Invented to entertain ancient Egyptians, juggling is one of the oldest sports known to man. "Juggling" is an umbrella term covering many forms of object manipulation and requiring immense dexterity, coordination and practice. All of this according to Stuart Celarier, an instructor of juggling at Reed College, where the sport fulfills PE requirements.
Juggling is in the midst of a renaissance, Celarier says, with today's best jugglers tossing cigar boxes and burning staves along with ancient implements like the diabolo, a device juggled in China 2,500 years ago.
But the most interesting thing going is something called siteswap.
"It's a way of recognizing patterns by attaching numbers to types of throws," Celarier says.
The product of research done at Caltech and Cambridge, siteswap, or quantum juggling, involves making space-time diagrams using a coded system that covers height and the hand involved in tossing each object. A throw that crosses from one hand to another is given an odd number. Even numbers are for throws that land in the same hand. The higher the number, the higher the throw. To see if a particular pattern is possible, you divide the sum of those numbers by the number of throws. If the answer is a whole number, it's possible.
So, the simple pleasure of tossing something in the air and trying really hard to catch it and throw it again quickly is gone. Rhys Thomas, an internationally known Portland juggler who answered my phone call while standing on 9-foot stilts, is philosophical about this.
"It's really amazing," Thomas says. "We have records of people who have been juggling for over 4,000 years, and it wasn't until siteswap that we knew simple tricks like 441 were even possible. After siteswap, we learned more new tricks than we ever figured out just goofing off.
"It raises the question, 'What is juggling, really?' People just think it's people tossing things back and forth but...it's just working with physical things in the same way as people talk about juggling their jobs, families and lives."
GO: Reed College, which has taught juggling since 1979, hosts the 20th annual Portland Juggling Festival Sept. 28-30, featuring world-class performers and 31 workshops. Celarier will teach an introductory course in five-ball juggling, and Thomas will teach a class with a box of dinner plates, a dustpan and a broom. Visit portlandjugglers.org for more info.
WEDNESDAY SEPT. 26
FRIDAY SEPT. 28
SATURDAY SEPT. 29
TUESDAY OCT. 2