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The Karasel of Progress
Tue, May 5 2009
A Quig Story (Complete)
Mood:  happy

        Once upon a time, there was a village on top of a distant hill.  In the village lived the Quigs.  The Quigs were a very social people - they were also a very practical people.  All day long they toiled in the fields, harvesting umptum and riggle-moss.  This was hard work for as you know, umptum roots are stubborn, one might say like the Quigs. 
        Yet despite the hard-working ethic of the Quig people, they still found cause to celebrate every evening, around the fire they built using the inedible long thorns of the riggle-moss.  Of course as one might guess there was great cause for joy at these celebrations.  For one, the long strenuous work of day was done.  For two, one could sit back and enjoy singing a verse or two from the Sharnay Cycle (a long lyrical poem) while savoring a warm glass of povvle juice.  But for three!  Oh, for three!  For three, one could watch the Dance of the Dimney, performed in perfect unison by all teenagers of the tribe. 
        I don't assume you know what a dimney is?  A dimney is a tool very near and dear to the hearts and lives of the Quigs.  You see, a dimney is the tool that is used to draw the precious umptum out of the earth - its combination of hooks and loops perfectly fits in between the umptum and the earth, allowing for a smooth and quick separation that locks in all the flavor of the umptum without disrupting the order of the soil.  However, in the Dance of the Dimney, the Quigs use the tool for quite another purpose altogether - they use it much like a magician might use a wand, or better yet a wizard uses his staff - to create beautiful movements of power, grace, and awe. 

       The Dance of the Dimney meant something different to everyone.  The Quig children longed for the day they would get to dance with one - to learn the sacred choreography passed down from generation to generation.  The teenagers saw it as a rite of passage, a tradition that brought them closer together.  And the adults would watch the dance, often with tears in their eyes, as they remembered when they too wielded the dimney with such mighty dexterity.

       In one particular hut lived a set of twin brothers - Algamy and Tep.  They were both teenagers and both first years in the dance.  Both were exceptionally well-versed in the dance for their father was well-known as one of the best of his generation.  Tep found the choreography fun but easy, proudly boasting that he could perform the dance "without thinking".  Algamy felt the same way except for the first part - he didn't find the choreography fun at all... 

       Algamy had more time to think about certain things than Tep.  You see, Algamy was not as healthy as his brother - he had a heart condition that prevented him from working as long in the fields every day.  When the sun was highest in the sky, the elders relieved Algamy of duty in the umptum fields and, embarassed that he couldn't keep up with his brother,  Algamy often sulked into the valley, dimney in hand, to do what he did best...think.

       "I don't understand what's so great about the dance," thought Algamy.  As he was walking, he used his free hand to rip a branch from a nearby gillam tree.  "Why, I could do the same dance with this gillam branch.  What makes the dimney special is its craftmanship.  Look at all these hooks and hoops!  I'm sure if we put our minds to it, we could come up with a new dance, a dance that can ONLY be done with a dimney."

       And so, on that day, instead of twisting leaves into his hair, Algamy began to do something that he had been told never to do.  He picked up his dimney and began to try a different dance.  At first, he felt like a criminal.  "If Father discovered this, I'd be done for," he thought.  And at first, he even thought the exercise futile.  The dimney kept dropping, and his dance didn't feel as "important" as the one his father taught him.  He picked up the dimney and was about to give up when he noticed something - the hook on the pruning end was wide enough to fit over his forearm.  He set it there and gave a loud clap.  This excited him - he had never thought that you could "hold" a dimney and clap (something the Quigs were fond of doing) at the same time!  He put it on his other forearm (fit just as well) and let out an even louder clap.  Then he figured out that by a simple flick of his arm he could switch the dimney from left to right arm, all the while clapping in time.  "This is very different, " thought Algamy, "and I'm not sure that Father or Tep for that matter would approve, but I find it fun nonetheless, far more fun than the dance I do every night."  And even though Algamy longed to practice his newfound skill, he knew it best to keep it a least for now.  The sun was quickly setting and he rushed back to the hilltop.  He couldn't be late for the dance after all.


 That night at the Dance of the Dimney, Algamy found himself making more mistakes than usual.  He felt bad, but his mind kept wandering back to the hook on the dimney.  He longed to break from the ancient choreography, hop in front of his peers, and ignite the crowd with a sequence of clapping, all while hopping the dimney back and forth from arm to arm.  He imagined they would chastise him greatly but at the same time, he had the slightest hope that they would take to his new dance.  All of a sudden Algamy snapped out of it.  He had tripped on a stone surrounding the fire pit.  Hopefully his father wasn’t paying attention.  Of course he could never show the new dance to the Quigs – they would cast him out of the village on the hill.  It wasn’t a good idea to mess with perfection. 

 The next day, Algamy ate a quick breakfast and ran to the market before field duty to pick out a new journal and quill, which he stored in his side-sack all during work.  As soon as he was relieved, Algamy did not sulk away.  Instead, he smiled and ran as fast as he could to the Gillam Wood where he set out his new journal on a log.  He labeled the top of page 1 “My Dance” and underlined it with his best interpretation of the dimney.  Then he wrote his research from the day before, making sure that he would never forget anything from his new dance.  As soon as he was caught up, he took a drink from the nearby stream, wet the hair away from his eyes, and concentrated on what new ideas he could derive from the fascinating handiwork of the dimney.

 Gentle reader, this continued for weeks and the results of Algamy’s work were many.  Algamy had never considered himself a very creative individual, but this work seemed to flow naturally from his body.  He purposefully set one major rule for himself – don’t repeat any of the old dance.  This forced him to find many new ideas, including swinging the large hoop around his neck and even balancing it on his foot.  He had never seen anyone else attempt these things with a dimney so many of the moves took constant practice.  He gave up on a few, deeming them impossible for any Quig.  Often , he’d look at other animals who happened to frequent the glade, imagining if they could do something with the dimney he couldn’t.  The only animal which seemed willing to observe the dimney was a small frammit, and unfortunately only found it worth nibbling.

 The journal began swelling with a wealth of dimney discovery.  Algamy was coming to the last page and he still felt there was a lot to explore.  In fact, he had almost perfected a move involving the use of his knees to flip direction of the dimney.  As he practiced this move which he felt held great potential, he barely noticed the sun slowly going down.  By the time it struck him as far past the time he should be leaving, it was too late.  Throwing his journal into his side-sack, Algamy began sprinting back up the hill towards what he knew would be certain trouble.  He was late for the nightly ceremony.

 He had been late once before, many many years ago.  That time he had fallen asleep out in the fields and was called to explain before the elders why he had missed the sacred dance.  This time he would have to lie though, a trade at which Algamy was very poor.  In addition, he would have to answer to his Father and bear the unending torment of his brother.  Tep viewed everything as competition, and therefore if Algamy missed a dance, Tep was winning. 

 Just as he had suspected – when he reached the fire pit, all eyes were on him, though some were more discreet than others.  He even heard some of the very young and very old whispering.  He never realized that whispers could be heard over music.   He rushed into the dressing room, throwing his side-sack onto a bench and throwing on the brown robe he wore every night.  Dimney in hand, he breathlessly strode out to join his peers, knowing that no one would cheer or cry out.  It was quietly understood that he would have to account for his tardiness after the dance was successfully completed. 

 It turned out Algamy had missed no more than five minutes of the actual dance.  Yet he was sure that Tep was inwardly jeering at his foolish mistake.  After the dance was finished, everyone gave a huge hurrah and the fireside chatter returned to normal, except slightly strained.  They knew that something was coming and sure enough, one of the elders grabbed Algamy tenderly but swiftly.

 “You know what you have to do Brother Algamy, yes?”  A slow nod indicated that, yes, Algamy knew he’d have to account for his lateness in front of the clan.  As he was guided towards the stoop, his mind raced.  What would he say?  He had to lie, but yet the apology had to sound sincere.  Could he get away with a “sleeping” excuse?  He was 19 and sleeping in the fields seemed too childlike.
 “Brother Algamy, as you know, it is customary for you to apologize to the Quig Clan whenever any absence of any sort is detected during the Dance of the Dimney.  We don’t intend to judge you too harshly, but a sincere apology I’m sure would be appropriate tonight.”

 Sweat began to bead around Algamy’s forehead. 

 “You see…” he stammered.  “I didn’t mean to be late today.  I mean…” he paused afresh.  He needed to sound more together.  “I realize that the dance is sacred and I can offer no other excuse for my tardiness tonight other than...”

 “He has a new dance.”

 The voice was Tep’s and every head turned to meet the voice except Algamy’s.  He froze, the stoop dropping out from under him.

 “Apparently my brother is a genius, my fellow Quigs.  I can’t believe he didn’t mention it before.  You see, I found this journal wide open on the bench inside the changing room as I was getting undressed just now, “ Tep explained.  “It’s my brother’s writing, everyone will attest to that, and I noticed that today’s entry is by far his longest yet.  This really looks like some interesting stuff.  It says here, “I have managed to revolve the dimney, using only my back and chest.””

 The crowd began muttering.  Algamy’s heart began racing and for once, he hoped it would give out.  Wasn’t it supposed to with his condition? 

 The crowd’s interest was no doubt sufficiently piqued.  They had not expected such a matter of tardiness to last more than a minute or two, after which they could return to their povvle juice and card games.  Instead, the elder was faced with some sort of unexpected sibling confrontation he wasn’t quite sure how to resolve.

 “Tep, I believe you also have an apology to make,”  warned the Elder.

 “I am sorry, Elder Yhan, for interrupting the ceremony in any way.  I hope you understand that my unruly behavior stems from my excitement to see my brother’s new dance, something that I’m sure no one in the tribe has ever thought possible or…permissible.”

 “That will be all, Brother Tep.  Give me the journal.”  Elder Yhan easily took the journal and casually glanced at a few pages before turning to Algamy, who now had a strange mixed feeling of shame and exhilaration.  “Algamy, this journal…is it yours?”

 “It is, Elder Yhan.”

 “Can you better explain its contents to myself and the rest of the clan?  The front of the journal clearly states its goal: my new dance.”  The Elder contained a small laugh.  “However, I’m sure all of us would agree that the only thing different about your dance tonight was that it was about five minutes too short.”  No one in the crowd chuckled or even murmured.  It was clearly and finally Algamy’s turn to explain himself.

 “Elder Yhan, I am deeply sorry for being late tonight.  The truth is that I spent too long in the woods after being relieved in the fields.  Many know that I often go there to think and to study, but recently my time has been filled with…exploration, I guess you might say.  I think the dimney is a fascinating tool and relic.  Its hooks, hoops, and craftsmanship inspire me and I thought it would be…exciting, I suppose, to work on new moves that can ONLY be done with the complex workings of our sacred relic.  I did not intend to dishonor any Quig by creating a new dance.  I suppose I only looked at the whole journal as an experiment, an exercise to keep me occupied when not in the fields working alongside my brothers.”

 “I see,” said the Elder who really didn’t see at all.  “You understand of course that the Dance is absolute – it cannot be changed?”

 “We ALL understand that!”  Tep had interjected yet again.  When Algamy was ever in a bind, Tep saw it as his chance to rise to fame.  “However, the dance, at least for tonight, is over.  Perhaps as an addition to the evening’s entertainment, Algamy could show some of his new “moves” to the clan.  Strictly casually, of course.  We could have some music, it could put all our minds at ease actually, don’t you think Elder?”

 “Speaking out of turn again, young Tep!  I must insist that you..”

 “He’s right.”  A new voice run out.  It was Algamy and Tep’s father, Bron.  He strode forth, and the crowd experienced a renewed sense of interest in what now involved one of the foremost members of the clan.  “As one of the Keepers and Teachers of the Dance, I agree with Tep that my son should show the crowd how he’s been spending his time.  We’ve all seen him less lately and his tardiness suggests that he has thrown a good bit of himself into this search for a new dance.  Why not give him the attention I’m certain he yearns for?  A platform for his new, erm, hobby?”

 The Elder stammered, “er, it will be so.  Play some pipes, some drums please!  Algamy, here, take my dimney, show us your dance.”

 Before Algamy even had a chance to argue, the drums had struck up a beat, Bron had returned to his seat, and the crowd had begun clapping.  Algamy’s heart strangely started to slow noticeably.  Was this actually something he secretly wanted?  All eyes were on him – the music was invigorating.  He could protest or…

 Rebellion beat out fear.  He was being set up as a laughing stock by his own friends and family and yet, he would give this chance, this final stand, his all.  With the dimney resting up against his chest, he began clapping with the crowd…and smiling.  This smile was a new smile – it had an uneven curve to it that suggested mischief.

 As he clapped he let the hook of the dimney slide to hook around his forearm.  And then, after taking a big gulp of air, Algamy began to display the first move he ever recorded in his journal – the dimney hopping from forearm to forearm while he clapped.  Povvle juice was flowing heavily among the crowd and the music was just as intoxicating.  The crowd cheered Algamy on and he began to display harder and harder moves.  At first he was tense but as he received cheers from the crowd, especially the children, he began to become more and more confident. 

                    He danced like he had never danced before, manipulating the dimney in ways never before seen by any Quig, young or old.  Over his legs, around his head, behind his back and atop his chin, Algamy decided to leave no page of his journal hidden.  He finished with a toss high in the air that he caught (after a spin) in his elbows.  He bowed to the crowd.  With all the cheering that had accompanied his performance, he expected a huge burst of applause.  Instead, as soon as the crowd realized he had finished, the drums stopped, leaving only the flutes awkwardly piddling away.  The crowd began talking to one another rather than applauding.  A certain tension that Algamy had not expected whatsoever began to creep back into his bones.  He looked at Tep with a grin that was not returned.  He saw Bron speaking with the Elder Yhan.  The Elder Yhan was moving his arms a lot, and Bron was nodding his head in spurts.

                 Algamy had nothing to say – words could not solve this or protect him.  They were his enemy – he had just expressed so much – too much – with his dance that words seemed to have no meaning.  He laid the dimney down at the foot of the fire and took off as fast as he could for…where exactly he didn’t know…away from the hill.  No one stopped him.  They let him run.

                Algamy spent many hours pacing around the forest before finally returning home.  It was cold and he really knew of no other warm bed in which to rest.  When he rounded the corner, he saw his father standing by the door. 

               “Algamy,” he exclaimed, “where have you been?  How dare you disappear like this?”

               “Father, I’m sorry.  I just…didn’t think anyone wanted to see me.”

               “Algamy, don’t be foolish.  Of course I want to see you.  You’re my son.”

               “But tonight…the dance, the laughing, the silence…Father, it was humiliating.”

               A silence – the moon pulsed.

              “It was humiliating,” Bron admitted, “to you as well as myself.”  Algamy stood up and shrunk slightly.  “You know how much the dance means to our Clan and to me.  What you did tonight, in front of the entire clan, made me realize that I really don’t know who you are.  What was wrong with the dance that you had to spend so many days changing it?”

              “Father, please, I don’t want to humiliate you – you taught me the dance when I was young.  But Father, every night, to do the same dance over and over again, it is as if I am just a man without a mind, repeating.  When I do the dance, I don’t feel anything inside.  When I did my dance tonight, I felt something – my heart was beating with the drums and the clapping.  I felt like I was honoring…something with my dance.”

                “Look, Algamy, Elder Yhan has strongly suggested that you no longer serve as a dancer with the Tribe.”

               “What?  But Father, I love the ceremony more than anyone else.  Even Tep says that he does the entire thing without thinking.”

                “Don’t bring Tep into this.  I’ve talked to him and he understands that this is between you and me.  He was out of line tonight to embarrass you like he did.  I’ve spoken to him and I’m sure he’ll apologize soon.”

                “So what do I do?”

                “Algamy, it’s clear that you need to rest.  You’ve been overexerting yourself, both in the field and with this journal of yours.  I’ve advised to the Elders that you rest from all your duties for the time being.”

                “Even the fields?”

                Bron took a deep breath.  His words were forced.  “The Elders have told me that you should not be allowed to wield a dimney anymore, for work or for ceremony.”

                The words pulled like roots at Algamy’s knees.  How could one of the most fulfilling moments of his life yield such sour fruit? 

               “Am I to run to the wastes then, Father?”

              “That’s silly, Algamy, I won’t have it.  You’re to stay here and recover.”

             “But Father, I am recovered.  My heart feels stronger than it has in a long time.”

             “Algamy, get some sleep.  We’ll talk about this tomorrow once we’re both in our right minds.”

             The wind rustled through the glade, determinedly.

             “Yes, Father.  Tomorrow.”

              Tomorrow never came.  Or, rather, it did but Algamy was not with it.  He did not sleep either.  His dimney was nowhere to be found so he took his child’s dimney from underneath his bed and left a note underneath his pillow.  It read:

             “I am alive and well.  The seeds have been planted.  When they grow, I will return.”


               Algamy found a new life, far away from the village on the hill.  Beyond the wastes, even.  He used his child’s dimney as a walking support, vowing to settle whenever it broke.  He stayed true to his word, although the dimney didn’t break for a very long time.  When it did, Algamy knew he was very lucky and so will you, for it broke near the crossing of two rivers, now known as Broken Staff.  Around it a culture slowly but majestically flourished.  Algamy began making his own dimneys, improving again their form and function.  The people who slowly flocked to Broken Staff were not Quigs – they were people of many different clans, which is why Broken Staff today is so incredibly diverse and multicultural.

Algamy lived a long time, longer than was expected for most Quigs.  Perhaps it was the rejuvenating waters of the rivers that surrounded Broken Staff.  Perhaps it was because he always carried an empty journal in his side-sack.  One day, he told his wife and kids that he was going to return to the Village from which he had come.  Not forever, mind you, just for a visit.  They begged to come with him but he told them that this was a journey he must make alone.

              After many days and weeks of traveling, old Algamy made it to the Village.  It was nearing nightfall, but he did not want to force any Quig to quarter him for the night.  However, he saw a fire burning which meant that he could surely find something to eat or drink.  As he neared the fire, his eyes began to mist for he saw something that he had not seen in a long time – the dance of the dimney.  This dance, my friends, was different than it had been when he was young.  The teenagers clapped and switched the dimney from arm to arm.  They wrapped it around their knees, balanced it atop their chins, and caught it in their elbows.  The dance was beautiful and it made Algamy feel as if the decades that had passed in Broken Staff were a single second.

              He approached one of the children after the dance had finished.

              “Excuse me, young Quig, my name is Algamy.  Do you know who I am?”

              “No, sir, I’ve never heard of you before.  Sorry, are you new?”

               “I suppose I am,” Algamy chuckled.  “Tell me, when did you change the dance of the dimney?  It used to be very different when I was a child.”

               “The dance doesn’t change,” the child said.  “It’s always been this way.  Elder Tep told us that when he taught it to us.”

               “Is that right,” asked Algamy.  “One more question – do you enjoy doing the dance of the dimney?”

               “It’s very easy,” proclaimed the child.  “I can do it without thinking.”

               Algamy patted the child on the head and encouraged her to return to the ceremony.  Then, taking up his walking staff, he smiled the same smile he had smiled all those years ago, and returned home to his family.


Posted by Michael at 7:37 PM EDT
Updated: Tue, May 5 2009 7:41 PM EDT
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Wed, Apr 22 2009
The Power of the Peripheral or "Is My Pattern REALLY Solid?"
Mood:  quizzical

          Traditional juggling is inherently two-dimensional.  Our ultimate goal as jugglers doing basic toss juggling patterns is to increase accuracy and efficiency by making our patterns as two-dimensional as possible.  As a result, our hands will only have to move along the X and Y axes.  When we juggle the basic cascades and fountains, our patterns exist within a two-dimensional plane, similar to a “page” in a book, invisibly floating a foot or two in front of our bodies. 


Okay, now it’s time to do an exercise:  Stand up, grab 4, 5, or 6 balls (whichever is of medium difficulty for you), and juggle them in the basic pattern.  You can also try a few siteswaps.  When you’re finished, come back and continue reading.  Seriously, go do it.  I’ll wait here.







Most rooms in which we practice juggling are cubic in nature.  It’s safe to guess that yours is no exception unless you’re thoroughly “modern”, or living in the Guggenheim or something.  Now let me ask you a question – when you juggled just now, were you facing a wall or a corner?


It would be my educated guess that you and most jugglers would, out of habit, face a wall rather than a corner.  Why is this?  It’s the power of the peripheral on our juggling. 


Remember, juggling is inherently two-dimensional.  When we face a wall while juggling, our peripheral agrees with our invisible plane (harmony of soft and hard focus), thus sufficiently negating the peripheral.


Now, it’s time for another exercise.  Grab 4,5, or 6 balls but this time choose a pattern that is fairly difficult for you to do – perhaps you can usually get 15-20 catches with this basic pattern or siteswap.  I want you to try it first facing the wall and after, facing a corner. 


Perhaps your experience will be similar to mine in that when facing a corner with a fairly difficult pattern (one that is not “easy” or “solid” in many ways), I find it MUCH harder to run the pattern than when facing a wall.  This is because the peripheral is in strong discord with my invisible plane on which the balls are moving.  I have superimposed a background on the picture of my juggling which is confusing and detrimental to the pattern’s existence.  My brain is tricked at times into thinking that the balls are moving on the Z axis because I am facing a “vertical horizon”.  When facing a wall, my entire background exists at a fixed distance.  When facing a corner, every thin vertical band of background exists at a different distance from my eyes.


So it is my strong opinion and hypothesis that solo juggling is drastically easier when facing a wall than a corner, even though the surrounding “air space” is no different.  It entirely depends on our peripheral vision, and whether it is in agreement or discord with our invisible juggling plane.  Keep this in mind when attending your next juggling convention or club meeting.  Take a look at all those assembled – how many solo jugglers are not facing a wall of the room?  Any corner-oriented jugglers?  If so, are they dropping a lot?  Maybe you could encourage them to face a wall.


As a juggler aware of the corner handicap, it can sometimes be fun to test the “solidity” of a pattern by attempting to run it while facing a corner, and then again with the corner slightly left or right of center vision.  As an example, I feel pretty comfortable running the 6 ball async fountain while facing a wall.  However, running it at a corner makes me realize that I still have a long way to go before the pattern is really and truly “solid”. 


Best of luck passing the “corner test” with your patterns.


And now for a HORRIBLE JOKE:


Q: Why can’t Harry Potter juggle?

A: Because he tried in Diagon Alley.

Posted by Michael at 12:47 AM EDT
Updated: Wed, Apr 22 2009 12:51 AM EDT
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Sat, Mar 7 2009
"If I" and Stick Bouncing!!??
Mood:  bright








Trust me, folks - this post definitely involves juggling.  But remember, juggling isn't everything.

Some of you may not know this (because I tend not to be too "billboard" about my life) but I moved to a strange little hamlet six months ago called New York City.  After finishing up the Shoebox Tour with Tempei, I was unemployed with no leads.  I figured it was the BEST time (now or never) to move to one of the greatest and most challenging cities in the nation.

What exactly do I do in the city?  Well, I guess you could say I am a bit of a hustler.  Armed with a B.F.A. in Acting, I wait for my big Broadway break while doing odd jobs and gigs in the meantime to acquire green paper which everyone agrees has worth.  I tutor children after school in Math and English on some days.  On other days, I cater children's birthday parties.  In between these two real jobs, I scour job listings for juggling and non-juggling gigs that I find unique, profitable, or in best case scenarios, unique and profitable.

If there's anything I hate, it's the guys in Times Square who constantly ask you if you "like comedy", which actually means, "Can you validate my existence by buying cheap tickets to a bad comedy show tonight that I wish I were in?"  I always POLITELY decline, because I know REJECTION is a daily part of their lives.  Not only are they being rejected in their ACTUAL career (acting, comedy, modeling) but they're being rejected by 90% of passersby.

So you may find it strange that I applied to a promotions gig on Craigslist.  Bothering strangers on the street is not my idea of fun.  However, this posting was unique - it was looking for nerdy white guys to hand out free pens to promote a new Comedy Central show - "Important Things with Demetri Martin".  The nerdy white guy thing explains itself - CHECK!  And the pen thing?  I figured, if I don't need to SELL anything, it'll be easy and I'll have an eased conscience.  "Here, take this free pen!  Watch Demetri Martin tonight at 10:30" for three hours, and take home $75.  Done and done.  Better than a day at the office.

Anyway, since I was going to be promoting Demetri's show, I decided (the night before) to watch a few Demetri videos on YouTube to get a sense of who he was and his style of comedy.  I don't watch cable, so I didn't know he was on the Daily Show and I had never seen his Comedy Central Presents.

Here's where the juggling comes in!

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a BBC video special entitled "If I".  I was expecting stand-up.  I got a lot more, and I'm glad I watched the entire thing for two reasons.  First, I came to really appreciate Demetri Martin.  Second, I found out that Demetri is a juggler (albeit possibly not a very experienced one) as well as a unicyclist.  He was a member of the Yale Anti-Gravity Society!  (If there are any Yale jugglers reading this, care to comment about how active Demetri was in the club?)

For those of you just looking for a quick two minute laugh, click on the following link: and scan to 5:10.  In this section, Demetri does a clever "Useless Talents" routine in which he demonstrates many of the useless talents he picked up during school boredom.

For those of you looking for a more mentally stimulating experience, grab a beverage of choice and some popcorn and take a stroll through the entire piece of "If I", starting with #1 of 6: .   The entire piece is about 48 minutes long.

It's certainly funny but also very rewarding intellectually, falling somewhere in between stand-up, lecture, and self-empowerment.  Jugglers, as a whole, are very intelligent people.  We like puzzles.  We like challenges.  We like hurdles - otherwise why the hell would we do what we do?  Demetri's show is an example of a man who quite willingly fell just a little too far down the rabbit hole  - HE became his own "puzzle", resulting in what he calls a simultaneous "breakthrough/breakdown."

I think I see a chunk of myself in Demetri, which both delights and scares me at the same time.  (Stephen Sondheim so got it with those paired-up conflicting emotional states!)  The unexamined life is not worth living.  At the same time, micro-management and the organization it promises often causes us to miss out on the wonderful spontaneity of life.

For those of you who choose to spend 48 minutes with Demetri, I hope you get something out of it like I did.  If nothing else, it is interesting to take a look into an extremely analytical brain attached to a guy who can make fun of said brain.

P.S. His new show, "Important Things" on Comedy Central?  Eh, it's okay.  But I feel he's so much smarter than how he presents himself on his weekly show.

P.P.S. Did you notice I mentioned "Stick Bouncing" in my blog title!!??  Ready to have your mind blown?  Thanks to Joseph Glen and Juggling Subculture for this gem:  Forget about the act, the costume, and 80% of the act's contents.  He fuckin' bounces sticks! (WTF at 0:37)

Posted by Michael at 6:59 PM EST
Updated: Sat, Mar 7 2009 8:45 PM EST
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Tue, Feb 10 2009
New Props?
Mood:  celebratory
Topic: Props

Hello everyone.

I've been putting off posting stuff lately because I've wanted to finish my Quig story.  However, I haven't been in the fiction mood so here's some non-fiction.  The Quig story will be finished soon (not that any of you await the stunning conclusion) but for now, I'd like to talk about some new cool prop ideas I've stumbled upon.

During my Shoebox Tour with Tempei Arakawa in September 2008, I was introduced (by Tempei) to Ryo Yabe's site.  I became a fan of Russians in the past year, mostly because they enabled me to do one of the coolest tricks on the planet - juggling three balls behind my back blind.  Anyway, my russians are green with sand inside.  In fact, most russians are colored opaque balls with filling.

 However, Ryo Yabe has some awesome Russians on his site that utilize a cool new aesthetic idea - the Russians are completely transparent and are filled with colored sand!  How cool!  A picture is below along with a link to where you can buy them, if you read Japanese.



I don't know about anyone else, but I find this a really cool idea and encourage American propmakers (Renegade?) to try out this idea.  Having never juggled them, I'm not sure if they look cool from a distance or on stage.  But it would be neat to see how sand actually flies while Russians are being juggled.

Someone on Facebook recently asked me about my "GOTA" clubs which I obtained (for 10 euros each AKA dirt cheap) at the EJC this past summer from Cabeza de Martillo.  They are basically skinny tear-drop shaped clubs, like FATheads (by Renegade) but not "fat".  I bought them because I liked the aesthetic and I like owning unique clubs.  That's the same reason I own Yin/Yang Radical Fish - screw their jugglability, I just think they're high art.

Anyway, Cabeza de Martillo ( is a site worth checking out!  The company is based in Argentina and has a cool applet on their site that makes their catalog physically flip like a book.  You have to use your mouse to "turn" pages on their website.  Depending on your mood, it's cool/annoying.  Anyway, if you flip past the title page, you'll see an oddly shaped "club/ball" apparatus that looks like this:




Can anyone provide any additional information about this hybrid?  It certainly has me wanting to reach into my computer screen and try juggling a few of them just to discover what "is" possible with this new combination of shapes.  Any information about this product would be interesting.  Is it just a joke/novelty prop?

Lastly, it's important to keep your eyes on Team RdL (AKA Renegade Design Lab) whom will be premiering new props at this year's IJA in Winston-Salem.  Their first prop (the FLAThead) has already been premiered in their one and only YouTube video:

 The club is unique in that it can easily rest on the floor without too much set-up.  The best use of its power (I think) is shown when Jay Gilligan briefly sets it on the floor before executing a 180 type move and grabbing onto it again.  Rumor is that Team RdL and Renegade will be premiering a whole LINE of new props at this summer's IJA, so save up your money.

It's nice to see all these new ideas, practical and aesthetic, being applied to traditional stock props.  I personally think that the IJA should add a "new prop" category to their popular "individual prop competitions".  This would encourage even more professional and amateur thought into what appears to be a popular trend of 2009 already.

Posted by Michael at 2:24 AM EST
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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
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Fri, Dec 5 2008
Ring Kickups! (just add carpet?)
Mood:  down

I'm sure we've all stumbled upon this blessing.

You're juggling rings in your home, probably late at night (in your socks?) and you drop one on the carpet.  You are pissed that you dropped and start to bend over to pick it up when you don't have to!  The plushy carpet is your friend.  You step on the closer side of the ring with one foot, slighly raising the other side of the ring into the air.  With a carefree smile, you slip your other foot under the raised part of the ring and, letting go with the other foot, kick it up into the air and back into the pattern.  Yeah, you're cool.

But the coolness doesn't last.  Next time you're practicing in the gym, you bemoan the lack of carpet and, drop after drop, bend over to retrieve those oh so two dimensional plastic Cheerios.

But here's my thought of the day - maybe, just maybe, the coolness CAN last.  Maybe the idea of easy ring kickups can transcend carpet.  What if you took a bendy, skinny, tubular product (like plastic wire with the thickness of a pipe cleaner) and glued it around the inner side of the ring?  Do it of course on both sides.  Now, no matter how you drop, the ring will be just slightly elevated on a cylindric "high heel".  Because it's on the inner ring, you can step on the outside of the ring and cause the other side to pop up slightly, like it would on carpet.  It's similar to stepping on one side of an upside down styrofoam skimmer hat.

Jugglers never have to worry about bending over to kickup balls and clubs.  Why should rings be any different?  With this simple mod, you can count on consistent carpetless cickups!  If any of you try it, tell me if it worked!  The pictures below are to help explain my point.

Good luck!

Posted by Michael at 6:29 PM EST
Updated: Fri, Dec 5 2008 7:13 PM EST
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Thu, Nov 13 2008
Short, Sweet 3b Idea
Mood:  bright

The 1st Annual Not Quite Pittsburgh Fest was held last weekend and I didn't attend since I now live in NYC.  However, a friend of mine named Kenny got some footage of the fest and captured a 3b gem from a kid I don't know.  It's basically a 423 variation where the 2 arms break the traditional 2 dimensional barrier of traditional juggling.  Short, sweet, but very fresh in my opinion.  If only I knew who the kid was...

The trick is at 0:47 to 0:49 on

Break rules, people.

Posted by Michael at 2:08 AM EST
Updated: Fri, Dec 5 2008 7:16 PM EST
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Tue, Nov 11 2008
Why YouTube is pissing me off.
Mood:  down
Now Playing: copyrighted music

Maybe I should have seen this e-mail coming..

Dear MichaelAKaras,

Video Disabled

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video Heart of a Champion. The audio content identified in your video is Heart Of A Champion by Nelly. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

Replace Your Audio with AudioSwap

Don't worry, we have plenty of music available for your use. Please visit our AudioSwap library to learn how you can easily replace the audio in your video with any track from our growing library of fully licensed songs.

Other Options

If you think there's been a mistake, or you have other questions, please visit the Copyright Notice page in your account.

The YouTube Content Identification Team

 Should I be surprised?  Technically, I suppose not.  Every time I upload a video, I assure the popular video site that I am the sole owner of all material contained within.  Since this original "violation" e-mail I received on Oct. 14 of this year, I have received three other e-mails.  So far, they've removed "Heart of a Champion", "Kineticut", and Karas Kwickies #1 and #4. 

I'm actually very interested to know how a video is flagged by the "YouTube Content Identification Team".  At this point, it seems very random on my channel.  "Heart" made sense as the first one - it's a popular video with a lot of views AND the title of the video matched the title of a copyrighted song.  Kineticut kinda baffles me though - the song is from a Broadway soundtrack (albeit a popular one) which seems less likely to be tracked than top 40 hits.  And lastly, the songs in Kwickies 1 and 4 are very obscure tracks by B list artists Powerman 5000 and Miri Ben-Ari.  I wonder if a robot scans audio tracks of videos to search for matches in a large BMI-like database?  And if so, why haven't any of my videos been removed since Oct. 27?  It's been a few weeks - I thought it would be an avalanche of removals but these four have been followed by a period of silence.

What pisses me off first of all is that SO many videos, still available on YouTube, use copyrighted music and don't even have any form of personal expression.  For example, people will simply upload popular songs accompanied by a "video" of still pictures of the artist.  Some video game fans create what they dub AMVs (Anime Music videos?) which includes music and video game footage they don't own.  Their only creative stroke is how they edit the copyrighted video game footage to the copyrighted music.  My argument here is that, yes, I use copyrighted music, but it's set to juggling moves and choreography that are very much original.

Also, as of now, unless you're perhaps someone popular like Olga Kay, YouTube is a free service that is NOT making you money.  So my copyrighted music video is not bringing me in a dime.  What it is bringing me though, I'll admit, is worth its weight in gold - exposure to the world.  YouTube may not be the *best* video site in the world but, like Google, it has practically become a verb, a household brand that everybody knows.  I'm more than happy to share my videos on and other juggling video sites, but guess what?  No one besides jugglers are ever going to see them.  YouTube's exposure to the entire earth is an invaluable service, and it has given many normal men and women a shot at their fifteen minutes of fame.  Even recently, I got a call from an agent in NYC who had been impressed by my stuff on YouTube and was interested in hiring me for a gig here in NYC.  That right there is a good reason to be worried about my increasingly shrinking presence on the site, thanks to the issue of copyrighted music.

           Lastly, in all seriousness, I understand the need for YouTube to protect the content on its site, but I just don't understand how my "Heart of a Champion" video hurts anybody.  First of all, I *paid* for the song on iTunes so i could use it.  Many people don't even pay for their music but I respect the work of music artists and so spend about $15 a month on songs from iTunes.  Second, I'm glorifying the song in my video - not making fun of it at all.  Third, I feel like, if anything, the "Heart of a Champion" video is liable to make some jugglers go out and buy the song themselves, making Nelly even more money.  Basically, it's free advertising.  The music industry has made money off me EXPLICITLY BECAUSE of juggling videos.  Peden to Sweden 2 got me to buy RubberNeckin' by Elvis.  9-1 Nordic Objects got me to buy "Good With the Mothers".  Sean Blue got me to buy "Crazy English Summer" by Faithless.  Wes Peden turned me on to artists like Imogen Heap and the Eels back in the day.  Maybe the music industry doesn't realize that popular jugglers like myself are actually MAKING them money by using their music in our videos.

            No rant in my opinion is completely justified without a proposal for remedy - a "solution" if you will.  YouTube isn't going anywhere.  Even as better and higher quality video sites emerge, YouTube will remain a beacon for video depositing.  (Don't quote me on that though, because Google replaced Yahoo back in the late 90s).  I propose that YouTube opens up a store similar to iTunes where video makers can purchase the license rights to a song.  I think a 5-10 dollar license would be fair and generate enormous amounts of extra cash flow for the music industry and even for YouTube.  This would be good for all parties combined, including jugglers, who will most likely put more thought into their music videos before posting, knowing a license charge is required for public viewing.

             Many jugglers aren't musicians and are unable to produce the quality of music they'd like to accompany their talents.  We all know juggling is a tough art to "mainstream" and so often music that everybody knows and loves is a good way to make a connection with an audience.  Chris Bliss anyone?

             The exposure YouTube provides for our art form is too great to be bogged down by this issue.  Hopefully in the future, YouTube will find a legal, lucrative way of letting our expression be seen AND heard.  In the mean time, enjoy the rest of my videos on YouTube because they may not be there for long.

Posted by Michael at 9:13 AM EST
Updated: Tue, Nov 11 2008 9:57 AM EST
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Fri, Oct 24 2008
Jason Garfield - Response to his recent article in JUGGLE
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: Nothing, I don't listen to music when trying to be productive

                In the most recent JUGGLE magazine from the IJA, Jason Garfield wrote a very articulate, rousing, and possibly controversial article entitled “What’s Good for Juggling?”  It was part of the magazine’s editorial section entitled “Perspectives” and featured the “JGs” from the sport and art camps – Jason Garfield and Jay Gilligan.


                Jason Garfield, for the most part, is a gifted logician and a seemingly tolerant individual.  He opens his second paragraph by celebrating the merit of open-mindedness, “in most cases that don’t involve eating snails.  You can argue all you want about whether Jason Garfield is getting (gulp) “nicer” recently – an accusation during his 2006 IJA Championships Q&A – but no one can say that he doesn’t  “live and let live”.  And the scope I get from Jason’s article is that he kinda wishes that the “art camp”, if you want to call it that, would follow suit and see sport juggling as another “path” in a communal forest in which we all enjoy hiking.


                I’m probably going to piss some people off here but this is exactly how I’ve always viewed religion – as a collection of paths all leading up the same mountain – the mountain of trying to make sense of this life we’ve been given.  Some people, usually drowning in intolerance and/or fear, claim that they belong to the “only true” or “correct” religion.  The paradox is that these people are usually far less godly than those who have opened their mind and tolerated people of all walks of life.


                I’m not trying to say juggling is a religion – just that there are parallels we can draw when talking about tolerance for different viewpoints.  Jason Garfield’s 2006 Championships definition of juggling (an exercise that Matt Hall loves to do when MCing) was “whatever you want it to be.”  This has always stuck with me because, like many, at the time I saw him as the embodiment of everything “anti-art” in the juggling world and his definition surprised me.


                Having matured since then, my views of Jason have dramatically changed.  I see Jason not as a “sport juggler” but as a human who knows what he likes and by god went out and created something original.   Now how many of us can say the same for ourselves?


                Jason isn’t a diehard evangelist.  He isn’t going around knocking on doors and trying to “convert” people to sport juggling.  He’s simply making it available, through his WJF organization, to those who already or think they might share similar opinions about the best way to enjoy juggling. 


                “Rather than complain, I created something that I liked in juggling.”  Again, I have to applaud Jason for this stance.  Complaining about A is far less productive than actively creating an alternative to A.  Jason understood the other options on the market of juggling competitions, didn’t like what he saw, and decided to create something that spoke to him and hopefully others.  I doubt Jason created the WJF to become rich/famous.  He did it because he saw a large gaping hole in the juggling community and decided to fill it.


                Division is an ugly thing, and almost comical when it exists in something as non-threatening as juggling.  Cliché as it may be, I really don’t see why we can’t all just get along.  Let’s celebrate our differences and get over it already – agree to disagree.  I’ll admit that in the beginning I saw the WJF as a “threat” – I’m not really sure why.  Jason makes it clear in his article that he is not “forming a new country.  People are free to not participate in the WJF events, so these rules only affect those who agree with them or feel it’s a fair tradeoff to voluntarily attend a WJF event.”   Now I’m very happy that the WJF exists.  As a hobbyist, I love that such a different convention exists for people who like sport-style juggling.  As a professional entertainer, I’m selfishly happy that the best technical juggling talent is being encouraged to not be traditionally “entertaining”.  I personally choose not to attend WJF conventions because I don’t think the overall cost justifies what I’d be able to get out of the experience.  I’m not boycotting the WJF as some sort of testament to “art”.  It’s just not really my bag – I don’t expect Jason Garfield to fly across the country to see the Shoebox Tour.


                I don’t believe that juggling is inherently an art.  Instead I believe that juggling is an incredible medium with which to create art.  Read that twice – it’s a very important point.


                So everything’s rosy between Jason and me?  Well, not exactly.  Jason makes a statement near the end of the article which I think underlines a fundamental difference in philosophy.


                [But] I don’t think juggling is an art.  I think jugglers who later on in life want to be artists try to use the juggling skills they learned to represent themselves as artists, but the juggling isn’t necessary for that.”


                The juggling in my opinion is absolutely necessary!  I was an artist long before I was a juggler.  (I’d like to say I was a juggler long before I was a juggler too, but that’s a subject for another time).  However, equipped with the juggling skills that I’ve built over 7 years, I am now able to create art that I could not create using any other medium.  For example, juggling has allowed me to “illustrate” music in a way I couldn’t envision possible with any other medium on earth.  The technique itself may not be art, but its combination with music, dance, expression, and energy enable one-of-a-kind art to exist.


                If you strip everything away from juggling (competitions, conventions, audience, costumes, facial expressions – basically everything but the human body) you are left with, in my opinion, nothing more than an amusement.  That’s right, I said it.  Juggling in its purest form is an amusement.  Why else would a gorilla juggle by himself with no one watching if not to simply amuse himself with the laws of gravity?  Perhaps that’s something we can all agree on.  Juggling can be a sport, an art, or a circus skill.  But can’t we all meet up again at the top of the mountain when it’s all over and agree with a laugh that the journey was damn sure amusing?

Posted by Michael at 11:58 AM EDT
Updated: Fri, Oct 24 2008 12:08 PM EDT
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Fri, Oct 10 2008
The American Gym Show - Possible?
Mood:  incredulous

                  I have only been to one European juggling festival so I’m no expert on the subject.  However, the European convention I chose, you’ll have to admit, was THE one to pick – EJC 2008, an event that, to my knowledge, stands as the largest congregation of jugglers in the history of the world – 5500 REGISTERED attendees, and ya’ll know that not all of those sock spinners were registered, haha.


                So even though I’ve only been to one, it was an epic festival, and my mind was, for lack of a better cliché, blown.  I didn’t go to the EJC to perform, to teach, or even to network.  My goal in going to the EJC was to observe and understand this juggling culture about which I had heard so much.  Typical American globe-trotters like Jay Gilligan, Luke Wilson, and Jeff Lutkus had conveyed to me some of the “fundamental” (popular word during election time here in America) differences between the largest conventions in America and Europe – the IJA and the EJC respectively.


                Now, to be perfectly honest, I rather disliked a large portion of these differences.  Camping, for example, was rough.  My legs were permanently cramped as I couldn’t actually straighten my knees in my tent when horizontal.  Group showers with hordes of naked men were honestly not how I was expecting to spend my EJC mornings – just wasn’t aware of this practice.  The gym was hot and sweaty, the seating in the tents was, well, a bit earthy for my sore bottom, and the workshop board eventually became more of a chore to read than a joy.  I probably sound like a spoiled American wussy, but remember the culture from which I’m coming from.  The IJA means hotel room, private shower, air-conditioned gym, plush theatre seats for shows, and a workshop schedule that rarely gets added to.  It also hosts about 10% of the attendees this year’s EJC welcomed.


                However, if I could pinpoint my most enjoyable facet of the EJC 2008 in Karlsruhe, it would most certainly be the shows – both their quality and even more so, their quantity!  As a minor globetrotter in my own right now who has seen and experienced both sides of the coin, one of the major ideas I would love to migrate to America would be the emphasis on shows and the presentation of original, unique material, even in “less-than-stellar” environments.


                Let me be clearer.  Let’s examine briefly an IJA and a regional festival in America.  First of all, a regional festival in America is likely to (at most) have some sort of an open stage on Friday night (rare) and a big show on Saturday night – this is the standard.  At most regional festivals I’ve been to (8 just this past year), the Saturday night is always run as a variety show – a large amount of 4-8 minute acts consisting of B and C list American jugglers and usually a foreign juggler to close the show because Americans are obsessed with imports.  Well, and also, these European jugglers are usually the reason I come to the fest (Erik Aberg at RIT, Jens Sigsgaard at NYC).


                At the IJA, the standard fare as of late has been the following:


Tuesday night: Welcome Show, similar to a regional fest Saturday night show.

Wednesday night: Juniors comps

Thursday night: Championships

Friday night: Cascade of Stars

Saturday night: Awards and “Closing Show”.


                The unfortunate thing is that, besides skill level, all “shows” at the IJA are basically the same.  There is an MC who introduces 7 minute act after 7 minute act.  During the competitions, these acts are judged and awarded small cash prizes, but the format is entirely the same.  The Cascade of Stars is similar (I actually MC’d it this past summer) except that they usually try to round up an A list team of jugglers to really end with a bang.  The Closing show is barely worth talking about – various talking acts do their best to entertain you while you eat a catered meal and watch a bunch of awards get handed out.


                At the EJC, the closest thing I found to “competitions” were the games on Saturday morning, run by Luke Burrage.  No one seemed to really care who won and many of the games involved absolutely no juggling at all.  It was silly fun, intended to pass the time and make us forget about Godot for an hour.  The only other competition was the “Eurovision Contest” (poorly attended from what I hear) and the juggling “fight night”, which is one-on-one combat amongst club-juggling celebrities.


                Other than that, the entertainment consisted of show after show after show.  In fact, there were so many people to entertain nightly that two tents simultaneously held shows.  In one tent was always an open stage, similar to an American regional Saturday night show and in the other tent was a self-titled “special stage”, which held a variety of groups doing their full-length standard shows.  Two of the biggest highlights for me were seeing Duo Fullhouse and Extra Art, two groups that presented their full shows near the end of the week.  This was no 7 minute act.  Both companies had their own, well-rehearsed, extremely professional 90 minute show to present.  Both shows had juggling, comedy (both high and low), clowning, music, spectacle, and fun.  The two members of Duo Fullhouse are extremely well-versed in languages, so they interwove English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, often in the course of a sentence or two so everyone walked away with at least 20% of the show.  Extra Art had a completely wordless show, instead relying on their amazing physicality and presence to include the international audience in their often silly behavior.


                So while I loved these tent-based long form shows by established companies, I have to admit that in the past, the IJA has hosted similar events.  Jason Garfield did a full-length show one night during the IJA in the early 2000s.  In 2005, Lazer Vaudeville presented their full show for I believe a Tuesday night slot.  And in 2006, the Mud Bay Jugglers took one half of the Cascade of Stars, leaving the second half for special guest Jerome Thomas. 


                So where’s the major difference?  Well, it all comes down to one simple marvelous point, which is really the force behind this article.  The EJC contained so much talent and so many shows that it actually couldn’t contain it all.  Shows spilled out of the tents and into less-obvious places.  One marvelous example – Pol and Freddy, a duo based out of Belgium, decided that they would present their amazing and funny two-man show on the hillside!  So they put up posters, one of which I noticed, and in the middle of the afternoon, I went and sat with probably 1000 other people on the hillside and watched Pol and Freddy present their hour long performance outside.  The great thing about this experience was that behind their backdrop, 1000 other people were continuing to juggle and have a jolly good time.  So even though there was a huge crowd on the hill enjoying the show, there were plenty of other jugglers content to just juggle.  Pol and Freddy actually ended up giving an encore presentation a few days later because word of mouth had required an additional show.


                This was only one example – another night, after an open stage, a circus company did a show on the hillside.  It was incredible, and involved a backdrop on which video was projected.  In the minor workshop gym, another circus company did three performances of their full-length show.


                Surprisingly, these “casual” tent-less shows left the most powerful lasting impression on me.  So many talented jugglers felt the need to present their work that they decided an official “spot” on a stage was not required to share their art with the rest of us.  A hillside or a gym left vacant for an hour was enough.  A few posters served as promotion and they could always count on a well-attended show.  Sitting on a hillside or on a gym floor, I really felt like I was a part of these endeavors, and welcome the chance to put down my props for an hour or two and go enjoy the research and hard work of other performers.


                So now let’s get back to America.  I honestly don’t think that we have a shortage of American jugglers with 45-90 minute shows in their back pocket.  For example, Jen Slaw has a solo show that she’s going to be premiering this Nov. 7 in Philadelphia at one of the most famous juggling showcases on the east coast – Greg Kennedy’s studio.  Nic Flair, who seems to be doing very well for himself, also has a solo show.  Greg Kennedy just recently performed a fringe show for the Philly Fringe Fest.  Sean Blue created a show called “Mixed Up” which he performed in Philly this past weekend.  These performers and many more like them have a wealth of material that they have translated into a solo show.


                Here’s my proposal – the invention or at least the experimentation of the American Gym Show.  In this proposal, I don’t suggest that we change anything about the regional festival in America or even the national IJA festival – I simply suggest that we add to what we already have.  Let’s say that I’m a juggler with a 45 minute solo show.  I’m at a regional festival in America.  Saturday night we already know is going to be a glorious 90 minute variety show.  Why not set up a backdrop in the gym and perform my solo show around 4pm?  In this scenario, I wouldn’t expect the gym rats to stop what they’re doing.  If you want to gather around, sit on the floor, and watch my show, go ahead.  If you want to keep juggling and dropping, feel free.  The purpose is not to try to turn the gym into a theatre – it’s meant to also see the gym as a casual performance space, where solo shows can offer an alternative to practicing for an hour. 


                Thus the American Gym Show would be created.  I think this scenario would definitely favor a music-based show.  So for an hour, the usual gym top 40 soundtrack could be dropped out and the performer’s music would replace it.  The different music would encourage some to investigate what’s going on, while the jugglers who still want to practice and socialize would still have a soundtrack.


                We all go to festivals for different reasons.  Some really just enjoy the space and time to practice.  Others really love the social aspect – the chance to see old friends again.  Others still come for the Saturday night show, a chance to see new acts and jugglers they’ve only ever seen on YouTube.  Others even come for the workshops, a chance to teach or learn new material. 


                I think the truth is that all the reasons listed above are compelling arguments for attending a regional American juggling festival.  The American Gym Show, however, could be one more.  Imagine the buzz created by the fact that a juggler you really love will be presenting his/her brand new untested full-length show in the gym, before dinner?  To me, that’s a perfect day of juggling.  Workshops, open juggling, a gym show, dinner, and then the Saturday night show.  Then again, there’s also Sunday, the self-proclaimed dead day in juggling festival history.  Sunday for me is always a long and sad farewell to all my juggling buddies, a chance to realize I’m too sore to seriously juggle any more, and a realization that every five minutes, there are fewer people still remaining in the gym.  The vendors pack up, the banners come down.  Who wouldn’t love to come into the gym on Sunday and have an 11:00am gym show?  Some people may not be into the performance/theatrical side of juggling as much as me, but to me, this would be wonderful!  The more shows, the better.  I can practice at home – while I’m at a festival, I want to be exposed as much to the art of juggling as possible.


                The wonderful thing about presenting Gym Shows at festivals is that you have a built-in knowledgeable audience that will give you real and honest feedback on your work.  It’s almost similar to a workshop performance and it’s possible at the IJA that you could use workshop rooms as venues because honestly, I think an IJA gym is too loud to pull off a gym show where you don’t expect everyone to watch.  So yeah, I’d encourage Gym Shows at regional fests and Workshop Room Shows at the IJA.  And, if you’re feeling randy and the weather’s nice, try a show outside!  Who knows, maybe even the local police force will show up!  Haha…man…


                I did want to applaud Sean Blue and friends for presenting “Mixed Up” as a sort of preamble to this year’s Philly Fest.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  Jugglers who might not have come to Philly to see a 60 minute show did so because they were there for the fest anyway.  This proves in my opinion that all three regional fest slots – Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday afternoon – are all viable spots for shows that aren’t being used up at the moment.  Let’s change that.  The sport of juggling is receiving a lot of air time here in America – not so much the art side.  I know that none of you are going to make any money from doing a gym show at a juggling fest, but that’s what I always thought was so wonderful about festivals – jugglers come together for a weekend or even a week at a time and remember that juggling is not just a career – it’s something that can be shared and supported.  That’s why the IJA and the EJC thrive – because everyone’s willing to pitch in as a volunteer.  Dare I say we as artists volunteer our shows to our fellow jugglers?


                If you are an America juggler with a solo show, please contact me and I will give you support, encouragement, and advice to try and attempt one of these American Gym Shows that I’m proposing.  I want to recreate that mutual feeling of support and encouragement that I felt during the casual shows at the EJC here in America.  Let’s give it a try.

Posted by Michael at 1:56 AM EDT
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