Running An Active Juggling Club


Juggling for pleasure has never been so popular - there are now thousands of people who have discovered how much fun it offers as a hobby. One proof of this is that nearly every big city now boasts at least one juggling club - just see the long list at the end of this magazine.

Would you like to meet more jugglers in your local area? Going to a successful juggling club is probably the best way. Could your meetings be improved? If there isn't one locally, then have you considered starting up a club yourself? How?

This article offers some tips based on experience gained through running my university juggling society and two different town clubs. Of course, this can never be complete guide. Write to Kaskade if there is an idea that has sparked new energy into your local club.

Starting a Juggling Club

Find a venue offering: a high ceiling; space; a central location; regular availability for more than one hour on the same day and time every week; good lighting; no breakable objects and a reasonable rent.

The organiser is responsible for booking a room and being there every week to actively 'run' the club. A set weekly time and place is crucial because only if there are regular meetings will people rely on the club always happening, even if they have missed a few sessions. I have found that choosing one of Monday to Thursday nights works well as this leaves the weekends free.

We find that a 7pm start is early enough for kids to come on their own, and yet late enough that everyone can have eaten properly before going out. My club finishes at 9pm, but often overruns.

When and How to Launch a New Club

Hosting the first night at the start of a school or evening class term is a good idea as this is when people often look to join a new class. Publicise the launch of your club with the help of the press and entertainment listings. This involves telephoning the paper and/or writing a press release. Posters and flyers strategically placed in local libraries and shops (especially those selling juggling balls) will also be needed to spread the news. Clubs in higher education are a special case as the Societies Fair will be the best pace to target potential members.

The Cosmos Juggling club in York was launched with an opening night show. This attracted a large audience and was a successful tactic. If a show is not easy to organise locally, then think of a special opening publicity event, such as inviting a professional juggler and members of the juggling club in the next town to bring their equipment and offer lessons or demonstrations.

Club Fees and Equipment

We make a weekly collection midway through the evening when there is the highest attendance. There are two rates, for waged and unwaged people. Some clubs have membership (although this can be difficult to monitor). Aim to raise enough to at least cover the hall hire, buying, maintaining and replacing equipment and your photocopying costs.

A start-up kit with which to teach beginners is essential (we use a workshop bag of beanbags and juggling scarves). It's worthwhile making a bulk order to qualify for a discount on buying good quality equipment that will last. Clubs are certain to be well used and are probably a better investment for a new society than say, more expensive items such as a unicycle. In universities and schools it is often possible to apply for a grant from a societies start up fund. You'll lose less if there is a policy of no loans of club equipment (or perhaps just to those you can trust to return it quickly and in good condition).

A Friendly Atmosphere

Be approachable and always welcome newcomers. Offer to show them something new, explain about use of any club equipment and that they should feel free to ask anyone for hints. It is important to encourage people to mix so that cliques do not develop which could alienate the timid. Remember how disconcerting it felt when you first entered a room where everyone was passing clubs when you had only just learnt a 3 ball cascade!

Play music and invite everyone to bring quality recordings of tapes they enjoy practising to.

Workshops

Make the effort to teach a beginner's class every week. It is important to nurture a steady flow of new talent if you want to see your club grow. Giving good basic tuition with plenty of fun and praise is a skill in itself. I find that nearly everyone over the age of about 7 can learn the cascade with three light scarves if taught step-by-step for an average of 20-30 minutes. Of course, ball juggling will take most people longer than a single practise session. I introduce beanbags with controlled body throws and warn impatient beginners that it might take them as long as learning to ride a bike or to swim

If the club is run by a big committee, then often no one person will have a strong incentive to teach and therefore the commitment to making the club really successful is diluted. Arguably, things work best if there is someone in charge and if the club fees earn enough to pay the more experienced members small amounts to teach.

Classes on all the different juggling skills, passing and unicycling can be run by whoever is the local expert at that prop or, occasionally, by invited teachers. By offering a moderate payment (e.g., 5 - 15, plus expenses) the teacher will put more effort into thinking about their explanations and everyone will benefit. Workshops are a good way of getting people of different ages and abilities to meet each other.

A Club Newsletter

We keep everyone informed by writing a club newsletter which lists the specialist workshop programme, nearby conventions, new circus shows, cabaret dates, where to buy equipment or go on courses, a 'for sale' column, and any special events such as a club picnic, charity show or night out.

Games

Games are a great way to end a club. Gladiators, where the winner is the last one left juggling, is a popular challenge. Everyone can join a game of 3 ball gladiators and it is worth playing a few rounds of relatively easy games before moving on to the more exclusive clubs or numbers contests. Competitions to juggle 2 balls in one hand always have a high take-up. Relay races, three-legged joggling, balancing competitions and long distance passing are other well-known juggler's games.

Offers to help are always gratefully appreciated, whether to teach, pack up or maintain equipment, run the games, bring music, collect club fees, write and copy the club newsletter, distribute publicity, organise a special night or charity event with a juggling show, run the club when others are away or even just to lead people to a good pub afterwards!


Anna Jillings 1994