Juggling Priorities

Juggling Priorities

Liam Desroy tells you everything you wanted to know about the exhilarating, bewildering, bonkers world of the juggling convention. And much, much more...

 



It strikes me hard on the side of the head and I drop to the floor. When I open my eyes again a face is peering down at me – skin stretched tight over its skull and grinning. It comes closer until we are only about ten inches apart and the steam from our breaths mingles. Blinking slowly, it drops the sides of its mouth and begins speaking in a thick West Country accent: It's best to just try and enjoy that bit. Trust me. It' all worth it in the end.
A kid on an arm- powered go-kart clips my heels, a guy with dreadlocks pulls at the neck of an artificial chicken with his teeth and a woman in her seventies walks past trailing a ribbon and dancing out of time to every beat I have ever heard. I’m at the Milton Keynes Juggling Convention, one of the highlights of the UK juggling calendar, and it is, to say the very least, unique.

The convention, held in a local school, is well under way when I arrive, with hundreds of the hardcore enthusiasts having already begun their marathon juggling slog. Balls, clubs and diablos fill the view. The school’s sports hall serves as the main practice room and it’ is bitterly cold, but this will soon change as a blur of arms endlessly spinning, tossing and catching gradually turn the space furnace-hot.

I jolt around as someone shouts my name. It’s Lewis Kennedy, an old friend and my contact here at the convention. He runs up, giving me a warm hug and talking incessantly. ‘Kenny’ is a hyperactive Scot with red, unkempt hair which gives him the appearance of someone who has just stuck their finger in a plug socket. He is completely lovable and has an enthusiasm for life, which, after some time, does makes you a tad loathsome of your own comparably lethargic disinterest in the world. Kenny is also a complete juggling obsessive with a reputation for skilled multi-ball and balance work as well as a training regime unparalleled by even the best in the country.

He has agreed to show me round the convention and introduce me to a few of the more dedicated hobbyists, something he seems keen to do. “You’re the first non-juggler I can remember being at one of these,” he says, walking me through the crowd. “It’s totally crazy. Come and meet the guys.”

He pulls me along, clearly excited, talking fast about juggling and persistently asking “What the Christ are you doing here?” This is a question that will be directed at me a lot in the coming hours, as everybody seems curious to know exactly what a non-juggler is doing at a juggling convention. That is not to say jugglers are unfriendly; in fact I would go as far as to say that they’re perhaps the most welcomingly inquisitive bunch of folk I have ever met. It is just that non-jugglers are not a common presence at juggling events, especially members of the press. My answer is that I like meeting interesting people, interesting characters, and this initiation into the world of juggling, does not disappoint.

The first person to grab my attention is a man I will come to know as ‘Eye Mark’ or ‘I Mark’: (I never do discover whether the name is a primitive expression of selfhood or a foreboding reference to voodoo symbolism. Either would be appropriate.)

He is dressed all in black – boots, jeans and braces – with a Bic-ed head that exposes every dip and bump of his skull. His instrument of choice is the contact ball – similar to a fortune teller’s crystal ball – that he rolls with effortless grace around the upper parts of his body. Every movement he makes is unsettlingly slow and controlled, like he’s waiting for something. And plotting.

To his right is a man in his late sixties with thick glasses and a grey beard. In his mouth is a large fake cigar and in his hand, a cane. With sufficient skill he tosses between the two a plum-purple bowler hat, which performs various spins and loops as it passes from object to object. My favourite of his tricks is when he balances the hat, on its rim, on top of the cigar, before flicking his jaw to send the hat leaping into the air, to land back down, perfectly on top of his head.

Throughout the room some younger men zip around on anorexic sidewinders, dodging between hula-hoopers, lasso-twirlers, knife-jugglers and poi-spinners. Looking around, I try to find some unifying aesthetic in the room but it doesn’t emerge: age, height, race and sex are all hugely varied. Among the usual array of khaki trousers, straight-cut jeans and vest-tops, slogan t-shirts seem particularly popular. Amusing wordplay mingles with blunt juggling-related statements: ‘Ninjas and Juggling’, reads one, another says ‘I am the European Juggling Convention’. And then there’s simply ‘Fuck Gravity’.

The purpose of the convention never becomes entirely clear. It’s a kind of shared learning experience and oddball festival of talents at the same time. I’m told perhaps fifty times throughout the day that it’s not competitive, that it’s not about ego. I’m not so sure: the jugglers are often seen stealing sideways glances, watching out for tricks that upstage their own, everyone keen to outdo their neighbour – albeit in a very nonchalant way. This is evident both during scheduled classes and events like ‘Devil Stick Skill Swap’, ‘Origami Class’ and ‘Learn Mill’s Mess’, and during the headline attractions – an informal competition known as The Games, and the much talked about Show that is set to close the occasion.


Kenny leads me to a group of boys in their early twenties who stand at the centre of the room with huge piles of small white balls by their feet. They’re dressed differently from the rest of the room, wearing gym-type sports clothing and no shoes. They’re a group of elite jugglers who, along with Kenny, form the British juggling tour de force known as Team Shreddie Crunch.

It’s a love-hate relationship, he says, gazing after her, but mainly love. Travelling together to attend conventions, performing shows and filming DVDs, Team Shreddie Crunch are quickly establishing a reputation as one of the world’s more talented juggling collectives. As I shake hands with the team, Kenny reels off each person’s unique skill and talent level, which makes everyone blush in turn. The team already have a lot of accolades under their belts, including numerous world records, but their skill-set is quite focused, the group putting the majority of their efforts into juggling a high number of balls in ridiculously complex patterns. These patterns all have long, confusing names which identify the number of beats that balls spend in the air. Such tricks sound more like maths problems than flamboyant entertainment. 


Shreddie Crunch are all also adept at ‘passing’. Passing varies greatly in terms of what it involves but, in general, it consists of people stood several feet apart, in twos or threes, exchanging balls or clubs in patterned sequences. The number of people and the equipment involved is limited only by imagination, of which jugglers lack none. The act is noticeably intimate: like dancing, it’s about connection, being in synch with your partner or partners. All around the room people are already pairing up – approaching friends or strangers – taking their stances, locking eyes and beginning to try and match their rhythms.





I decide to start my day off by visiting some of the workshops in order to witness juggling forms in more segregated environments. Up first is a hula-hooping session, but the school’s corridors are difficult to navigate and I end up lost in the girls changing rooms.

“Hello. Are you looking for someone?” A girl about my age has emerged in the doorway looking inquisitively at me. Her skin – silk pale – is clasped tightly in blue sportswear and, along with a glissade-light step, it lends her the image of a sleek dolphin. In her hand is a hula hoop.

After my stilted explanation of what brought me to the girls’ room, she smiles and says that we can find the right room together. I ask if she thinks I’ll look weird going to a workshop just to watch. “It’s impossible to look weird at a juggling convention,” she assures me. Unbeknownst to either of us, I’m about to put this hypothesis to the test.

The class is practically all girls, the majority either in their early teens or over-sixties – neither of which casts a particularly great light on me as I sit to the side with my hood up, unsure of where to look as participants twirl and float around. I keep note-taking to a minimum during this session and keep my camera, most definitely, in my bag.

Throughout the day, music is played through speakers in each of the rooms – music which, whether planned or not, always seems to be perfectly suited to the context. When I arrived at the convention for instance, drum and bass blasted out as everyone got their game faces on, warming up and getting pumped for the day ahead. Here, in the hula class, it’s ‘90s pop.

After a while Dolphin Girl comes over to me – hips gyrating, ring spinning around her midriff – and offers me a spare hoop. With a smile she says she’ll teach me, if I like, how to hula like her. The offer fills me with dread. I’m uncertain which I find more terrifying – the fact she’s spoken to me again, or the prospect of exposing my unyielding failure in all things that might require some vague level of coordination and/or rhythm. I attempt a feeble excuse, but she insists, shifting the hoop up to her neck and causing her head to sway from side to side. When I flatly refuse she looks hurt, and glides off back to the group. I feel rude and wonder if I’ve broken some juggling etiquette. Maybe my flagrant self-consciousness is bad form at a convention where freedom to express and explore are key elements.

Suddenly, two hands are shoved in my face. “Never alone.” A boy’s face peers over the interlocked fingers, wide- eyed and intense. He repeats the phrase with a profound sincerity: “Never alone. I regret getting it done so close to the convention. It still hurts but it’s okay. It was worth it.” On the inside of his middle fingers he has the words tattooed in black ink. I’m a little taken back by such a direct approach to a social interaction – no pleasantry or introductions, just straight in at the deep end. He grins and pats me on the shoulder: “Or maybe ‘alone never’? I don’t think it matters. You decide!” A girl comes over and they begin to play-fight; she tickles his ribs, gently mocking him before dashing off to the exit, teasing him to follow. “It’s a love-hate relationship,” he says, gazing after her, “but mainly love.” He gives me one more grin before giving chase to the girl.

A man with sideburns has made a sphere out of four hoops that he balances on his forehead whilst juggling three clubs. He spins one club extra high and allows the sphere to drop around his body before catching the falling plastic in the palm of his hand. Everyone claps. Dolphin Girl now spins two hoops; one around an outstretched leg with the second drifting up a raised arm in a strangely hypnotic aquatic-rodeo pose.



After the class I get speaking to two men back in the main room. One is called Kevin and the other, whose name I miss, wears a pink t-shirt with the phrase ‘Jugglers. Politer than your average hippy’ on the back. They tell me that jugglers are very active people: “they’re not happy just sitting around watching TV,” Kevin says. “You get a lot of kite-surfers and outdoor types, generally a lot of really smart people. In the ‘80s we got a lot of mathematicians. These days it’s a lot of science guys. All active minds.”

Looking around I see the room has upped a gear. Everyone is juggling an increased number of balls, clubs and sticks. The concentration on faces is intense. In every set of eyes you see a brain furiously engaged, clicking along with entranced focus on every toss, catch and drop, as high tempo jazz pumps out into the room. These are indeed busy minds. After a while though, you see a break. Through success or failure, a person will become bored of the task at hand. So they mix it up. They change apparatus, switch passing partners or combine skill-sets; doing everything they can to occupy their own attention. I see people juggling on skateboards, balancing chairs on their faces, even sling-shotting clubs into the air to be caught on their feet.

The only people who seem to have stuck with their craft are Team Shreddie Crunch. Together they send pattern after pattern of five or seven ball combinations arcing above their heads, weaving blurred shapes high against the sports hall roof. They have the same intent expression on their faces, the same wonder and focus, but they take it further. They approach juggling as a sport: methodical and persistent, with a professional’s regard for diet and physical condition. “If you do it all, you’re good at nothing,” one of their members explains. “But if you focus on just one thing, you never know what you can achieve.”



As befits the setting, being at the convention is, at times, like being back in high school. There are definite cliques amongst the juggling social structure; style, attitude and fashion all apparently determined by the juggling skill of preference. Poi spinning hippies, contact juggling Goths, and club-whirling IT boffins can all be seen vaguely grouped in corners of halls and rooms, but it’s at the unicyclist’s workshop that I see the most defined of these sub-groups.

Walking into their session, I see them all in a circle, sitting nonchalantly on mono-bikes, skate shoes perched upon pedals. Many of them wear bobble-hats and hoodies, a few swig energy drinks or chew gum. None of them talk much. The only one not acting like this is a shy looking boy in a yellow t-shirt who constantly twitches his fingers.

The only girl in the room is a tom-boy with red hair who bears a passing similarity to Hayley Williams. The boys all sneak glances at her as she walks by, particularly the one in the yellow t-shirt. The music for this occasion is soft rock and, occasionally, hip hop.

In the centre of the room, a rakish looking grunge-kid attempts to get onto a monster of a unicycle, well over head height. After a few close calls he pops up onto the seat and starts rolling back and forth to general applause. After jumping down he walks off to get a drink, gently prodding Hayley in the side as he does so. She looks after him through her fringe, seeming impressed and blushing.

The unicycles here are not like the silver, thin silver things you see on television; they have morphed into cut-up BMXs with fat tyres, thick treads and frame work that you couldn’t link thumb and finger around. They’re not for poise and delicate balance, but for tearing around car parks and performing jump tricks. These aren’t for tight ropes; these are for the skate parks.

The boy in the yellow t-shirt now steps into the centre and picks up the giant unicycle. He looks nervous. He doesn’t know how to get on from the ground so he drags it over to the monkey bars on the side of the room and begins climbing up. He swings a leg over onto a pedal, inching himself out onto the saddle, sweating profusely. A few eyes are shifting in his direction. The other foot meets a peddle and he tests the motion. Everyone, including Hayley, is watching now. You see his chest rise as he takes a breath, holding it long inside his lungs. He lets go of the bars.

His head must be over ten feet up above the wooden floor as he rolls out into the centre, turning awkwardly, looking anything less than stable. After what seems to be an eternity he teeters around in a tight circle – threatening to fall at any moment – before making it back to monkey bar safety. Applause.

The rest of the session drags a little. The unicyclists stand around with vague adolescent awkwardness, no one particularly keen to share or learn. One guy – a Team Shreddie Crunch member – tries to demonstrate a few performance-based tricks, but no one pays much attention. Every now and again someone rides along and does a bunny hop spin, attempting to see how many rotations they can get the bike to do before their arse lands back on the seat. If I watch them for too long they stop what they’re doing and stare back at me until I turn away. I decide it’s time to move on.

As I leave the room I see Hayley on a unicycle. The boy in the yellow t-shirt now holds her hand as he guides her round the room in vague circles. The grunge-kid has retreated to the other side of the room where he devil sticks alone.




The buzz around The Show is picking up. Kenny runs up to me excited; apparently the performances are set to be first rate, with two members of Shreddie Crunch participating. We walk through the crowd for a bit, ducking underneath stray clubs that come flying our way, stepping over five year olds who chase each other in karts. A diablo screams across the room and thwacks me on the hand – I barely flinch anymore at such occurrences.

Kenny is pointing out more people, giving me a run down on what they do and what their style is, but I can see he’s getting fidgety. He keeps looking across to his stash of equipment in the middle of the room. I tell him to get off and go juggle, I’m fine. He hesitates for a moment, then dashes off, picking up five balls and juggling them whilst bouncing a football on his head.

The rest of Shreddie Crunch have told me that, out of all of them, it’s Kenny who is the most obsessed. Back in his hometown of Leeds, he rents a squash court every day so he can practice, putting in a minimum of two hours per day during the week. On a weekend he does spends anything upwards of three, four or even five hours. The effort he puts into his training rivals that of many Olympic athletes, he is unrequitedly committed to his love of juggling.

Looking around now I see that pretty much everyone is involved in some form of passing. The majority are in pairs but a couple of bigger groups have formed off to the side, one containing six people – I stop and watch for a moment, attempting to see how the pattern works but it begins to hurt my head so I carry on through the crowd.

I had spoken to Kevin earlier about passing relationships and he told me how they could be quite complicated little things, especially abroad where it was often seen as an exclusive relationship: “In the UK people are very liberal with their passing partners,” he said whilst watching two inexperienced young girls clumsily pass balls back and forth, dropping them regularly but giggling whenever they did so. “In America they’re a lot more faithful. They pick a partner and only pass with that person.” There is also apparently no way of knowing who will form effective partnerships: “You can put the best two jugglers in the world together and they might not be able to pass well together. Something might just not click.”

To my right I can see Dolphin Girl passing back and forth with a slightly older man. He says something whilst they juggle that makes her laugh. Over behind them I see a couple who have stopped juggling, who just hold the clubs in their hands whilst hugging each other, rocking back and forth, shifting weight from one foot to another. I stare for a long time and they do not break the hold. Both have their eyes closed.

The only person I can see in the room not involved in some symbiotic act is a dark- haired girl who stands to the side, spinning a parasol as a ball runs across its surface. Her eyes never once leave the ball as it dances atop the paper folds. Her expression is far away and glazed over and when I walk past I hear that she’s humming to herself, completely oblivious to anything around her.



I’m stood outside catching up on some notes. The night is drawing in and shadows have begun closing together. I stamp my feet to keep warm, hurriedly scribbling, aware that soon the main events for the evening are set to start. A man approaches me, dressed in baggy clothes with broken teeth lining the bottom of his jaw. He asks if I want to join him for a joint. He speaks with a strong French accent and his eyes roll back in his head. When I reject his offer he begs me to come with him, telling me that he’ll be lonely. When I reject him a second time he pretends to cry, rubbing at his face in mock despair. “I will call my mother! I will call her! She will keep me company,” he screams. “Wait! I have no money to call France. I am poor. I will be alone. I will be all alone.” I hurry back inside, past a room where a man is showing a group of young boys how to use a whip, and along a corridor where the unicycle boys are filming one member as he bunny-hop-spins around with his headphones in.



Back in the main hall, a man with sideburns grabs a mic and the music cuts. Everyone stops juggling. It is time for The Games. The Games is the only point in the day that is highlighted as having a vaguely competitive element. It is also the part of the schedule which people have a habit of apologising for, as if competition is a dirty word, against the ethos of juggling. People are unresponsive at first, reluctant to come and take part, but gradually Sideburns coaxes them up.

The Games are a sort of highly skilled performance demonstration but structured in the manner of children’s party games. They range from simple, ‘see how long you can keep going’ formats, to some outright bizarre visual treats. Highlights include ‘Juggling Limbo’, where competitors frog shuffle underneath a lowering bar whilst keeping three balls in motion; Diablo in a Basket, where one person stands blindfolded with a basket on his head as competitors attempt to whip the lethal lumps of plastic with enough accuracy that they land inside; and Hula Hoop Gladiators. This pits men, women, boys and girls against each other in a furious battle to see who can keep their hoop going for the longest. It’s a viciously beautiful game, and I now pray daily that it makes its way into the cultural mainstream. There are no apparent limits on how you might halt your fellow jugglers hooping, and physical contact is very much encouraged.

“Hoopers at the ready!” Sideburns hollers over the speakers. Hoopers begin the motion, starting rings spinning round necks and waists in slow, purposeful circles. Eyes narrow. “Hoopers, battle!”

They converge into the centre. Everyone moves in slow, graceful arrows of attack. Hands and feet whip out to strike at opponents, bringing ringed delight crashing to sad, static fate. The casualties come thick and fast; many blindsided as they weave in and out, struck down from behind. One giant of a man strides through the throng, kicking and slapping at unfortunate children who are unlucky enough to come within range. I scour the melee for Dolphin Girl, wondering if it might be she who takes the crown, but she’s nowhere to be seen.
 
It’s not long before only two people are left: the giant and a girl in her late teens. They lock stares, moving side to side in an off-kilter shuffle. They both have their hoops at their waists but his lofty advantage sees his flash towards her face. Their hips bounce back and forth, each daring the other to make their move. He goes in. His hoop drops low and their extensions collide with a crash and the crowd gasps. But neither hoop drops.

As he turns away, swaying off in a lunging retreat, the girl sees her opportunity and pounces. But it’s all a ploy. As she nears, he sends around a wheeling back kick which strikes hard upon her hoop, sending it slamming up into her face. She is defeated.

The crowd whoops at the spectacle, an echo of deafening delight at this most excellent of duels. The giant bows his thanks and goes to receive his chocolate bar prize from our sideburn-ed host.

I turn to the person to my left, commenting on the fine display we’ve just been treated to, but I realise that it’s the French stoner from outside. He’s facing the wrong way, attempting to juggle three balls at once, and failing.

The Games continue in this fashion for over an hour, with many variations on these themes. Some games are clearly more respected than others, with the multi-ball endurance events holding a particular prestige – events that see Team Shredded Crunch harvest more than their fair share of sugary snacks. There ‘s also a similar gladiator event, except the participants are mounted on unicycles, fighting to knock each other off. With one guy on the monster unicycle it’s all I can do to watch.



It is well and truly dark outside now. My brain feels fuzzed from an overload of colour and oddity, but there is still one more thing on the day’s schedule. I’ve been blown away so many times today that I cannot imagine what could possibly impress me now. But, Kenny assures me, The Show will do just that.

The hall of jugglers begins to clear out; placing rings and spinning plates back in to bags, disassembling various strange creations that have materialised over the day. Everyone is reluctant to leave, dithering around to the annoyance off the clean-up crew. Bodies look worn out – forearms pumped, faces drained – but people are still reluctant to leave.

I stand around as Shreddie Crunch wipe sweat from brows, counting their balls to check none have gone astray. They look satisfied, nourished from their juggling feast. A few of them have told me how hard it is to get a place to practice, especially in the winter months, and how infuriating it can be when their skills go unused. One of the team, a world record holder, tells me how it is all he can do to keep his skill level from dropping, let alone improve. As he talks I can see how pent up he gets just thinking about it. I ask him what he’s training for, what he eventually hopes to achieve. He looks a little confused and doesn’t answer.

The clean-up crew start shepherding the stragglers out the door. We pick up our packs and head for the exit. As we reach the door I turn to look upon the mess of sandwich packets and drinks cans left strewn across the floor. The hall is now empty, devoid of people and colour. Empty, that is, but for the lone figure of the Frenchman, who stands in a corner spinning poi, repeatedly striking himself in the face.



It’s time. We arrive a little late and have to perch on the benches at the back, the exhibition room already full with hundreds of eager juggling enthusiasts. The room is filled with the smells of fish and chips as hungry hobbyists munch away the day’s exhaustion. The lights drop down low. The compère steps onto the stage, sporting a red neckerchief and ‘Britney mic’. “Ladies and Gentlemen....welcome to The Show.”

Prior to today, my experience with juggling shows had always been on television, where variety shows and carnival tours wheel out glittered entertainers who breeze through impossibly difficult routines, calm and collected, without the slightest of faults. The Show is very different.

From my limited perspective, the worst thing a juggler on stage can do is drop something. To do so is to fail, to break the illusion of perfection. So when the first item hits the deck I gasp in shock, horrified that it has all gone so wrong so early. But everyone else is unaffected, and the only eyebrows raised are in my direction for my curiously rude expression. The performer onstage simply picks the dropped item up off the floor and continues, only to drop it again a few moments later.

It’ is an occurrence that is common in most of the acts, almost everyone dropping at some point, as they attempt to land tricks in the higher bracket of their skill level. After all, this is a juggling convention: the audience is not made up of five year-old children or snoozing royals; these are the geeks of the pastime, and it takes a lot to impress them. As such, perfection is not an the aim;  it’s all about landing the big one, whittling out that one moment which snatches silence across the room.

But it is not just the tricks that merit respect from the eager-eyed audience, the age-old craft known as stage presence is also under close scrutiny, with performers adopting various guises in order to best showcase their skills. There are the bumblers who stumble around, tripping over their feet; there are the cool cats who do everything with a certain nonchalance, and then there are the full-on characters, costumes and all – alter egos that lend an air of dramatics to the night.

One Shreddie Crunch member tells me that stage characters tend to be an expression of a person the performer longs to be – a representation of the inner self that is normally hidden away. In some cases, this is slightly worrying. The man with the whip, for instance, who lunges around onstage erratically battering everything he sees; smashing flowers and bananas whilst dressed in a seedy Latino suit. Or the return of Eye Mark (or ‘I Mark’, I never did find out) who slides into view wearing a thigh-scraping leather kilt which makes me extremely grateful not to have a front row seat. His eyes are stretched demonically wide and his movements suggest some sort of sexual gratification from the rolling ball. This brief experience forces me to conclude that, whilst female contact jugglers are supple, graceful and delicate, male contact jugglers are just plain creepy.

Despite my gut instinct to cringe whenever a ball or club hits the deck, The Show produces some first-rate routines – one involving a unicycle, a tightrope and three large knives is particularly noteworthy – but, for me, the show peaks when Shreddie Crunch team member, David Leahy, peeps unwillingly into view.

Starting with just three balls, he builds up through a series of complex patterns and rhythms. The rest of the team sit beside me, calling out the names for me to write down. “6*”, “5 ball-back-cross”, and “5 ball-half-shower”: names which I furiously scribble down until I’m overwhelmed by the torrent of tricks. Casting the pad aside, I stare transfixed as he steams through the overwhelming repertoire. And then comes the coup de grace: nine balls. As the crowd pounds the floor with their feet he sends the balls up high into the rafters with dizzying speed. As they come plopping down, every single one finds its home in the form of an outstretched hand. The crowd go wild.

Everyone is out of their chairs. I can barely make out faces in the blackened room, but I know all the people I’ve met are there – clapping and whooping in genuine delight at what they’ve seen, hands pounding together, as David, overwhelmed by the response, mouths back his thanks.

But this is not the end. The clapping doesn’t seem to stop, blending instead into a new performance, and as I look back to the stage, there is a new figure upon it. A figure I recognise. A figure of red, clad in a corset and mask, swaying before me with her looped extension circling her body. It is Dolphin Girl. I can barely bring myself to clap as she brings her foot into the air with the hoop spinning fast. She raises her hand to unleash the second ring, which rises up to the very tip of her fingers, threatening to fly off into the crowd. But it doesn’t. It holds its place on the friction balance of skin; dancing on round and round, her face aglow in the pulsing light as the audience sends out its love.



Lights flick on in the hall to reveal weary faces pulled and stretched with smiles; hands numb and red from the slap of plastic and the pounding off applause. The day is over. Everyone is saying their goodbyes, congratulating efforts made, promising a return to the next convention. No one seems sad, merely grateful for their time in this juggling blanket. A few swap numbers, others embrace, many fiddle with now idle equipment that is soon packed away into the bottoms of rucksacks

Team Shreddie Crunch leave together, piling into a car for the long drive back up north, returning to their practice rooms – living rooms, squash courts, fields and halls – where they will perfect patterns and routines, explore new tricks, and await the moment when, once again, the jugglers will be united.

With thanks to the Milton Keynes Juggling Convention

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