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Juggling Club Celebrates 20 Years

Indranath Neogy -- The Tech
Jim, of the of jugglers who regularly practices in Lobby 10, juggles four volleyballs.

By Stacey E. Blau
Associate News Editor

"We're really known to be violent, actually," Jan the Juggler said of herself and the 20 or so jugglers who meet in Lobby 10 every Sunday. For about six hours on Sunday afternoons and evenings, they meet to juggle balls, clubs, ropes, whips, and knives.

The club has been meeting for 20 years, making it the longest continually meeting group of jugglers in the world, said Jim, another Lobby 10 juggler.

"This is the only club in the area," Jim said. People come from Rhode Island and New Hampshire, but most of the people are from Cambridge and Somerville, he said. Only a handful of the jugglers are MIT students. The club started at MIT, but now it is "just an area juggling group that happens to meet at MIT," Jim said.

The Institute "has been very supportive in letting us use its facilities," said another juggler, who prefers to be called the juggler formerly known as Pauline. Some of the jugglers perform in Harvard Square and around Cambridge, she said.

On March 25 and 26, the group will put on a juggling convention in the Johnson Athletic Center. The convention celebrates 20 years of juggling at MIT. "It's like our birthday party," Pauline said.

Admission to the convention is free, and events will include a giveaway of juggling props with a raffle or as prizes in juggling contests. There may also be juggling shows performed, according to a flier announcing the event. No fire torches, however, are permitted in the athletic center.

The MIT group is an affiliate of the International Juggling Organization, Jim said.

Learn to juggle in 5 minutes

Most of the jugglers prefer to go by some version of their first names. "I think most jugglers just want to known be known as jugglers," Jim said. "My name is Jim, so call me Jim," he said. "It's been going on so long, it's completely informal."

"We do perform a service," Pauline said. "We encourage people to come and learn. We can teach anyone to juggle in five minutes."

It's true. In just about five minutes, the Amazing Philburt taught me how to juggle. I started off with one beanbag ball, and worked my way up to three. I can now sort-of continuously juggle three balls for about six seconds. The photographer with me learned from Pauline with similar ease.

Beginners start out with beanbag balls rather than bouncy ones because beanbag balls do not roll, Pauline said. The best way to make them is to take tennis balls, slice them open part way, put sand in them, and seal them back up, she said.

Twenty years, nothing broken

The group claims that they have broken nothing in Lobby 10 in the past 20 years. Sometimes, however, the clubs, not pins, as they are often mistakenly called, are caught in the chandeliers in Lobby 10, the Amazing Philburt said. "Somehow we always manage to get them down," he said, usually by climbing on top of stacked tables from the lobby. "That's a trade secret," he added.

Perhaps surprisingly, "there seems to be a correlation between mathematical ability and juggling," Pauline said. A method called "siteswap" is a way to mathematically describe patterns of juggling. Each throw is given a number based on the height of the throw, so one can describe patterns mathematically, she said.

People have written computer programs describing the patterns, and there is a juggling news group on the Internet where people exchange information and help one another with patterns. "It's good to be able to have a notation," Pauline said.

"You don't have to have the equipment to come juggle," she said. The group said that they encourage any interested people to come to Lobby 10 and learn or to visit the convention at the end of the month.

"We especially encourage women," Pauline said. She and Jan agree that there are substantially fewer women jugglers than men.

But there is one stipulation: "If you laugh, you get kicked out," Pauline said.