The History of Juggling

Juggling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to man. The word juggling comes from the Middle English word jogelen which means to entertain by performing tricks. The oldest record of juggling is depicted on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. Nearly every other ancient civilization since Ancient Egypt has a record of juggling being a part of entertaining festivities in one form or another.

Ancient Times

history of jugglingSoon after the fall of the Roman Empire juggling became a disgraceful practice. Juggling was claimed to be immoral and in some cases witchcraft by those with religious authority during the Middle Ages. However, juggling was still performed regularly in marketplaces, taverns, and fairs. Jugglers would perform for anyone that would pay attention and then pass around a hat in hopes of a few tips so they could purchase a drink or afford travel to their next performance. Bards and jesters would often include juggling in their acts as a change from the usual form of oral entertainment. It was long after Philip Astley opened the first circus in 1768 that he began to employ jugglers to go along with the usual acts. During the Middle Ages juggling balls were made out of a variety of materials such as twine, studded leather, wood, and numerous types of metals.

Middle Ages to Industrial Age

jesterAs the Middle Ages came to a close jugglers were at the peak of their day. Jugglers could be seen in all walks of entertainment from the street to the stage. At the turn of the 19th century jugglers were often used in between acts at music halls in order to distract the audience as sets were changed. Professional jugglers began coming into their own. Before the 19th century most jugglers did other forms of stage entertainment such as sword swallowing and magic. Jugglers began using rubber balls once rubber processing became available. Rubber balls made ball spinning easier to accomplish and what is now commonly known as bounce juggling possible. Vaudeville theaters in North America would often hire European jugglers to entertain audiences during breaks between acts.

Techonological Age

During the early to mid 20th century radio and television came into existence which brought a rapid decline in interest for juggling as a whole. Much of what was once performed on stage was easily transferable to radio and television, however, juggling proved to be an exception. Aside from a short stints in the early years of television during variety hours juggling was cut out as a regular form of entertainment entirely.

In the 1950s juggling went from being known as a profession to a hobby. The IJA, International Jugglers’ Association was started for professional jugglers only but quickly became open to non-performing jugglers as well. The IJA holds an annual convention each summer for anyone and everyone interested in the art of juggling. World Juggling Day was created in recognition of the age old craft and is generally held on the second or third Saturday in June. Most cities have a juggling club that is often connected with a local college or university. Most juggling clubs can be found by simply searching the Internet Juggling Database.

Modern Times

juggling conventionFrom the 1980s to the present juggling has become a culture of its own. There are a number of local juggling organizations that can be found around the world as well as juggling magazines, web sites, shows, events, and conventions. Most recently the art has been performed in juggling competitions that take place regularly in most local juggling clubs. Juggling now includes a variety of different props and forms in which jugglers participate in. The most notable categories being rings/plates, balls/beanbags, and clubs/sticks. Each category has its own world records which are held by JISCON, Juggling Information Service Committee on Numbers.

At the moment juggling is a competitive hobby run by international and local groups alike. Jugglers can be found all over the world, some of the people you know may even excel at juggling without your knowledge of their attainment of such a historic entertainment skill. Juggling has been around for centuries and will continue to live on through jugglers both new and old. It may be down in popularity but it will never become extinct.