Thursday, April 23, 2009

Going Clubbing: Princeton's Very Own Circus

If you were out and about last Sunday afternoon, you may have witnessed a strange gathering on Cannon Green—although, then again, after a weekend of pre-frosh excitement, I doubt anything short of a three-ring circus would have surprised you… Brightly colored objects flew through the air, bowling pins were tossed from hand to hand, something resembling a glow stick tied to a string was twirled overhead in increasingly complex patterns: in other words, it was just your typical Princeton Juggling Club meeting.

Formed more than twenty years ago, the group now consists of students (about twenty core members), professors and community members—just about anyone willing to put in the time and effort to learn to juggle. While some, like Bilesh Ladva ’11, arrived at Princeton with the basics already mastered, just as many try juggling for the first time at a club meeting. Ladva admits that it takes “hours and hours of practice” to learn a new trick but insists that the basic motions are simple to perfect, even for the uncoordinated (He offered to teach me, but I didn’t have the heart to prove his theory wrong).
While the meeting I attended appeared highly informal, with the group broken down into smaller circles and pairs experimenting with various tricks and techniques, the club does prepare and put on a choreographed performance each year in addition to making several appearances at smaller venues. This year, their show took place in February and was entitled “The Juggler of Oz,” and actually featured routines (and costumes!) inspired by the movie.
Although almost all of the jugglers I’d previously witnessed (admittedly not too many) used a set of juggling balls, Juggling Club members also work with bowling pins, rings and what I learned was, in fact, a glow stick-on-a-string—formally known as “poi”. The club has even progressed to using knives and fire, says Ladva proudly: “The University doesn’t really look kindly on the use of fire near trees and such, though, so we practice that at the home of a professor who’s also a member of the club.“ Perhaps I looked worried, for he quickly added, “We haven’t killed anyone yet!” I suppose that’s a good start…
Asked about the benefits of group as opposed to solo juggling, Ladva emphasized the collaborative nature of the activity: “It can be boring or frustrating to juggle by yourself, and it’s great to have other people to help you learn new techniques.” Judging by the relaxed attitudes and frequent bursts of laughter I observed at the meeting, it’s also just plain fun.