Juggling professionals learn to manage many balls in the air

Successful managers learn how to juggle multiple responsibilities.

And successful jugglers, it turns out, are those who have learned how to manage.

About 350 jugglers are expected to descend on John Ascuaga's Nugget this week for the annual festival of the International Jugglers' Association.

While they're in town, jugglers will compete for individual and team championships, participate in workshops on subjects such as advanced club passing (participants will work on passing with both hands, counts, hurrys and zips) and cheer shows by veteran and newcomer juggling performers.

The association knows its members: Before booking at John Ascuaga's Nugget, planners made sure the ballroom ceiling was at least 22 feet high. The Rose Ballroom passed muster at 25 feet.

While clubs and balls are flying through the air, professionals among the association's memberships will huddle to talk business.

One sign of the times: Attendance at the festival is expected to be down substantially this year from the 500 or so jugglers that typically came to previous festivals, says Kim Laird, chairman of the board of the International Jugglers' Association.

Juggling suppliers the handful of companies that provide hoops and glowballs, bowling pins and beanbags to jugglers have been feeling the pinch of the recession.

It's all based on discretionary income," says Jim Dorman, founder of Neon Husky, an online juggling supply business in the Portland, Ore., area that will be at the festival.

And the recession has hit even harder, Dorman says, because the primary demographic of hobbyist juggling is college-aged men, a demographic that has seen particularly high unemployment.

Neon Husky has hunkered down, reduced the amount of space it rents and tightened its inventories to weather the storm.

Still, the juggling supply never has been a particularly big business.

A fast-selling item in the Neon Husky warehouse might account for 500 units a year, Dorman says.

"The hardest thing is looking into the retail crystal ball," he says. "Trends come and go."

And Neon Husky isn't satisfied just to specialize in juggling supply. It's known among the juggling fraternity as a supplier of illuminated props as well as props that don't require throwing or catching. (That's a personal interest to Dorman, a veteran juggler who's been legally blind since 1998.)

A successful juggling performer, meanwhile, says he's successful because he widened his show to include comedy and other elements.

"Realistically, in the United States, a normal audience can take about 10 to 12 minutes of juggling before they're like, 'We get it. You throw and catch stuff. What else you got?'" says Ivan Pecel, who's taking a week out of his booked-solid performing schedule in Las Vegas, on cruise ships and at corporate events to attend this week's festival in Sparks.

In fact, the headline on the performer's Web site, ivanpecel.com, reads, "Making juggling tolerable."

He says nearly constant marketing as well as bit of flexibility on prices kept bookings headed his way even through the recession.

"There is a lot of work out there. You just have to make the right connections and go out there and find it," Pecel says. "If there is one thing that I have learned is that the business side of show business is the most important thing. Nobody is going to come knocking down your door to get work."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment