The art of club swinging involves directing the movement of two clubs to form graceful and striking patterns. As well as being very beautiful to watch, this circus and gymnastic skill improves coordination and strengthens the muscles of the shoulders, arms and chest. Swinging is extremely healthy! Club swinging has the added benefits of being creative, stimulating and great fun. Try it and see.

The superb visual appeal of club swinging will probably have encouraged you to read this book. An advantage of this skill is that, although there are many club swinging patterns and combinations, a beginner can become proficient within a relatively short time. It need only take a few months as opposed to years to learn to a good standard. This step-by-step guide assumes no familiarity with the basics of club swinging and movements build in their level of difficulty from simple to more demanding patterns. Selected tricks are also linked to pole spinning which is the naturally related skill of manipulating a long staff.

I discovered club swinging through an interest in juggling. Swinging is a good stretch and warm up before juggling and I found that I enjoyed the unbroken flow of club swinging in comparison to the different challenges involved in keeping many objects in the air during toss juggling. Because there are only two props, it can seem easy compared with other juggling forms and therefore club swinging helps to build confidence.

A Short History of Club Swinging

Modern-day club swinging has its roots in Indian club swinging, which was devised long ago in central Asia. The skill was originally practiced as a martial art form. Heavy clubs were swung and used as fast moving weapons for close combat. Indian club swinging was, therefore, first taught as a component of military drill to train warriors and to improve the suppleness of their wrists for fighting.

Club swinging later developed as a way of demonstrating skills and improving fitness. By the turn of the century, pairs of clubs were in common usage in Europe and America as exercise aids. This form of recreation was popular with classes of both sexes and club swinging was once even part of the American core physical education curriculum. The apparatus used then was carved from dense hard woods and old fashioned equipment weighs much more than today's moulded plastic clubs.

As well as improving coordination, the motion of club swinging is of value due to the strength and flexibility it helps to build in the upper body. In particular, full-arm swings will stretch and open up the shoulders and mid back. This is particularly beneficial as these areas are prone to tightness due to every day stress and tension. So, although club swinging is very energetic activity, it can become a relaxing and meditative pastime. There is a soothing aspect to club swinging and small clubs are still sometimes used by physiotherapists to cure mild wrist sprains.

Swinging is usually performed in the clubs' section of the Olympic sport of Modern Rhythmic Gymnastics. Women gymnasts practice with lightweight equipment and their routines often include some extremely high throws. These throws free the hands and body for other movements. Within a short time you should take a risk by occasionally throwing the clubs and thereby integrate toss juggling with your club swinging.

Club swinging was reintroduced to jugglers in America by Michael Moshen and Allan Jacobs. Allan won the US Nationals competition at the 1983 International Juggling Convention with a club swinging and juggling routine, thus inspiring many other jugglers to learn. He is a good teacher as well and his video on club swinging really helped my own technique.

The popularity of club swinging in Europe continues to spread. Swiss performers such as Sören Nossek and Gerda Saxer have influenced the growth of interest in club swinging as a performance skill. In Britain, John Blanchard (Ultravision), Rachel Henson (who trained with the Peking Opera) and the rhythmic gymnast, juggler and dancer Kati Ylä-Hokkala (of the Gandini Project) all use intricate club swinging movements in their shows.

Fire Swinging

Fire torch swinging in the dark is extremely attractive. To the onlooker, someone swinging with fire appears to burn rounded pathways in the darkness behind the torches. This effect was my main motivation to learn club swinging. At that time, I was performing with the Oxford fire troupe FireNoise. The show needed reliable and dramatic routines and our group fire swinging provided a wonderful spectacle.

When you start using fire, safety should be always of paramount concern. I include a chapter dedicated to the use of fire which gives advice on the correct fuel and essential procedures for outdoor fire practice and performance (pages 80 - 82).

Ultraviolet Light

Safer, but just as dramatic and impressive as fire is the use of ultraviolet (uv) or black light, with fluorescent and luminous equipment. Moving trails can be given different colours and the effect produced can be quite magical. I include hints on how to perform with this medium on pages 86 - 88. You need an audience to appreciate uv and soon you will find yourself in demand.

© Anna Jillings 1994