Looking around at a large gym crowded with jugglers, Roger Dollarhide thought back to the 1968 convention he sponsored as a small picnic in a California back yard.
"It's great to see so many people at the convention, and so many getting involved in the IJA," said Dollarhide, an Honorary Life Member and founder of the IJA championships. Stu Raynolds, another Honorary Life Member from Wilmington, Del., commented that "the early thinking was that too big was no good for the IJA, but I don't think the organization could ever get big enough. I'm very pleased with this year's turnout."
Many senior IJA members attended the 40th Anniversary convention and were eager to share some of their views on the vast changes they've seen over the years. Those present included three founders -- George Barvin, Art Jennings and "Easy Eddie" Johnson, as well as long-time members Al Bernard, Claude Crumley, Bill Dietrich, Dollarhide, Jay Green, Bobby Jule, Johnny Lux, Emily May and Raynolds.
They spent many hours reminiscing amongst themselves about former, smaller conventions on the floor or in the comfortably appointed history lounge, where old films were shown during a special historical seminar. Two of the oldsters, Green and Lux, presented beautiful acts during convention shows that reinforced for younger members the primacy of entertainment in juggling performance.
Indritz and other senior members interviewed were happy to see so many young people involved. "Juggling has a wide audience now. In the old days it was mostly older circus people and other professionals," Indritz said. Raynolds amplified that point, saying, "At the early conventions, me and Bud Carlson were sometimes the only young people. But the emphasis shifted to youth at Roger Dollarhide's conventions in the late 1960s."
Johnson, who coordinated historical efforts at the convention, mentioned that most of the early IJA members were situated in the Eastern states. Half of the founders were from Pennsylvania, he said, so it was easier in former years to get people together for a picnic or convention.
Props were another area of frequent discussion. "We couldn't do a lot of this technical stuff with Lind clubs," said Jennings. "We always wore 'chaps' between the thumb and forefinger when passing Lind clubs, and still got sore hands!"
Indritz said, "Harry Lind did the best he could with what was available at the time, but props weren't nearly as good or as durable as they are now. If I were to use my Lind clubs on this gym floor, they would fracture in a very short time. All types of props today are better and cheaper, so more people can now enjoy and get involved in juggling."
Differences in price were also cited both for better and for worse, depending on the subject. At the history seminar, Johnson remembered that the total cost of the first convention was $15, that IJA dues were just $1. On the other hand, Raynolds mentioned that the price of a single wooden Lind club was $18, or about $80 at today's prices. Even worse, it was likely to break within a week or two.
Pay for performers has also risen in the intervening years. In the early 1950's a performer would normally earn $12-$15 for each nightclub show (don't forget the 10 percent agent's fee!). But nightclubs were abundant and close to each other. Lux, who performed at both the "Old and New of Vaudeville" and "Juggling, and Other Delights" shows, remembered doing four to six shows nightly, dashing from one club to another in Erie, Penn., between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. At that time, he remembered, there were 30-40 night clubs in Erie alone!
Jennings pointed out many times during the convention that performing was a more formal profession in the past. "The emPHAsis was on a different sylLAble," he said. The technical jugglers of the day didn't fare as well as the comedy jugglers.
Jennings believes we may be seeing this turn full circle, going from entertainment in the old days to more technical work in recent days and returning now to more emphasis on entertainment. He cited the Karamazov Brothers as examples of excellent juggling entertainers.
Jennings also recalled the formality of the period. There was little "freestyling" in a performance. Juggling, he believes, was much more disciplined. Clubs were always passed and caught at the "proper" end. People always wore their best clothes to the theatre. Tricks had to be "on the level." Any trick props that made an act easier would have given the entertainer a bad reputation in the business.
A lot of senior IJA'ers missed the variety of the old days. Some said they would like to see a revival of hoop juggling, and Indritz asked where all the foot jugglers have gone. Honorary Life Member Bill Dietrich, said he'd like more people to join him in ball bounce juggling.
One thing that does not wane among seniors is their continued enthusiasm and dedication to juggling. Indritz, a former gymnast, feels juggling offers endless variations and challenge. Dietrich lamented that "It's sad the rest of the world doesn't juggle. It's like juggling doesn't exist outside this convention hall. It sort of makes you feel sorry for everyone out there!"