The Evolution of Juggling: Jay Gilligan at TEDxHelsinki (Transcript)

Thank you.

So my name is Jay. I’ve been juggling for 28 years. I grew up in America, where I learned to juggle at the age of eight. And it wasn’t until 10 years later that I came to Europe for the first time. And I saw European-style juggling. And in European-style juggling, actually, Finland and the other Scandinavian countries are big influences in that style, and I didn’t understand anything.

So I’ve been juggling for 10 years, and in America, juggling is really based upon skill. So for example, whenever I juggled, if I learned a trick with my dominant hand, I’m left-handed, so I throw under the leg with my left hand, I’d throw under the leg also with my right hand. So you can see that I’m very skilled, that I learn the trick on both sides.

As well as the other tricks in American juggling are looping, repeating patterns, for example, this trick here. It just keeps going and going. It’s the same shape. It doesn’t change. The rhythm is the same. As well, another big part of American-style juggling, can be that it’s symmetrical. So here’s a pattern that is the same on both sides.

And again, you can see that it loops and it repeats. And it doesn’t change and the rhythm is the same with a steady beat. So, when I came to Europe, and I saw the kind of juggling, and again, Scandinavian style as well, it’s similar to European style, and it looked a bit like this. And you can see it looks really strange to me, compared to the first style of juggling that I showed you. There are a lot of starts and stops. The patterns don’t repeat. They don’t happen on both sides. It’s asymmetrical.

Again, in America, where I grew up, and I learned to juggle, I would begin with a big start, and then, I would keep juggling, and at the end, a really big, clear finish. Like this. Here in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, this kind of juggling was very broken down. The rhythm started and stopped. It was hard for me to figure out. So I was really intrigued by this, and I wanted to learn how to juggle like somebody from Finland, for example.

And along with this journey, I discovered many different things, not only about the kind of juggling that I was doing but by the objects that I was using because one thing that was the same in America and in Europe is the kind of objects we juggled. So there is the juggling ball, there is also juggling club, which of course you flip and the juggling ring. These are the three main props that jugglers use.

I’ve been juggling this circle of plastic for 28 years. I’ve put in 20,000 hours of rehearsal with this prop alone, not the balls or clubs, just with rings. That’s two years of my life. Constantly, juggling this circle of plastic, no eating, no sleeping, two years non-stop juggling. I’ve built a career out of this circle of plastic. I make my living with this. It’s how I eat, how I pay my rent, and I know it very well. I can do lots of different things. I know exactly what this piece of plastic will do.

But it wasn’t until 19 years after I started juggling that I asked myself, “Why?” Why… Why is this ring like this?” “Why is it this shape? This thickness? This weight? This material?” The only thing my friends and I had ever wondered about before was maybe the color. For example, I need to have a nice bright color if I have a black backdrop and I’m going to be doing a performance. Or if I’m rehearsing, for example, in a racquetball court, which is quite popular for jugglers. They have a white ceiling, and I would need a dark colored ring. But that was the end of my thought process about this object.

When I learned to juggle, that’s just what it was. It was just always there as far as I knew. And even in 2003, when Mister Babache, which is a juggling prop manufacturer from Switzerland, they released this ring. Here, and you can see it’s bigger. Even then, it didn’t spark anything in my mind. I’ve seen bigger rings before. But, the thing was bigger rings, they were not for throwing in the air. They are called spinning rings. So I could spin a ball on my finger and spin a ring around a part of my body on my arm, maybe on my leg, because the bigger size makes it easier to get the right rhythm to keep it spinning.

Even then when I saw this ring, I thought “Ah, it’s a spinning ring.” I just know that you don’t throw this one in the air. But then, in 2004, Mister Babache released this ring. And this ring, it made me question everything because this ring makes no sense. It’s small, it’s too small. You can see that I have very large hands. It’s too small. The weight is very bad. If I want to throw a normal ring, I put a little bit of a spin on it to keep it stable in the air. But this ring, it doesn’t have enough weight. Even if I spin it, it’s kind of light, it bounces around. It doesn’t. I don’t know why it exists. I mean, is there really a big gap in the market for small, child jugglers who are struggling. You know, they are on the street corners, can’t use this, too big or – I don’t know. I never heard about that. I don’t know.

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