What comes to mind when you think of extracurricular college activities? Honor societies, Greek organizations and political groups are some of the typical options. But at some colleges, there’s a more eye-catching activity available: juggling.
Juggling has been a part of daily life for Caroline Dwyer for several years now.
“I taught myself to juggle in high school, and deliberately hunted down the juggling club at Rutgers,” she said.
Dwyer is working her way through grad school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., after completing her bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. Ever since she tracked down the club at Rutgers, Dwyer has been an active member of the juggling scene. Though Georgetown does not have a juggling club, Dwyer said she intends to find the local D.C. club as soon as her schedule allows. She emphasized that the social aspect of juggling is just as important as the art itself.
“Juggling for me was a social safety net, a place I knew I could find support and friends even if there was nowhere else I could go,” she said. “I didn’t always juggle when I was at juggling club. Sometimes I just went because it was where all my friends were.”
Thom Wall, a graduate student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, echoed that sentiment.
“I met many of my closest friends through juggling clubs and festivals in the U.S. and abroad,” he said.
Like Dwyer, Wall’s undergraduate university had a very active juggling club, but his graduate school does not.
Beyond juggling clubs, which attract local members, annual juggling festivals that attract visitors from around the country are another part of juggling culture. The RIT Spring Juggle-In hosted by the juggling club at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, N.Y., is such a festival. This year’s event takes place April 12-14.
Peter LoVerso, a third-year biotechnology student at RIT and a member of the RIT Juggling Club for all of those three years, described what those new to juggling will encounter at the Juggle-In.
“A newcomer could expect to see everyday objects, things they never imagined associating with juggling, manipulated and moved in such mind-blowing ways that they will not think of them in the same way again,” he said.
The Juggle-In has a history of which LoVerso is proud.
“We are one of the longest-running regional juggling festivals in the world,” he said. “The first Juggle-In was in 1977. We are tied with the Isla Vista festival,” another event, taking place this year April 5-7 at the University of California – Santa Barbara, with deep roots in the juggling community.
“The RIT Juggling Club really began in its earliest form with (club founder) Greg Moss back in 1977,” said Jeff Peden, adjunct instructor for the wellness department at RIT, adviser to the juggling club and event coordinator and show producer for the Juggle-In. “It was only a handful of enthusiastic jugglers coming together to practice, and not geared toward doing other events. The festival also began with Greg Moss at the same time and the earliest festival was a much smaller event than it is today.”
Peden estimated that the club has around 40 members, with 15-20 making it every week. The festival, he said, generally gathers about 600-700 participants.
When asked what benefits they gain from juggling, all the students interviewed mentioned coordination and teamwork.
“Juggling is far more open to creative expression than sports are, and far more athletic than a performing-arts group might be,” Wall said. He also emphasized the relaxed atmosphere of the juggling world.
“Juggling is a great mix of art and sport that seems to appeal to a very friendly demographic that’s eager to share their work,” he said.
Peden pointed out the diversity of people involved in the culture.
“We literally have people from 8 years of age to 80 on the (festival) floor participating,” he said.
College jugglers are also out to challenge misconceptions about who they are and what they do. Dwyer told of an instance when her juggling group was invited to a club-based job fair, but was ignored by employers.
“Employers seemed to think our club wasn’t serious, or was a joke, or that jugglers wouldn’t make good employees,” she said. “I’d love to challenge the misconception that jugglers are all unemployable fools.”
“Many people, when you ask them to describe a juggler on the spot, will start humming circus calliope music,” Peden said. “(They’ll) either describe someone in a flashy circus outfit or a clown. At club we wear normal athletic attire and never play calliope music.”
When asked if he planned to stay involved in juggling culture after he finished his degree, LoVerso didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I cannot foresee a time when I do not practice my circus arts at all.”
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