How I Started Juggling

Posted on February 10th, 2012 by Viveca in Circus Life

In January, we piloted a program I had developed to introduce elementary school children to classical circus. I had written the business plan, developed the curriculum, coordinated with the school, etc., but when it came time to go into the school and deal with real children, I expected to hand over program operations to the performers and instructors and go back to my spreadsheets.

Through a strange combination of staffing crises, I wound up going into the school with the instructors to teach 150 ten- to twelve-year-olds how to juggle, tumble, and clown (we discussed but didn’t teach equestrianism). Aah, the joys and perils of working for an understaffed not-for-profit organization.

I had planned the program so that kids would try everything and then decide on a specialty and so that kids who didn’t want to perform could do backstage work (designing costumes; making sets, posters, and programs; selling tickets and concessions; ushering, etc.) and know they were just as important to the production. I also thought this would be a selling point with the school, as they could use circus themes in the rest of their coursework even if the tie-in was relatively superficial (if two jugglers each had five balls…). However, I thought only a few sad, chubby kids wouldn’t want to perform and that their teachers could design and supervise the backstage activities.

On our first day there, we did a great performance, and then we met with the kids in small groups to present the different skill areas. The appropriate instructors presented juggling, acrobatics, and clowning, and then I presented the “business” stuff.

In the first class a kid asked me how much tickets to the final show would cost their families, and I answered, “I don’t know, 50 cents or maybe $1.00.”

Then I started thinking about thinking. In the next class, a kid asked the same question, and I answered, “I don’t know. What do you think? I guess maybe $1,000 per ticket.” The kids all started shouting at me: “Are you crazy? No one will come!” They had me there. I made a counter offer: “Okay, how about one penny per ticket?” They loved that because they figured the show would be packed until I said, “and how much will you have made at the end of the day?” There was a long pause with some lips moving and counting on fingers, and then a kid shouted out “Not even a dollar!” It worked. They all started thinking about it and arguing, and I knew I’d made some friends.

It turns out these kids were starved for actual thinking, and we did a lively bit on ticket pricing strategies. I also had kids begging to help make sets, which I hadn’t expected.

“Do you like art?” I asked one ten-year-old.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “My teacher says we’re too old for art.”

The school had no art program. No physical education program. No performing arts program. No music program. The kids had never been on their own stage or in their own gym. New York City public schools—let’s see how strong this country is in two generations, which’ll be about 30 years at this rate.

Anyway, I’m totally getting off track because this was obviously a very moving, challenging, gratifying, horrible, wonderful experience for me, but the long and short of it is that while the acrobat kids and clown kids were fine, the jugglers got discouraged and exhausted, and I wound up jumping in to help the juggling instructor.

I’m quite good at teaching things I can’t do—ask my sister, I taught her how to cross her eyes, and twenty-some years later I still can’t do it. So anyway, we’d work on two balls for a while, sometimes I’d play right hand to their left, and then I’d say “You’re ready for three balls.” I would carefully tell them what to do, and of course they’d say “Show me,” and I would reply, “This is your time. You can watch other people juggle any time, but you won’t have that much time to practice before the show, and I don’t want to take away your time.”

Well, they were young but they weren’t stupid, and they were on to me pretty fast. So I took three balls home and sweated away until I could do juggle them, something I had never ever been able to do before, and I was hooked.

One Comment on “How I Started Juggling”

  1. Richard

    I read every word and loved this story and enjoyed browsing this website. Viveca knows how to tell a story and I think she could/should write a wonderful book about here experiences.
    I look forward with keen anticipation to reading more about her!

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