Palmistry and Crystal Balls
Three years ago  we were walking past our local juggling shop when the glint in a set of acrylic balls magically caught our eye. The shopkeeper was happy to be rid of them - by concentrating the sunlight like a magnifying glass, they had nearly set his shop on fire - so he let us have them cut price. And that was the birth of our soap-bubble/glass ball routine. Yet palm-rolling has come to mean much more to us than just a poetic stage act. It can be a lot of fun, relaxes the hand, and has a strangely calming effect (once you've learnt how to do it).
The best kind of balls for palm-rolling are ones with a smooth surface that do not create too much friction when they touch (e.g. acrylic balls, billiard balls, boules), or alternatively you can use balls with a gripping surface (like hard rubber balls, doggy balls, juggling balls) which enable you to do different things. And of course, you could also combine the two types, Let's start with the smooth-surfaced balls. They are much easier to practise with, and smooth balls seem to offer a wider range of possibilities. All the techniques we shall be describing are different ways of making the balls roll around the palms of your hands. The first exercise is two balls in one hand, which is easy to get the hang of. But first, here's a tip: it helps to have something soft underneath your hands so that you can stay relaxed and don't have to keep worrying about what will happen if you drop. We often sat on the bed and palm-rolled while watching TV. At the beginning it was hard to follow the plot of the film, but after a while the palm-rolling became more automatic and more relaxing. Not that we want to encourage you to watch more TV - but it is a way of learning to roll the balls "in the background" and not keep your eyes glued to your hands.
Just 2 balls already give you four possibilities with each hand: pushing forward with your thumb, pulling backward into the palm with your thumb, allowing the balls to touch, or keeping them separate as they turn. The following tricks assume that the balls touch. The first time you palm-roll balls you will probably have the urge to hold the balls with the fingers - yet that is precisely what prevents them from revolving smoothly. So try to keep your hand as open as possible -you will find that instead of falling, as you might have feared, the balls actually start to roll smoothly along their course. The more horizontal your palm, the smoother and rounder the rolling movement looks. It makes sense to learn to rotate the balls in both directions right from the start, as this involves two very different sets of hand movements. By continually changing the direction of the spin, your hands can get the feel of both at the same time. A good exercise is to try palm-rolling clockwise or anticlockwise with both hands simultaneously, then switching.
The technique is very similar to 2 balls, except that now it is important to keep your hand even more open. Many of you are probably thinking: "but my hands are much too small for 3!" Wrong. Anyone who can hold 3 can also learn to palm-roll 3! To make sure that the balls roll really smoothly, the centre of the circular movement should not keep shifting about, but should stay equidistant from all three balls, somewhere over the base of the middle finger. If you can manage that, here comes the next challenge: keeping the plane on which the balls are revolving really horizontal. In order to learn this we looked for a flat object with a non-slip surface (a mouse-pad, the cover of a plastic lever-arch file, a piece of firm foam rubber) and placed it on top of the balls with its centre of gravity above the balls' axis of rotation. The flat surface is simply a magnification of the rotational plane, which makes it easier to spot mistakes. If you don't hold the balls horizontal, the flat surface tilts to one side. Whenever it is not lying on all three balls, it starts to slip. After a time, this "error-feedback" will give you a feeling for what you need to do to get the surface back into the horizontal.
Now place a fourth ball on top of the three in your hand. It will probably keep falling off in the beginning. This is a sign that the balls are not really rolling horizontally. Try to do less active pushing, instead lowering the fingers ahead of the ball so that it rolls into the depression of its own accord. If the bottom three balls start drifting apart, increase the tension in your fingers. We've noticed that "backward" rotation is easier if you try to hold the balls not in your palm but as far out along the fingers as you can. If you just can't seem to get that fourth ball to stay up there, try it with an old bean-bag instead, because that won't fall off quite so easily. And it looks good too, as the beanbag spins backwards at relatively high speed. Of course, so does the glass ball, but the movement isn't so easily seen. Adding a degree of difficulty: from now on the balls are not allowed to touch!
We learnt this technique of palm-rolling only after mastering four balls in both hands, as in the non-contact version the balls are hardly led at all and can easily roll out of your hand. If you try to spin three balls in each hand very fast, you will notice that the centrifugal force seems to be pushing them apart. If you now remove one of the three balls but do not otherwise alter the movement, you should find that the balls no longer touch each other. You can also practise this "trick" with large, clingy juggling balls because they can only be palm-rolled smoothly if they do not come in contact with each other. The technique can also be used as an intermezzo in the middle of a juggling routine.
This is probably one of the most difficult palm-rolling tricks. You have to learn to roll three balls at exactly the same speed so that they do not catch up with one another. The best way to learn is to rotate three smooth-surfaced balls faster and faster until you get the feeling that they are rolling on their own, and then replace them with three frictional balls. The three revolving balls should never be allowed to touch, otherwise there will be a hiccup in the movement which will destroy the magic of the flow. Of course, the non-contact version is also possible in both directions - especially in theory!
Of course, the non-contact rule applies only to the three balls underneath, not the fourth one standing on top of them. We think this trick is actually easier than the three balls on their own, as the top ball helps to push the other three apart slightly. This trick can also be incorporated into a straight juggling routine - it looks really impressive.
Eva and Wolfgang, Duo Wirbelwind,