Juggler's World: Vol. 42, No. 4

Juggler's Workshop

Club Balancing

by Martin Frost & Mike Stillwell

© 1990 Martin Frost

Would you like to vary the pace of your routine? Club balancing is the perfect way to add a dramatic pause to any show. In this issue we'll cover balancing for beginners and some real challenges for the more experienced.

Basic Balancing

First let's talk about balancing. Here are two things to remember.

  1. The balance is easiest if you watch the very top of the object.
  2. Longer objects are easier to balance than shorter ones.

For initial balancing practice, you can start with a broom. Hold it vertically with the sweeping end at the top and try to balance the broom on the palm of your hand (Fig. 1). Remember to look at the highest part of the broom. That's the part that will move the most if the balance starts to fail, so you get the best feedback by focusing there. If you have trouble with this, it's probably because you're not looking up at the top.

Now try a shorter object. If you have an old broom, you can just saw off about a foot. Each time you shorten the object, the balancing becomes a little harder because you have to react just a little faster to prevent a fall. But each time, your brain will adapt and figure out what to do. You don't have to consciously think, "OK, when it leans this way I move my hand this way." Just practice and it will come (but watch the top). Practice balancing with each hand.

You should be able to balance a club on either palm. Try moving your hand around in very tiny amounts to get accustomed to how the club reacts. There's no use proceeding until you can balance a club well in your hand.

Balancing a Club on a Club

Next hold one club in your right hand and balance another club on it with the knob down as shown in Fig. 2. This balance isn't much different from the balance on the palm, but play with it until it's easy. It helps to hold the club far up on the handle, or even just above the handle. Learn this balance with each hand. Be sure you're using clubs with rubber knobs and ends or the clubs will just slip off each other.

You should also try balancing the club with the knob up. We'll refer to the end opposite the knob as the "fat end," so place the fat end of one club onto a club in your hand and balance the club there, as in Fig. 3.

Now, what we want to do is to get into a club-on-club balance from a regular cascade. We'll explain two ways. They're both good but one is fairly easy and the other is fairly difficult. We'll cover the easy way first. If you are trying the hard way in a show and you miss, you can always use the easy way as a backup and probably even get a laugh out of it.

The Easy Way: The Set-Balance

The easy move is called the set-balance because you set one club onto the other with your hand. We'll break this into a few steps to make it easy to learn.

Start by juggling three clubs in a regular cascade. Throw a double spin from your right hand to your left but for now don't catch it, just let it fall to the ground. As that club is in the air, take the club you hold in your left hand and place it onto the one in your right hand (see Fig. 4) and balance it there. Your left hand is now free to return and catch the double except that by now that club is probably on the ground.

Repeat this exercise a few times, placing a club in the balance from the cascade without trying to catch the double. Then start speeding up the placement until you can finish in time to catch the falling double. The extra height of the double is what gives you time to make the set-balance before the double comes down.

The entire sequence is this: (1) throw a double spin from the right hand, (2) place the left hand club on the right hand club, and (3) catch the double spin in the left hand while maintaining the balance in the right hand. After catching the double, keep your eye on the top of the balanced club. Now maybe reverse things and try the set-balance on a club in your left hand instead of the right; set it up by throwing a double from the left.

Actually, you can do the set-balance after throwing just a single instead of a double. But you may like to make use of the illusion that the higher double (or triple, etc.) provides because it distracts the audience from the setting of one club on another. They may think you caught it there.

Peel Offs

For a smooth trick involving just set-balances, try some peel offs. Start with a club-on-club balance in your right hand as in Fig. 2 and hold a third club in your left. Let the balanced club start to fall to the right as you lift the club out from under it and place that club in a balance on the club in your left hand. Then quickly return with your right hand to catch the falling club. The hard part is maintaining the new balance (by keeping part of your attention on it) while you catch the other club.

Now repeat in mirror image: let the balance from the left fall to the left as you raise the left hand, put the club into a balance on the right hand club, and hurry back and catch the falling club in your left hand. You can repeat as fast as you want for a nice effect of a balance constantly getting out of hand.

(Peel offs are shown in a display sequence on page 35 of Juggler's World, Vol. 41, No. 3.)

The Hard (But Fun) Way: The Catch-Balance

A more challenging way to get into the club balance is with the catch-balance, in which you throw a club from a regular cascade and catch it on another club in a balance.

There are two ways to make the throw: with a regular spin and with a reverse spin. Each of these is preferred by some people, probably because that happens to be the way they learned it. So try them both and see which works better for you. We'll assume you're going to do the catch on a club in your right hand. To catch on a club in the left, just reverse left and right in the descriptions below.

First the regular-spin throw: while juggling three clubs, throw a slow spinning club with the left hand. It should spin only three-quarters of the way around so that it can land on its fat end on the thick part of the club in your right hand (Fig. 3). We'll describe the catch in a moment.

Next the reverse-spin throw: during a regular cascade, throw a reverse flip into the middle of your pattern from your left hand. It should again spin three-quarters around, this time so that it can land on the knob. We'll talk about the reverse-spin toss shortly.

With both the regular-spin and the reverse-spin, you can actually catch the spinning club with the same hand that threw it or with the other hand. If you catch the club with the same hand that threw it, you get a fairly fast trick that isn't too hard to learn, partly because both parts of it can be executed with your dominant hand. You may find, however, that this trick is easier to learn if the throw is from one hand to the other (say, throwing from left to right, for right handers) - this version is less rushed.

The following suggestions apply no matter which of these variations you're doing. First, remember to underspin your throw (slow spin). Also adjust the angle of the club so that it is pointing straight forward from you as you throw it, instead of angled out to the side.

To catch in a balance, always watch the club end that is going to land. As the club is falling, bring your catching club up near the end that's coming down and follow that end downward with your club as you make the catch. This lets you absorb some of the shock of the landing. Immediately after the catch, shift your attention to the top of the newly caught club so that you can maintain the balance easily.

You'll find that if you hold the club in your hand far up on the handle, or even just above the handle, the catch and the balance are a lot easier. If you have trouble getting close to catching a club on a club, learn first to catch in a balance in your palm.

To make a reverse-spin throw, as you are bringing your arm up to throw, let the club roll backwards off your index finger while you pull loosely up and toward you on the handle (see Fig. 5). If you haven't done reverse flips before, practice this throw for a while with just one club before attempting to catch the club in a balance.

Fig. 6 shows the clubs just as they make contact after a reverse flip. You can see that the club being caught is not yet upright. After it touches the other club, its momentum will bring it to the upright position. At this point the lower club should be moving slightly downward to absorb some of the force so that the club doesn't simply bounce off. This can be frustrating to work on, but it's very exciting when it works, so keep at it.

Back into the Cascade

In order to go back into the cascade, just flip the balanced club upward and toward your other hand. If the knob is at the bottom, you only need a slight one-quarter spin, taking the top away from you and bringing the knob up a little. If the knob is at the top, the club will need a three-quarters spin, with the top going away from you, down, and then back up, to allow the club to land in your hand normally.

Work on going from the cascade to the balance and back to the cascade. When you can to that, you're ready for some club-to-club flips.

180-Degree Flips

Now we have a very nice looking trick, the half flip of a club from a balance on one end to a balance on the other end. With a club in your hand and another balanced on it (Fig. 2), flip the balanced club straight up so that the knob spins up slowly toward you. Just give the club a little spin as you push it up into the air so that it goes half way around. As it comes down, catch it on the other end (Fig. 3). This is actually a little easier than the catch-balance described above, because the club spins more slowly here.

Use the same techniques to catch a half flip as a catch-balance: watch the end that's going to land and bring the catching club up to the landing club and then drop it down slowly during the catch to soften the landing. The flipped club does not go up very high at all during the flip, and it spins very slowly, for only a half flip.

360-Degree Flips

For a very impressive trick, flip a balance club not just half way around but all the way around to land on the same end it started on. The technique for this is exactly like that for the half flip, except that you put a little more spin on the club and perhaps flip it a little higher here. It's more difficult because of the greater spin. You may find that you need to use more shock-absorbing action with the catching club by dropping it down further as you catch the full flip.

Once you've mastered the previous moves, you may like to try the following more difficult maneuvers.

Repeating Half Flips

Start by doing a half flip from a club balance, but instead of catching the falling club, give it an additional push on the end to keep it up and spinning for a second half flip. Then catch it in a balance. The additional push that you give is almost a catch and then an immediate flip.

Of course, you can do more than two consecutive flips without stopping. It's important to keep the club under control all the while, spinning at a normal slow rate. Keep your eye on the end that you have to catch next.

The Dramatic Pose (On Knee)

Once again, start with one club balanced on another (Fig. 2). Flip the balanced club up for a 180 but then step forward on the right foot as you kneel on the left knee and catch the club on the handle of the club in your hand, as shown in Fig. 7. You need to flip the club forward so that as you kneel down it will land on the other club as shown.

Top to Top

Here's another impressive catch. With one club balanced knob down on another (Fig. 2), flip the balanced club as if you were doing a 180 but flip it a bit higher, tilt the club in your hand up, and catch the spinning club on the end of your club, as shown in Fig. 8. You should practice balancing in this position before you attempt the flip.

The Two-Club Flip

Here is a real challenge. From the usual starting club balance (Fig. 2), flip the balanced club up for a 360 but as you do so release the club in your hand so that it too begins to spin - it will spin the opposite way from the other club (Fig. 9). Both clubs should spin all the way around and land in the position you started in. Catch the club in your hand as early as possible to give you time to catch the other club in a balance.

The trick here is that you have to control the spin of two clubs with one motion. You don't flip the top club and then the bottom one. It happens all at once. Of course, you have to be very good at 360-degree flips before you can master this two-club flip.

In Conclusion...

Don't let those last few tricks scare you away from balancing clubs. The set-balance, 180-degree flips and even 360-degree flips are very attainable goals and could be part of your repertoire in a reasonably short period of time.

Send any comments or suggestions for Juggler's Workshop, you can reach the editors at: Juggler's Workshop; 3065 Louis Rd.; Palo Alto, CA 94303; or give one of us a call: Martin Frost at 415/856-1456 or Michael Stillwell at 904/371-2057.

Juggler's Workshop / Index, Vol. 42, No. 4 / jis@juggling.org
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