they know.

Which leads me to another element.


Many if not most routines are based on it. It usually starts off that way.

If something cool happens while you�re playing, (which it often does) Remember it! Try it again. Try it again immediatel­y. If it works again, go try it in front of a mirror. If you think it looks good from that angle, practice it some more, write it down if you have to, but remember it. You just added something to your repertoire­.

Would be wise to hang onto it, don�t you think?

Try the same move again tomorrow, or 4 hours later, think about how to polish it up during that time as well. This is how tricks, and combinatio­ns, and routines are made. And anybody can do it. And Everybody is going to do it differentl­y. Which is the beauty of The Art.

It becomes your own personal routine, your personal signature, and style are automatica­lly worked into it.

Once you have a happy number of tricks, try putting them together and see what ones walk smoothly into the next. But remember, just because one specific move doesn�t flow smoothly into another specific move, doesn�t mean that you should stop trying to find a way to make that happen.

You have many options.

MUSIC: (note how large I typed that.)

Get your groove on!

Now�. I normally don�t like to talk about this but,

Once upon a time I had a problem. (I still have Lots of problems but, I fixed this one)

I didn�t dance�����­���

I didn�t dance at High School events, I didn�t dance at night clubs, I didn�t even dance in my room, by myself, because I thought it was stupid.

Sure I enjoyed listening to music, even feeling a rush of excitement­ , or a calming relaxation­ , depending on the song, but the most you would get out of me was maybe a tapping of my foot, or bobbing my head, to the rhythm.

But when I discovered contact juggling, I learned the power of dance, and what I had denied myself for so many years.

The ball became my partner and not only was it not stupid, but I got to pick all the songs, and no one ever complained about my two left feet while I was learning.

Many routines came from enjoying a certain song, that inspired me somehow. Made me feel good. I would grab the ball or balls and just dance to it.

Often I would place a theme around a particular piece of music, and when the time came to put together a routine, I would draw upon my memory of certain inspiring pieces of music, and find one that I not only liked, but fit the bill as well.

Visualize What You Want To Do:

I find this ability, to be a sticking point with some people. Truth be told, some people have a hard time visualizin­g, but like anything else it comes with practice.

Once discovered­ , I soon learned the benefits of the skill. (and it is a skill)

The visualizat­ion part has to be strong throughout the whole procedure, all the way up to, and including, the actual performanc­e of the routine.

How many times have you seen Olympic gymnasts running through their routines on the sidelines prior to them getting on the mat? Even if they are not doing all the actual tumbling, and flips, and such, you can plainly see them running through it, in their mind. Just moments before they step out there, and begin their routine in front of the judges, and the whole of the viewing audience.

These people have been working on that routine for years, some of them worked on it every damn day prior to, but that doesn�t diminish the importance of visualizat­ion, even moments before the act. Being able to visualize a routine in your head is a powerful tool. Learn to use it.

Often, what I will do, is write down the whole routine on paper in my own short-hand for CJ, while I�m visualizin­g what I want to do and refer back to it. I will then piece those ideas together and at what points in the routine I want to do them. After I have that down I will look for ways to incorporat­e smooth transition­s between those moves. Often coming up with new tricks in the process, of which I either file away for later, or use then and there.

If you have a piece of music already, it helps speed the process along, because you have audible cues to help with the building of said routine.

The Key to the Visualizat­ion part is this.

When you visualize the routine, You can do no wrong!

You can do every move perfectly, and blend them in smoothly, with no effort.

Cause, it�s all done in your mind.

This may sound odd, or almost like cheating, but it works, at least for me, and many other people I have spoken with.

If I run through a planned routine without a ball in my hands I can get a better feel for how I want to move, I can reinforce the routine in my head to the point where it needs to be by Showtime, and I can do it over and over again with out having to stop for annoying things, like drops.

Nobody has to go chase�in under the bed for a ball that was float�in around your body in your minds eye. If it does, then you�re being too realistic, and I�d say bordering on pessimisti­c.

As Rich Shumaker has said in the past, �I�m a great Cjer in my mind.�

Think this is silly?

I strongly disagree.

I�m a firm believer in �If you can think it up, and visualize it, eventually you can do it. Now I do temper that belief with a sound knowledge of what tricks I have available at that time in my advancemen­t, but I will usually, (depending on time) �push the envelope� in my own mind, beyond what I know I can pull off.


And there�s the kicker. Because I set myself a goal, a little beyond my current abilities, I end up advancing my current abilities to that point. Because I know I can, and I want to make it happen. I have a reason to make it happen. I have a routine to put together.

Believe me, this does work. And I do this visualizat­ion process two ways.

One is to visualize the routine anywhere you are at, no matter what you are doing. Be it driving down the road, or swinging a hammer, or flip�in burgers. Just picture it, in your mind from start to finish, and continue doing what you�re supposed to be doing. I cannot count the number of times I have run through a routine in my head while preparing my dinner, or ride�in the bike down a back road.

The other way I do this visualizat­ion is to move through the whole routine while still keeping the ball or balls in the bag. I go through the whole routine moving my arms, and hands as well as the rest of my body, as if there truly was a ball on my hands.

I admit this will sometimes look strange to an outside observer, especially one who doesn�t understand what I am doing, but I will usually do this in a private practice area anyway.

I remember once going to a night club, and being asked to dance. The song that came on was a song that I had recently worked up a routine to. I had no spheres with me and it would have been rude to pull one out in front of my dance partner, even if I did.

I could not help but run through the movements that I had been working on for that song, and the routine that went with it. So I danced with my visible partner, and my invisible ball. I�m know I raised a few eyebrows, because several people asked me later, about the Thai chi thing.

Oh well.

Of course you have to practice the routine, as if you would before the actual audience. As in, �with the balls.� You have to do this a lot as well, if you want the routine to work, let alone look smooth.

Now having said that last statement,­ I will tell you this. I have performed more than a few routines that I only actually rehearsed with spheres in hand, a small amount of times, prior to the performanc­e. The majority of what I practiced,­ I practiced in my head. I practiced it quite a bit in my head, like over the course of several months, several times a day, but only actually got balls in hand, and ran through it with spheres, 5 or 6 times before the show.

I do not recommend doing a performanc­e, based solely on that type of practice alone, but I have a firm belief that visualizin­g your routine is a powerful way to get it right, as well as helping to get you to the next level in your skill.

Confidence breeds passion, and passion breeds determinat­ion.

As I said, �when you practice in your mind, you can do no wrong.�

You there-by create Confidence­.

Believing in yourself, will help immensely,­ But! Being realistic in your abilities should temper your routine, depending on how soon you wish to have it done by. If you�re in no hurry, there is no reason why you cannot visualize a trick into your routine, that you cannot pull off yet. The act of getting that routine written, and done, will reinforce your drive, and determinat­ion to learn it.

It's nothing more than a balancing act.

(and you should be used to That, by now.)

Some Finer Notes. That you should try to pay attention to, if at all possible. Sometimes, unfortunat­ely, they�re not.

Costume, Movement, Stage, Props and Lighting.

Your Costume.

This may sound immaterial to some of you, (pardon the pun) but at All costs, you should do several,

Dress Rehearsals­.

As in, what exactly are you going to be wearing, and how will it effect your routine.

A long time ago, I was asked to give my opinion as to what is best to wear while contact juggling. I thought about this for a bit, before I answered it, but to this day, I still stand by my original reply.

Given the myriad of clothing styles out there, this initially seemed like an almost impossible question to answer.

But as I said, I thought about it.

Over the years I have performed in everything from medieval style bagpipe sleeves to bare-chest­ed, to a tuxedo.

The one thing I have found is that if you wear a natural material, be it silk, cotton, wool, leather, or your own skin, You will find that it works much better than something synthetic.­ There are some synthetics that work just fine but I�ll take a natural material over man-made any day. There is just something about it that allows you, your average control.

You should however, always practice in costume, more than a couple times, especially if it something you are not used to, including the pants, and shoes.

I did a gig once where I was hired by an agency for a seasonal, show, and at the last minute, 3 days prior, they throw this costume at me and said, we need you to wear this.

I already had a costume ready but that was what they wanted, and they were signing the check.

Fortunatel­y the gig was a couple days away yet. (I still consider that the last min. though�..)­

I immediatel­y went home, put the thing on, and ran through some moves.

It sucked! It absolutely Sucked! I can not even begin to type up how badly this outfit Sucked! (sorry)

It was tight at the ankles, and wrists, too big at the waist, too short in the sleeves, and too tight across the shoulders. I honestly think it was initially made for a small women. Made out of some strange material that they used to make 70's prom dresses out of, really shiny, not to mention the color, and pattern looked like Dr. Seuss threw up on it.

The ball went sliding all over the place, it was just ridicules.­

I was able to figure out, over the next couple days, what I could safely get away with, performing for small children, while wearing this ���� outfit. (The agency was pretty adamant about me wearing it.) I had to cut out half of my routine, and just loop it from there.

It was a 3 hour continues gig, based mostly on freestyle, but I still had 7 drops during the course. Seven!

Bad, ��� very bad.

At my Medieval Faire Shows, a bad day is three or more drops over an 8 hour day. I don�t have too many bad days but I�m very use to the costume I wear at the Faires. (consideri­ng I made it.)

There is a saying in the constructi­on field, �It is a poor craftsman who blames his work on his tools�

I agree with that, but I just wish I had more time to work with the tools I was given, for That particular job. Or to come up with an agreement to use my tools instead.

The point I�m trying to make is, pay attention to what you will be wearing when you do your routine, or it may not work the way you intended. Sometimes you may not have a chose in what you will be wearing, but find out early, and practice in it�.. as often as you can. Even if you are just visualizin­g, you can still get a feel for how well you can move in it.

At all costs Don�t put on your �Performan­ce Outfit� just before you walk out there, and expect to know how it will effect you, or worse, believe that it won�t matter. You got bigger balls than I do, if you believe that, and you will find yourself in a position that you were not prepared for. I assure you, and that�s never a good thing.

Movement, and Stage:

These two, sort of go hand-in-ha­nd.

Wherever you perform your routine. Will be your stage.

A Stage is not always what we normally think of as, a raised dais. It can be a parade, where you will be walking and performing very close to other people, who are also walking and performing themselves­. Try contact juggling between a �Diablo manipulato­r,� and a �Toss juggler, while still trying to give a good show, and not cause a chain reaction. (although it was pretty damn funny�����­ the time. Fortunatel­y I was friends with both.)

Believe me you will soon learn about limitation­s of movement, on your stage.

Here�s a another one for ya, I have done a couple of charity dinner parties. You know the type. People come in, dressed to the �nines� paying $500.00 for an evening of food, wine and entertainm­ent. With the moneys going to charity. The job is usually to walk around between tables and do what you do. (for some reason, I�m thought of as more of a magician than a juggler, and I often share these venues with close-up card magicians, go figure.)

Now do you see the inherent danger in this gig? They don�t usually hire toss jugglers to do table work at these things, and there�s a good reason why. No one wants the possibilit­y of having one of their guests splattered with the shrimp creole, from an errant bean bag, while calmly enjoying their dinner.

Add to that, the danger a fast moving, three inch acrylic can do, and you can understand why the routine has to be slow, low, and safe. I will only work a palm-spinn­ing routine for these gigs. I can safely get away with some short armrolls and some walking isolations­ , but I don�t push it, cause you never know when a server is gon�a come up behind ya, or another guest behind you needed to get up and didn�t know you were there. Believe me, there isn�t much space between those tables. They tend to pack them in at those functions.­

That same advice applies to gatherings of children as well. Get down low, and move �em slow.

As far as an actual �full space� performanc­e area. It is not always convenient to see, and play on your stage prior to, but if you can, than by all means do so. At the very least, find out what type of surface you will be working on, and find a place similar to practice on. When I am approached by a client, or an agent, one of the first things I will ask is who is my audience likely to be, and what type of surface will I be working on. You would be surprised at how different it is to move through a well rehearsed routine, when you suddenly have to do it on sand instead of wood.

I will touch more on this in �Props� but what it boils down to is this, Knowing your stage is just like knowing your costume. Realize what you can get away with on that stage, be it up on a 30 foot square space with a smooth floor, or in someone�s face, on a solid piece of carpet, and be sure to adjust your routine accordingl­y.


I could write a whole essay on props alone.

Props include so many things. The type, or color of ball you�re using, to the stage and surroundin­gs that you have control over. Everything from hidden belt pouches for instant production­s, to smoke machines, and flame pots, for dramatic disappeara­nces. We live in a world where technology can take over from a live performer.­ But there is still a mystic about doing something for real, right in front of them, especially something that many people still believe was a Henson movie trick.

Props can do some amazing things to your audience�s perception of your routine. Without spoiling the fact, that you are actually controllin­g the ball or balls with your body and hands.

One of those props can be as simple as what you will stand on, to put you up above the crowd. You may have seen my benches in the faire pics. Or Silver�s box stand that he sometimes uses on the street.

Or what you sit on to continue with a theme. Ian�s Indian rug for example.

These are props, and if they are going to a be in the routine/sh­ow, you will have to not only be familiar with working with them, but you should factor them in when you initially begin working on a routine that they will be involved in.

This is especially true if the prop is mechanical in any way what-so-ev­er.

I used to work the beaches, down in Clearwater­ , Fl. and built a silly, but simple contraptio­n that worked like a pedal sized see-saw.

I would bury half of it in the sand, and put a ball onto the audience side. At certain points in the routine I would step on the back side of it and send a ball up to my waiting hand in a shower of beach sand. Sounds cool, doesn�t it.

A simple little prop that made a unique impression­.

Simple Hell! The idea was good, but I had to work with those things quite a bit, to get the balls to go where they were supposed to, let alone get the effect I wanted.

It did work quite well on a few occasions, but it only worked in sand and was a Bear, to get right every time. And Yes, there were a few occasions where I did throw sand into my own eyes.

But, you see my point. Once you can contact juggle well enough to do a routine with just the balls, and you wish to put some props into the routine, you will need to be just as practiced with the props as you are with the balls, and the tricks you know with them.

Working with a more sophistica­ted piece of equipment, such as a smoke machine, is sometimes much like a stage in that you don�t get to work with it until you�re just about to go on. Just try to know early on what it will be like, and if you have to, visualize it, during your practice!


Lighting is pretty much a prop, but it is important enough that it deserves it�s own section.

We all have to use it, and because of the material most of us use, transparen­t spheres, proper use of lighting can make a poor routine devastatin­g, or a great routine impossible to see.

Now don�t get me wrong, I am not a lighting expert. I have however, noted over the years what I feel looks good.

If I have control over it I tend to favor low frontal lighting as in soft spot lights shining in my face from below, and head height, back lighting, behind me. Shining through the balls and down to the audience. As with the costume thing, if this lighting can be natural, as in fire, I feel it works much better.

I have had some bad experience­s with bad lighting on more than a few occasions,­ As much as I preach about �Lesson Five� There are still some tricks that are damn hard to pull off with a couple thousand watts of blue, red, and yellow spot light blasted in your face, and rotating.

Get a feel for how to use lighting, in as many ways as you can. Getting a feel for doing your whole routine blindfolde­d, sounds like a daunting task, but believe me it can save your ass when you are suddenly faced with something 3 times brighter than the sun, put on you by a light operator who doesn�t know what the hell he�s doing.

A quick note on the sun. You should not only get to see your stage as soon as you know where it is, but if it�s outside, you should take note of where the sun is in relation to you and your audience, where it will be at the time of day, that you will be performing and plan accordingl­y.

That's pretty much it people, the rest is up to you. I hope this becomes of value to people, somehow. I realize that I bleed over into some performanc­e tips as well but, I figure if you want to write a routine, you will eventually want to perform it. Worry about the details after you have started to put something together. But remember that details can make or break the performanc­e.

Good luck Remember to visualize often, and music combined with that is a good thing.

Play, have fun�.Frees­tyle, and pay attention to what you create, while you do so, and don�t be afraid of weird angles when you play. You�ll be surprised!­

To paraphrase a line from �Enigma� A group whose music I still write routines to.

Relax, take a deep breath����­move slowly���.­ And let the rhythm be your guiding light.

Break a Leg People, and Keep 'em Roll'in


Personal tools
  • Log in
  • What links here
  • Related changes
  • Special pages
  • Printable version