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The Karasel of Progress
Sat, Jan 3 2009
2008: Another Year of Progress Passes
Mood:  energetic

Say what you will about 2008 in politics, economics, and the arts in general – I think it was a fantastic year in the world of juggling, for the community at large and even for me.  Lots of amazing things happened in the juggling community, some of which I’ll touch on in this essay and others of which I’ll completely miss.  I’ll try not to ramble on too much, but I’d like to give my first Karasel of Progress “State of the Union”, in which I look back on the year we just finished, and look ahead to what new juggling greatness we’ll achieve as a community in 2009!


Since I was still touring with FoodPlay in early 2008, I had my weekends free and thus was able to attend more conventions than ever before!  I attended my first ever Turbofest, which many of you will be experiencing in a week!  It was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone!  It’s the only convention in America I’ve been to that even gets close to the magic of an EJC.  Some real highlights of that fest include getting to meet Francis Julien for the first time and getting to explore his “dec” props with Sean Blue backstage.  Also, I hope no one ever forgets that one of the most nervous performers I’ve ever met, Vova Galchenko, scored a DROPLESS Robot Routine! 


Getting invited to Texas (again with Mr. Blue) was a huge honor.  I got flown down to Austin to participate, teach, and perform at their annual February convention which hardly seems like February to a Yankee since it’s in the sixties.  It was at that convention that I first performed my “Kiss Kiss” routine, which would grow to become my most popular routine of the year and one that I still perform often, even garnering me a 2nd place at the 3b Individual Prop Comp at the IJA.  It was at that convention that I finally retired my Imogen Heap “Headlock” Ring Routine.  I also premiered a 3-5 club routine that involved TONS and TONS of scissor catch variations.  You see, I spent a good portion of 2008 working on scissor tricks, thinking I’d do a scissor themed IJA act.  I spent hours and hours on the elusive 7 club “scissors cascade” in which you use two sets of scissors (4 clubs) to juggle three clubs.  It’s a tough trick AND it really is not good for your hands or wrists so for the moment, I’m content having qualified it once on film – see Facebook.


Juggle This in NYC (where I live now) was awesome!  Highlights for me included finally getting to see Jens Sigsgaard perform live.  He had grown out some of his hair so I didn’t recognize him from his 9-1/Headache look, and his style matched very similarly with Sean Blue.  There were also elements of Stefan Sing and Peter Aberg, playing with rhythms and music.  Paris and I had a good time breaking down “Crank Dat Juggla” at the end-of-convention Renegade Show, which can still be seen on YouTube, thanks to Mr. Kohut.  The NYC fest was also where I finally met Josiah Jones for the first time!  This may not have been a big deal for many but seeing him really made me star-struck.  You see, I got into juggling back when the 5b MM was not an accessible trick – around 2001, very few people could manage it, yet this boy wonder named Josiah Jones could do it forever!  One of the few videos you could download at that time was of Josiah running the pattern and yet it took seven years in the world of juggling to finally stumble upon him.  His 5 club singles are a sight to be seen!


Did I warn there will be many tangents in this essay?


I do want to give a quick shout-out to fellow NYC juggler Sean Blue!  In the world of juggling, where everyone seems constantly pressured to do more, bigger, better, Sean toured the world with a piece of minimalism that really has come (I think) to be a signature piece of his – the 4 minute 1 ring forehead balance piece, set to “Crazy English Summer” by Faithless.  Despite his technical skills, Sean always took 4 minutes out of his set to leave the audience breathless with a single circle, and I think it was usually one of the most dynamic pieces of any show.  Simplicity can be beautiful, people.


On to the RIT Fest, where I did my first successful (balloons worked) performance of “Gravity”, a piece set to John Mayer’s song of the same name.  The big highlight of that fest was getting to see Erik Aberg’s new 3 club piece involving chin swinging.  This really taught me the beauty of what I call “subsetting”.  A great example is the “Luke’s ear trick”.  When Jay Gilligan did that on video in Cooking Fat, I thought it was rather funny.  Little did I know that in 2005, Komei Aoki would astound the world with a whole technique set built around the ear trick.  Same with Erik Aberg.  I had seen a chin swing or two in Gandini films, or in 9-1.  However, Erik spent the time researching, playing, and came up with a whole 3-4 minute piece set around these simple moves.  If you zero in on a single technique, you will see that you are expanding yourself by limiting yourself.  Also, around the same time, I had been invited on the Shoebox Tour, so Erik and I were able to plan for that project.  Not to mention that 2008 was the year of Manipulation Research Laboratory (MRL), which was Jay’s intense workshop collaboration about trying to figure out what makes good manipulation versus bad manipulation.  And they found out than it’s more than just doing a bunch of 270 degree random spins after tricks.


The Montreal Fest was a fun one for me – I did my only performance (so far) of “The Luckiest”, which was my updated version of “Fallin’”, in which I used my patented “leash ball” tied around my neck with other props.  The addition of clubs and balls I think made the piece work quite well.  Plus, now I was using music that I could relate to, instead of trying to let a non-existent inner diva out.  For those of you who saw the Philly performance – remember, I was just trying things out.  Experiment!  I liked this version much better and I hope to perform it again – I just have to get some red rings/clubs.


Having spent the summer of 2007 performing 30 shows a week as “Smiling Sam”, I decided that I wanted to chillax a little bit more in 2008.  So, surprise surprise, I went to juggling conventions.  The IJA was fun, but I think I was a little too busy because I felt like I missed so much gym time.  I taught my first 3 hour workshop (on clubs) and premiered a brand new ring routine which I’d later do a lot on the Shoebox Tour – “Relax, Max”.  This was a fun routine because it moved away from my hip-hop style and went for a more classic, lounge-y feel.  Thanks to the hotel commercial with this song – otherwise I never would have found the song.  It was a blast having Jasper Shipley host the Cascade of Stars – I still can’t believe I actually fooled close friends!  Some people told me point blank that they didn’t realize why he was hosting, not realizing that it was me!  I definitely hope Jasper gets to host again sometime in the future.  C’mon, all the cool jugglers now have alter egos.  Ever heard of Steve Patroski?


The EJC was amazing but I won’t talk about it at length because I’ve already done so in this blog ad nauseum.  However, it feels good that I have now been a part of a record-setting juggling gathering.  If anything, the EJC proved to me that whatever happens in the world at large, juggling will always be alive and well and a common language for human beings all over the planet.


The Shoebox Tour was of course an uplifting crazy week!  I still can’t even believe it happened.  I met Tempei Arakawa at an aiport, having never met him before in my life.  A week later, we were old friends, having traveled the country together, performing 7 full-length juggling shows.  I thought we brought a real professionalism and class to the tour and all who saw the show remarked at how good our pairing was – our skill sets barely EVER overlapped.  Thanks to Jay and Erik for setting me up with such a good partner!  The tour paid for all of Tempei’s expenses and he really enjoyed everything about America, except for our “tipping” system.  He thought that was quote “very very stupid”.  Tempei, if you’re reading this, a big thank you to you for making the Shoebox Tour such a good time!


I had some shows and other gigs during the rest of the year but I really don’t need to talk about those.  The major news is that, after talking the talk for years, I finally walked the walk and moved to the center of the universe – New York City.  I’ve been living here off and on, transitioning, since September but only now am I finally truly moved in.  I won’t be returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh for quite a while.  I’m excited for the new challenges the city presents, as well as the boundless opportunities.  I’ve lived away from my birth home many times but this is my first true on-my-own apartment where I pay the rent and utilities all by myself.  At the age of 24, I’m finally really stepping out into the “real world”.  And since life is too short to sit inside a cubicle staring at a computer all day, I’m doing my best to make it as a performer, juggling and acting my way to the top!


I need to take more baths.  When I’m in the bath, I get some of my best ideas!  2008 was really a great year for ideas.  Possibly fueled on by my Shoebox Tour acceptance, my brain went into high gear, thinking about different ways to explore juggling.  2008 brought the “smiley” (half ring and full ring combo), the big version of Tinkertoys (PVC pipes), the “jumper” (not released yet), the Venn Rings (seen on Facebook), as well as the “aquarium” (Shoebox Tour) which got a great response from the 100 or so people who have seen it live!  Videos of these and more devices will be coming out this year so don’t you worry.  I’m very excited for the “jumper”, but still don’t quite have the materials I need to make it a success.  If I come to the IJA this summer, I’ll try to premiere the apparatus there.


Wes Peden deserves a mention, him being the most popular juggler in the world two years in a row.  Thankfully he enjoys sharing his creativity and we got to see some groundbreaking stuff from him in 2008.  Peden Tricks Sweden and Expectations both raised the bar incredibly high for what a juggling “film” can actually be.  I read an article about how Best Buy may not do as well in the coming years because of the demand for instant entertainment.  Why, even this year, I downloaded my first PC game!  I paid $20 for the full licensed version of Fahrenheit AKA Indigo Prophecy.  No box, no CDs, no manuals, just the .exe file.  This is the start of a trend.  People get up in  arms because Wes charges for his movies.  I say he’s perfectly within his right to do so.  People are willing to sacrifice video quality for convenience and if the juggling DVDs of the future are available for digital download, perhaps we can save some money.  But that’s an argument for another time.  Peden swore at us for the first time, asking “What the Duck!?”  I think this was sort of the theme of 2008, as I personally saw a lot of jugglers releasing videos with an attempt to find more creative material.  If the juggling world were a stock market, I’d see creative juggling gaining some points and sport juggling losing some points before rallying in the last few weeks of December.


Another huge accomplishment for me in 2008 – I saw Anthony Gatto perform live in Kooza!  Again, I’ve posted on this topic before, but I just have to re-iterate:  if you’re a juggler and you take your craft seriously, you owe it to yourself (forget about $$$) to make a trip in 2009 to see Anthony Gatto perform. 


Lastly, let’s look at general trends in the past year!  What tricks really caught on?  Shoulder pads were EVERYWHERE and still are!  A trick that was virtually invisible a year ago is now a standard, even at the WJF humorously.  I worked very hard on developing shoulder pads independently two summers ago, having seen Wes flash it in “Proper Fun”.  Little did I know that a summer late, every 13 year old in the gym would be running it like it was the basic pattern.  Also, I didn’t realize the chest cascade would catch on so much.  But people, stop making it so wide!  It doesn’t look as good.  I’m sure we’ll see our share of variations in these tricks in the coming years – they just have to trickle down from Scandinavia.  In general (and this pleases me) tricks involving use of other body parts besides the hands became popular.  Bob Bramson’s hoop tricks got translated to normal rings – those moves will all become standard in a year or two.  Also, Sean Blue forced many to realize they have to get their ring balance game on.  And everyone finally realized that 3 BBB isn’t going anywhere and pretty soon will be standard repertoire for all.  Look at the recent RdL video – you need 3BBB in your bag of tricks.  Just learn with Russians – the other balls will follow.  The great thing about these trends is that most of them are just cascades, placed elsewhere on the body.  This begins to show us just how little of the iceberg of juggling we still actually see – we’re still inventing new ways to do the basic pattern!  How many new ways to do the basic pattern will become standard in 2009?


I can feel it in my blood – 2009 is going to be a huge year for our art/sport/hobby.  I can tell you that I have tons of plans in the works, especially for videos.  I realize that some people look down on videos as only a pre-cursor to actually performing.  However, as much as I am focused on my career, I am also committed to advancing the art of juggling and the best way to spread that around the world is through video.  I didn’t become the 7th most popular juggler in the world by booking a lot of shows.  While making money is a great perk to all the work I put into tossing and catching, I have to remind myself, especially at the start of a new year, that life is too short not to constantly create.  And that’s what I’m resigned to do in 2009 – to break new boundaries, to question everything, and to surprise myself.


To my fellow jugglers – this is my challenge to you!  In 2009, focus on discovering what you individually do best!  It is our different minds working together that produces so much amazing juggling.  The more you try to conform to someone else’s style, the less variety we’ll have in our art.  Your style should be juggling you love, not juggling that someone else loves.  What tricks excite you?  What pictures do you want to create through manipulation?  THINK about your juggling.  Make goals.  Try a new prop!  Invent a new prop!  Shoot your first juggling video!  Go to your first juggling convention.  Perform for the first time!  Whatever it is, set some “impossible” goals for yourself this year.  I think you’ll find that, if you actually put in the work, the “impossible” becomes graspable. 


Yes, I ended a post with the word graspable.


Happy New Year everyone!



Posted by Michael at 1:23 PM EST
Updated: Sat, Jan 3 2009 1:27 PM EST
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Fri, Jan 9 2009 - 2:50 PM EST

Name: "Tim Hilton"

Thanks for bringing so much to the juggling community, both as a whole and the internet sub-community. I enjoy your innovations, and I hope to be able to contribute a bit in my own small way this year. I particularly appreciate that you have kept putting stuff online during the year so the whole community can see it, not just the people at the same conventions as you.

 Have a good 2009!



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