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History of juggling

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History of juggling

This page lists many dates in which juggling has been recorded throughout history from 1994 BCE to 1947 CE.

This Egyptian wall painting (c. 1994-1781 BCE) appears to depict toss jugglers
Seated girl juggling. Fragmented tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 470–460 BCE, Regional Archaeological Museum "Antonio Salinas", Palermo, 3d floor, Greek ceramics

1994-1781 BCE – Egypt
The earliest known record of toss juggling, from the 15th Beni Hassan tomb of an unknown prince, depicting female dancers and acrobats throwing balls.

770-476 BC – China
Various jugglers are mentioned in histories, usually warriors who would display their skill to their enemies, sometimes managing to end a conflict before they began. Some jugglers are named, including:

  • Lan Zi, from the state of Song, credited with juggling seven swords.
  • Xiong Yiliao, who during a battle between the states of Chu and Song, juggled nine balls at the same time.

400-200 BC – Greece
Juggling recorded in Greek writings. There is also terra cotta statue of a man with balls balanced on different parts of his body, from the time of Ptolomaer of ancient Thebes.

50-400 AD – Roman Empire
Juggling recorded in Rome. Tagatus Ursus, a Roman, claimed on his grave inscription to have been the first to juggle with glass balls, and Sidonius Apollinaris, an officer in a Roman legion, entertained his troops by performing juggling tricks with balls.

400-600 AD – Ireland
Irish hero Cuchulainn juggles nine apples. A few centuries later Tulchinne, the royal buffoon of king Conaire, is described as juggling nine swords, nine silver shields, and nine balls of gold.

500-1500 AD – Europe
Juggling was an acceptable diversion until the decline of the Roman Empire, after which it fell into disgrace. Throughout the Middle Ages most histories were written by religious clerics who frowned upon the type of performers who juggled, called 'Gleemen', accusing them of base morals or even practicing witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in market places, streets, fairs or drinking houses. They would perform short, humorous and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some king’s and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy and story telling).

1066 – England
Taillefer, the warrior-bard of William of Normandy, juggles before the enemy lines and makes the first kill at the Battle of Hastings.

1528 – India
The Emperor of Hindustan described jugglers with wooden rings.

1528 – America
Christoph Weiditz draws Native Mexicans toss juggling and foot juggling/antipodism, which is also often found in Aztec art.

1680 – Germany
The first recorded juggling workshop, the Town Council of Nuremberg hired a "ball-master" who juggled and taught others juggling and other skills.

18th century – France
The earliest known representation of juggling as a single arc of props over widely separated hands, from an 18th-century French wood cut. Before this time, all images of jugglers show the hands close together with their props in columns above each hand.

1768 – England
Philip Astley opens the first modern circus. A few years later he employs jugglers to perform acts along with the horse and clown acts. From then until the modern day, jugglers have found work and have commonly been associated with circuses.

1774 – Pacific Islands
First record of hiko in North America
George Washington, Ricketts juggled on horseback.

1795 – China
Foot juggling/antipodism recorded at the Court of the Emperor of China.

1821 – England
William Hazlitt writes the essay "The Indian Juggler" describing a four ball juggling routine in detail, probably performed by Ramo Samee, considered to be the first modern professional juggler. In his day Ramo Samee was a well-known British celebrity.

Mid-Late19th century – Europe and North America
Variety and music hall theatres become more popular, and jugglers are in demand to fill time between music acts, performing in front of the curtain while sets are changed.

  • Performers start specializing in juggling, separating it from other kinds of performance such as sword swallowing and magic.
  • The Gentleman Juggler style is established by German jugglers such as Salerno and Kara.
  • Rubber processing is developed and jugglers start using rubber balls. Previously juggling balls were made from balls of twine, stuffed leather bags, wooden spheres or various metals. Solid rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls lead to ball spinning.

1883 – North America
In Boston a new style of variety show is born. The format is a continuous show, the same 8-10 acts repeated over and over, the audience coming and going when they had seen all the acts. This was later known as Vaudeville.

1885 – England
Paul Cinquevalli (1859 – 1918) made his debut at a circus in Covent Garden, London. Cinquevalli was the first juggling super-star, and was referred to by the British press as the world’s greatest juggler.

Late 19th century – Early 20th century – North America
In the USA the popularity of variety shows and vaudeville shows created great demand for professional jugglers. To distinguish them from other entertainers, jugglers were constantly developing new tricks, props, styles and characters, many of which survive to this day.

Here are some juggling "firsts" from America, based on anecdotal evidence.

  • Jim Harrigan was the first tramp juggler, using cigar boxes and balls. He was also one of the first talking comedy jugglers, putting jokes into his routine.
  • DeWitt Cook was the first to perform with "juggling clubs". Previously jugglers had only used sticks, torches or knives. Instead Cook juggled 3 Indian Clubs, normally used for arm-swinging exercises. Indian Clubs were made from wood, were very heavy and were shaped like a modern bowling pin. This design is still recognizable in today’s specially manufactured, light, plastic juggling clubs.
  • Charles Hoey was the first to juggle 4 clubs, though he could not stop juggling without dropping. When performing on stage the curtain had to be closed while he was still juggling so the audience wouldn’t see him drop.
  • Ben Mowatt was the first to juggle 5 clubs.
  • Pat McBann was the first to juggle six clubs. He did 4 in one hand and 2 in the other, but died before he had it ready to perform in public.
  • John Breen juggled 7 clubs for 35 right-handed throws. Breen also managed other very technical tricks such as a 5 club shower, as well as 5 club cascade with a head balance. He performed 6 clubs on stage. He died aged only 21 in 1912.
  • The first record of two-person club passing is in 1885 by the juggling team “The Murdock Bros”. They passed four clubs side-by-side them while standing on pedestals.
  • The Devine Bros perform 6 club passing, facing each other, for the first time.
  • The Three Mowatts were the first three-person club passing act, first performing in 1895. John Whitfield left the Mowatts to set up his own troupe called the Juggling Johnsons and created the first 4 and 5 person juggling.
  • Jack Greene and Joe Piche were the first to pass 8 clubs.

1896 – Siberia
Enrico Rastelli is born. Rastelli (1896–1931) is considered to be one of the greatest jugglers who ever lived. He is recorded as juggling 10 balls (though never 9), 8 sticks (small clubs) and 8 plates. He was also one of the first jugglers to use footballs (soccer balls) and other large rubber balls.

1912 – North America
Glow-props are invented. Adolf Behrend, the German Gentleman juggler Salerno builds a set of clubs with electric lights inside which changed colors as he juggles them.

1930-1950 – Europe and North America
Variety and Vaudeville shows start to decline in popularity due to competition from motion picture theatres, radio and television.

1947 – North America
The International Jugglers' Association is formed.

See also

Further reading

  • Breen, Tom (May 1946). "Juggling Firsts". The Juggler's Bulletin 20. 
  • Research in Juggling History by Arthur Lewbel (November 1995, revised March 2002)
  • Allen, Andrew; Karl-Heinz Ziethen and Toly (1985). Juggling : the Art and its Artists. Berlin: Werner Rausch and Werner Lüft.  

External links

  • Short videos "Great Jugglers of the Past" with performers Enrico Rastelli, Bobby May, and Francis Brunn
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