Juggling While in Motion

Last month I successfully juggled while flying down a zip line. I had tried the feat three or four times previously and I always dropped about halfway down the line. This most recent time, though, I made it the whole way (about 100 yards). Here is the video evidence, followed by some thoughts on the science behind it….

Between doing this zip line juggle and juggling while running (“joggling”), people often make comments to me that imply their confusion over the science of how it works. Many people think I need to throw the balls ahead of me in order to juggle while in forward motion.

The answer is, no, I do not. The balls are already in forward motion with me as I’m running or flying on a zip line. They are traveling the same speed as me, so when I toss them upward, they fly both up and forward without any extra forward effort on my part. If you were to stand in the back of a moving pick-up truck (do not attempt) and toss a basketball straight up, it would not fly behind you but rather in front of you as if you were standing still (as long as you are not going so incredibly fast that there is crazy wind resistance).

The problem with the zip line, though, is not the forward motion, but rather the spinning motion. That is what has always messed me up in the past. When I spin while juggling, I do need to overcompensate my throws in a particular direction to make up for the spin. When I successfully juggled down the zip line, I just happened to get the throws right based on my spins. It was tough, but certainly possible.

The Easiest Way to Learn Juggling

Perhaps you took a how-to-juggle seminar in third grade gym class, like me. Or maybe you warmed the bench (like me) on the baseball team and taught yourself how to juggle baseballs with all that time on your hands.

But maybe you haven’t learned yet. Or the things you’ve tried have all failed. Over the years, I have come across many juggling props. I can say that the simplest props to use when first learning how to juggle (for most people) are scarves.

The scarves float, so they turn the juggling pattern into a slow motion cascade. They make it easy for your brain to learn the pattern so you can eventually graduate to juggling balls. Scarves usually run anywhere from $1 to $10 for a set of three. You can get them from amazon.com or any juggling supplier.

Then one day, my friend David Cain tipped me off to something about scarves. If you want to save your money, simply use plastic grocery bags! You can even snip off the handles and presto!, you have free juggling scarves. I’ve used plastic grocery bags ever since when I teach large groups how to juggle. They work great and you’re saving the earth at the same time. Here are some pics from an instructional I gave my fellow PhD students at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

IMG_3993 IMG_3991

The idea of the lesson was to give an example of adult learning. We can indeed learn new things like juggling as adults! This is know as the neuroplasticity of our brains (Draganski, et al. Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature 427, 311-312 [22 January 2004]). We learn best through experiential learning, and juggling is very hands-on and experiential.

IMG_3996 IMG_3986

Watch my video on how to juggle three balls. If you’re starting with scarves, you can use those too. The pattern is the same. Just know that they will float slower (of course) and you’re going to toss and catch them with your palms forward instead of palms facing up (as with balls). Let me know if you have any questions!

Juggling Ice

I ordered some silicone molds that make perfect ice spheres about the size of a baseball. I put them in the freezer and out came the ice balls for juggling. I went outside and tried them out.

I was able to do it – and of course my hands got very cold! The balls began to melt and in turn got slippery. But I could still maintain the juggle for about a minute or so. Maybe my next trick should involve some sort of mix of juggling these with fire torches. The fire and ice show. What do you think?IMG_6177.JPG

I can see some good teaching opportunities here too, such as the nature of water and how it can take on different properties. And how the hands are very warm and have the potential to melt ice fairly quickly.