Juggling with plates stands perhaps next in order of popularity. Unfortunately for the would-be Juggler's guardians, these articles are always to hand in the house, inviting to practice. But I would here advise my readers not to attempt proficiency in the use of plates by practising with the best china. Even common earthenware ones will be found expensive if they are to be constantly replaced. The hands, too, are liable to injury from breakage: to say nothing of the annoyance and trouble of clearing away the debris. The most suitable and satisfactory kind of plates are enamelled ones. They are comparatively inexpensive, and with ordinary care will last a long time.
Do not get soup plates, but the common shallow dinner plates, from eight to ten inches in diameter. They can be obtained from any hardware dealer or ironmonger. When once accustomed to a certain form and weight of plate, it will be found advisable to adhere to the pattern very closely when purchasing fresh ones. It is a good plan to have a net, or something similar, stretched across where the plates fall when practising: as the constant dropping on a hard surface soon chips off the enamel, leaving the edges rough and jagged and unfitted for practice. Of course, the gymnasium mats before referred to, answer the purpose well.
In manipulating plates the same good old rule applies as to creeping before attempting to walk. A single plate is sufficient to begin with. It is to be held with the inside (or top) of the plate facing outwards, so that if held in the right hand the inside of the plate faces to the right: if held in the left hand, the inside faces to the left.
It should be thrown straight upwards from the hand with a short quick throw, in such a way as to give it a spin or rotary motion towards the body. This will be naturally and rapidly acquired. Commence by throwing the plate about three feet into the air and catching it neatly again, between the fingers and thumb of the same hand. Gradually increase the height of the throw until you can throw a plate the height of ten or twelve feet or even more, and catch it again between the fingers and thumb of the same hand without moving from your position. You should be able to do this many times in succession. All heights of throw are to be tried, and it must not be forgotten to impart the spin so necessary to enable the plate to cleave the air without "wobbling," Practise first with one hand, and then with the other. When fairly proficient with each hand separately, practise with both it the same time: and continue to do this until you can perform equally well with both hands working at the same time as when working with either hand separately.
To learn to juggle two plates in one hand commence as follows. Hold one plate in the right hand and another in the left, the insides of both plates facing to the right. Throw up the plate in the right hand about six or eight feet high: and at once pass the other from the left to the right hand, and send it up after the first plate. Immediately the first plate is caught (by the right hand, of course) throw it up again, catch the descending one, send up the other and so on. As it is of importance that the first plate should be accurately dispatched, we start by holding a plate in each hand. It is not so easy if the hand is encumbered with the second plate: but, as soon as the tyro can keep two plates going for a few rounds, he may learn to start with the two plates in one hand as follows. The first plate must be held between the thumb and first finger, and the second plate between the first and the other fingers, both facing the same way - the upper outwards. Do not grip them too tightly. The second plate needs to be held a little more firmly than the first.
Send up the first plate, i.e., the one held between the thumb and first finger, not forgetting the spin: catch it and throw it up again, whilst still retaining the other plate between the first and second fingers. Practise until the plate can be thrown and caught with ease without losing a proper hold of the second plate. This will soon be accomplished and you can then proceed to practise properly, throwing each plate alternately and catching it again between fingers and thumb. In finishing a "round" slip the forefinger over the edge of the plate instead of throwing it up so that it is held between the first and second fingers - and make the last catch with the thumb and forefinger. Proceed in a similar way with the left hand until you can perform the feat equally well with it as with the right hand.
Having got thus far you will find juggling with four plates, two in each hand, come very easy with a little practice.
The two principal movements with four plates are neither of them very difficult. One consists in playing the plates simultaneously: that is, juggling two plates independently in each hand but throwing and catching them in unison. In the other movement one plays them alternately, leading off first with the right hand then with the left, then again with the right, and so on. The latter is perhaps the more effective. In both styles, the plates are played with the insides facing outwards: i.e., those in the right hand with the insides facing to the right, and those played with the left hand facing to the left, so that the fingers of each hand close on the insides of the plates, and the thumbs on the back.
When juggling three plates, using both hands and throwing them from one hand to the other, two are held in the right hand, and one in the left. The one in the left hand must be held so that (in this particular case) the usual order is reversed, and the fingers close on the back of the plate and the thumb on the inside. That is to say, when juggling from one hand to the other, the insides of all plates must face the same way, namely: to the right. Catching the plates in this manner with the left hand may be found a little awkward at first. Commence by throwing up the first plate from the right hand. Give each plate its proper spin and incline the throw towards the opposite (catching) hand. As plate No. 1 reaches the top of its flight, throw No. 2 from the left hand: and, as No. 2 reaches its height, catch No. 1 in the left and throw No. 3 from the right: and so on, over and over again, as long as you can. This movement is exactly the same as the Cascade with three balls. It is possible to work up a very pretty and easy routine in three-plate two-handed juggling.
To juggle three plates in one hand, hold them as just described for juggling three in both hands. Throw up the first from the right a little higher than the following ones, send up the second, take the third from the left hand and let it quickly follow the other two. They must be thrown a good deal higher than in juggling two. It will require considerable practice to master three in one hand as this is by no means easy: but the aspirant must remember "King Bruce and the Spider." I must again emphasize the importance of giving the plates all the spin that can be imparted. In this movement, the plates have to ascend to a greater height, and it is necessary that they should be rid of all "wobble." The liability of the plates to collide, also, is a difficulty which will be experienced in this, as in other styles of juggling with plates; but the difficulty will soon disappear as the pupil acquires the knack.
The only practical method of juggling five plates is to play three in the right hand and two in the left hand separately.
The third plate is lightly held in the left hand by its extreme edge, between the tip of the thumb and the first plate. Commence by juggling two plates with the right hand only, until you have got them running smoothly. Then, throw both plates somewhat higher so as to give yourself time to take the loosely held plate from the left hand. As soon as the three plates are smoothly running in the right hand, commence juggling with the two in the left. If you have become proficient in the foregoing exercises and can play three plates with one hand, you will not require any further teaching or advice, if you are ambitious enough to try some of the higher flights of skill. You know now exactly how to begin, how to finish, and how to throw the plates. You lack nothing but the requisite practice, to perform the more difficult feats. You will naturally discover, too, in the course of the foregoing Exercises, many artistic little variations which you can add to your repertoire and use upon occasion to enhance your reputation.
The finest juggling with plates I ever had the pleasure of witnessing was during an engagement at Rotterdam. I arrived the day before I was to open and I saw that another Juggler was advertised to appear in another Variety Theatre in the town. Having the evening off and being engaged to appear in a city, indeed in a country, I had never before visited, I was very curious to witness the kind of performance my brother Juggler would treat his audience to, particularly as it was his concluding night in Rotterdam. So I graced the rival Theatre with my presence. The artist's "turn" was throughout a very excellent one, but a good deal different from anything of my own until he came to plates. At this time I was making a specialty of plate manipulation, so I was greatly interested, and felt little doubt from what I had witnessed of his all-round clever juggling, that he would be skilful enough to play five plates. He did, and taking up another he held before his audience and my astonished self - six! Up to that night I had never witnessed an attempt to juggle with six plates. I had certainly heard of its being accomplished by a certain well-known artiste in the front rank of the profession Severus Shaeffer. Six plates is a "tall order," but Mr Juggler gave a wonderful exhibition with his half-dozen. I was surprised and delighted, and at its close I expressed my thanks and pleasure by vociferously applauding. To my blank astonishment the man took up another plate and performed the phenomenal feat of juggling with seven. Seven! Again and again I found myself wondering if I was mistaken, but I was not. Now up to that time I had rather "fancied" myself in that particular line of juggling and it knocked considerable conceit out of me. Like Coleridge's Wedding Guest:
"I felt like one who had been stunned
"And was of sense forlorn,
"A sadder and a wiser man
"I rose the morrow morn."
I was still very young, so perhaps the kindly reader will regard my vanity lightly. I found there was a possibility of this "marvel" appearing the following night, so as soon as my turn was completed I hurried to the other Hall only to find he was gone, and was then en route for Germany. To one ignorant of, and uninterested in the Art, juggling seven plates may not seem an extraordinary feat: but it is really a marvellous piece of work. Juggling seven balls expertly requires an amount of skill that few artistes attain, but plates are much more difficult and the feat may be regarded as phenomenal.