Below is an article that first appeared in JUGGLE magazine.
Many jugglers stumble into performing without much formal training. One frequent result is that they may not know how to take full advantage of the music with which they perform. Here are some ideas on how to begin to juggle to different types of music. If you can juggle with the music, you are not just juggling; you are dancing with your hands.
In several ways juggling is similar to dancing and drumming. In all three activities most people create intricate variations with only two limbs. For dancers it is two feet, for jugglers it is two hands. While some drummers with full drum sets use all four limbs, conga and other types of drummers use just their hands.
In all three activities, the order in which you can use your limbs is limited. For any given beat there are four possibilities: 1) do nothing, 2) do something with the right limb, 3) do something with the left limb, or 4) do something with both limbs together. For the following beat, and all subsequent beats, the performer is still limited to the same four choices: 1) nothing, 2) right, 3) left, or 4) right and left together.
Of course, drummers increase their options by choosing which drum to hit and varying the intensity with which they hit the drum(s). Dancers decide in which direction and how large a step to take. Jugglers can alter the position of the hand(s) and the direction and height of the throw(s).
When juggling three balls or clubs the most common patterns alternate throws between the right and left hands. The equivalent foot movement would be regular walking. First you move your right leg, then you move your left leg. The dancing, the artistry, comes with the differences in how you move your legs. Compare the differences between a regular three- ball cascade and Mills Mess. Both patterns involve right, left, right, left throws. With Mills Mess you can see how the elegance of dancing translates to juggling.
The siteswap pattern 423 utilizes the throwing order right, right, left, left. The lower body equivalent of this would be skipping, where the person jumps twice off the right foot, followed by twice off the left foot. Hip hop dancers also frequently use this twice-in-a-row style of dance step. Juggle Burke's Barrage and you can see that limiting the throwing order to right, right, left, left does not confine you to only one pattern. Crossing and uncrossing your arms, while maintaining the 423 throwing order, creates an interesting, intricate variation.
Count to four out loud over and over again: “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.” Notice that you tend to say the “one” louder than the other numbers? After saying the “one,” people tend to say the “two” relatively softly. Recovering from the soft "two," there is a stronger emphasis on the “three,” although it is not as strong as on the “one.” People naturally soften the “four” in order to come in strongly on the next “one.”
The written version of this type of natural emphasis might be: “ONE, two, Three, four, ONE, two, Three, four.” Much of our music demonstrates this tendency to emphasize the “one” and the “three” beats.
Now try counting to four over and over, and this time accent the “two” and the “four” beats. Written, it might look like: “one, TWO, three, Four.” In music this is known as a backbeat. This type of syncopation keeps the music interesting. Count in this fashion often enough and you may fall into a reggae groove.
Different styles of music accent different beats. Even though the various styles may share a 4/4 time signature, the way in which the musicians accent different beats and backbeats within this time signature makes the phrasing distinctive and exciting. Dancers represent these differences by varying the size and frequency of their steps. Strong beats show as large, bold steps. Milder beats are represented by smaller steps. Some musical beats are treated as pauses for dancers.
Jugglers can do something similar. Vary the height and intensity of the throws to match the music, and the audience will see more than a juggling show. They will see Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire entertaining them, while juggling.
The following exercises are based on the idea that you can claw-catch a ball in about one half of the time it takes to catch a normal, cascade throw. Trying to accent, and hear, the catches between high cascades and low claws will allow you to juggle in various. rhythms.
Ballroom dance instruction is frequently given as a series of slow and quick steps. A slow step usually represents twice the amount of time as a quick step. Sometimes other words, syllables, or phrases are used instead of slow and quick. The goal is to have the dancer say, hear, and move in the rhythm of the music.
A good example is the cha-cha. The basic beat is “ONE, two, Three, four.” However, the distinctive cha-cha rhythm comes when adding a half-beat between the “three” and the “four.” You get this rhythm by counting out three quarter notes followed by two eighth notes. You may be familiar with the chant: “One, two, cha-cha-cha.” Another way to express this rhythm is “One, two, three-and-four.” The “and” is the half-beat between the three and the four.
Actually, ballroom dancers count this a bit differently. They begin the count on the second beat of the measure. For ballroom dancers, the count is "Two, three, four-and-one, Two, three, four-and-one." The "four-and-one" phrase is the timing for the distinctive triple step of the cha-cha.
Using the quick and slow terms of ballroom dance instruction, the cha-cha can be verbalized as slow, slow, quick-quick-slow. Notice there is a full beat between the final slow beat, and the first slow of the following measure.
It takes ten steps to run through a complete cycle of a cha-cha.
1) Step with your right foot for a full, slow beat.
2) Step with your left foot for a full, slow beat.
3) Small step with your right foot for a half quick beat.
4) Small step with your left foot for a half quick beat.
5) Small step with your right foot for a full slow beat.
The next set of five steps begins with the left foot.
6) Step with your left foot for a full slow beat.
7) Step with your right foot for a full slow beat.
8) Small step with your left foot for a half quick beat.
9) Small step with your right foot for a half quick beat.
10) Small step with your left foot for a full slow beat.
The ten steps can be seen as two repeating sequences of five steps. With two feet this means that you alternate the lead-off step for each measure. The dance goes back and forth between “right, left, right-left-right” and "left, right, left-right-left.” Try it out, "right, left, tri-ple-step, left, right, tri-ple-step." You will be dancing a cha-cha in no time.
When juggling three balls, the slows can be represented by a slightly-higher-average cascade throw. The quicks can be fast claws, plucking the balls out of the air before taking up the same amount of time as a regular cascade. Also, keep in mind that the differences between each juggler's high throws and low claws are relative.
There are other ways to transfer the quicks and slows of ballroom dance to juggling. When juggling clubs you could throw single and double spins to distinguish different times. Cigar box manipulation has built in stops that make it easy to vary the rhythm.
You don't have to throw claws to distinguish between the quicks and slows. Simply varying the heights of the throws is sufficient. Also, you may choose to claw-catch a ball, and turn your wrist over for the throw. The hints given below are suggestions.
To juggle a cha-cha try throwing “high, high, claw-claw-claw.” The "claw-claw-claw" is the juggling equivalent to the dancer's triple step. The final claw is thrown higher than the first two claws. This high-claw throw represents the full count between beats one and two.
As your feet alternate the lead off sequence when dancing, the hands change after each measure when juggling. The first sequence is “right high, left high, right claw, left claw, right claw.”
The next cha-cha sequence is “left high, right high, left claw, right claw, left claw. Then the sequence begins with the right hand again.
The Foxtrot is danced in 4/4 time. There are four beats to each measure. The primary accent is on the first beat. A secondary accent is on the third beat. Count "ONE, two, Three, four," over and over.
The rhythm of a foxtrot is slow, slow, quick, quick. The slows last for two beats, the quicks last for one beat. This means that that it takes one and one-half measures, six beats, to complete one slow, slow, quick, quick.
Traditionally, in ballroom dance, men begin with the left foot and women begin with the right foot. Juggling doesn't have that strong a tradition, although most people probably begin juggling with the right hand. The tips for the cha-cha began with the right hand. To mix things up, let's begin the fox trot with the left foot and left hand.
To dance a fox trot:
1) Step forward with your left foot on a slow beat.
2) Step forward with your right foot for another slow beat.
3) Step to the left with your left foot on a quick beat.
4) Close your legs by stepping to the left with your right foot on the second quick beat.
Since a fox trot consists of an even number of steps, you always begin the next sequence with the same foot.
A good way to practice the fox trot rhythm is to just walk in a straight line, and keep the beats. All steps are forward.
Left foot forward, slow.
Right foot forward, slow.
Left foot forward quick.
Right foot closes up to left quick.
Begin a new sequence with the left foot forward, slow.
Repeat slow, slow, quick, quick as you walk, and you will be dancing.
Try the same rhythm while juggling three balls. Begin with the striped ball and a white ball in your left hand. The black ball is in the right hand.
Toss the striped ball as a regular throw out of the left hand to the right for a slow beat.
Cascade the black ball out of the right hand for the second slow beat. Claw-catch the striped ball in the right hand.
Throw the white ball out of the left hand, and quickly claw-catch the black ball in the left hand. This is the first quick beat.
Throw the striped ball out of the right hand and claw-catch the white ball in the right hand. This is the second quick beat.
Notice that it is the sound of the catches that makes the rhythm. Regardless of how high you throw a ball, catching it with a claw lets you decide when to make that percussive quick sound.
Since the repeating pattern takes four throws, and you are juggling three balls, the balls rotate through the different accent points of the rhythm. Notice that the next sequence of slow, slow, quick, quick begins with the left hand throwing the black ball up high, rather than the striped ball. You can watch the order striped, black, white fill this high toss of the left hand at the start of each sequence.
If you would like to dance a foxtrot with some devil sticks you could try a half-flip, half-flip, no flip, no flip sequence over and over. The taps on the center stick should provide a nice sound to see if you are keeping a steady beat.
A waltz is played in 3/4 time. There are three beats to each measure. Count "ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three" over, and over and you will have it.
While the one count lasts the same amount of time as the other two counts, it is usually accented more strongly than the two or the three.
If you know how to juggle Mills Mess, put on some waltz music and begin juggling that pattern. If the tempo of the music comes close to matching your throwing speed, you will find that you will begin to naturally waltz the balls around to the music.
If you don't yet know how to juggle Mills Mess, try a regular cascade. Begin with the striped ball. Throw the striped ball a bit higher every time and you will also find a waltz rhythm.
Rumbas are usually written in "cut" time. In cut time half-notes are the basic units rather than quarter notes. Musically, this means that rumbas are written in 2/2 time, rather than 4/4 time. Since the throws and catches we make as jugglers are relative, this distinction isn't that important. The rhythm of a rumba is slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick.
To walk a rumba step slow forward with your right foot.
Quick-step forward with your left foot.
Follow this with another quick forward step with the right foot.
Now the sides switch.
Step slow forward with your left foot.
Step quick with the right foot.
Step quick with the left foot.
Begin with the first step to continue.
To juggle a rumba begin with a striped ball and a black ball in the right hand, and a white ball in the left hand.
Toss the striped ball out of the right hand with a high cascade. This is the slow.
Throw the white ball out of the left hand for a quick, and claw-catch the striped ball.
Claw-throw the black ball from the right hand. Claw-catch the white ball in the right hand, the second quick.
Just as in walking, the next three beats begins with the left side, instead of the right.
Cascade the striped ball with a relatively high toss from the left hand to the right, the slow. Catch the black ball in the left hand.
For the quick claw-throw the white ball out of the right hand, and claw-catch the incoming striped ball in the now-empty right hand.
Follow this with another quick by claw-throwing the black ball out of the left hand and claw-catching the white ball.
Keep going and you will see that the striped ball is the only ball that you throw with a high cascade.
Say the slows and quicks softly to yourself and notice if your hands are keeping the rumba beat.
Forgetting about the differences between the actual dance steps, rhythmically the salsa can be looked at as a variation of the rumba. The salsa rhythm is quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow.
For both the salsa and the rumba there are two quicks and one slow. If you delay a rumba by one beat, effectively shifting all the beats over, you change from slow, quick, quick, to quick, quick, slow.
Rumba: slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, quick,
Rumba starting on second beat: quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick,
Salsa: quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick,
Notice how the salsa and the shifted rumba line up?
Point this similarity out to ballroom dancers, though, and they may stop shaking their booties and begin shaking their heads. I suspect an important distinction between the two dances is that, as discussed above, first beats are usually accented more strongly than second beats.
Walk a salsa by stepping forward with your right foot for a quick.
Follow with a quick step with the left foot.
Continue forward with a slow right foot.
Switch things to the other side and continue with a quick left foot.
The right foot steps forward with a quick step.
The left foot follows with a slow step.
If you begin juggling with the customary striped ball and black ball in the right hand, and white ball in the left hand, you will find that it is always the black ball that gets thrown higher than the other two balls as the slow cascade throw.
Throw the striped ball out of the right hand to the left. This is the first quick.
Toss the white ball from the left hand to the right. Claw-catch the striped ball. This is the second quick.
Cascade the black ball out of the right hand. Catch the incoming white ball. This is the slow.
Just as when dancing a salsa, the sides switch for the next three beats when juggling.
Throw the striped ball out of the left hand. Claw-catch the black ball.
Throw the white ball from the right hand to the left hand. Claw-catch the striped ball.
Cascade-toss the black ball out of the left hand into the right hand. Catch the white ball in the right hand.
Remember the children's song Bingo? The words are:
"There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
and Bingo was his name-o."
It turns out that one way to learn a tango rhythm is to spell the word tango as if it were the famous canine Bingo. (Or was the farmer named Bingo? I could never tell.) In any event try spelling T-A-N-G-O to a tango beat.
Tangos are written in 4/4 time. The rhythm of a tango is slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. (If you would like to count it out with numbers it would be: "One, Two, Three and, Four." The amount of time you spend saying "Three and" should equal the amount of time you spend saying any of the other numbers by themselves.) This is similar to a cha-cha. One of the differences between the two dances is the order of the steps. In the cha-cha dancers constantly alternate between stepping on the right foot and left foot. This means that every sequence of five steps begins with a different foot.
For the tango men always begin each five-step sequence by stepping with the left foot. This is accomplished by not putting weight on the left foot for the fifth step, the final slow. The left foot slides up to the right foot for the fifth step, and then steps forward again for the first step in the next sequence.
Women traditonally begin the dance with the right foot, and begin each sequence with the right foot.
Walk a tango by stepping slow forward with the left foot.
Follow with a slow forward with the right foot.
The left foot makes a short quick step.
The right foot makes a short quick step.
The left foot slides up to the right foot with a slow step. Remember to keep your weight on the right foot, as the next step will also be with the left foot.
The dance continues with the left foot repeating the next sequence of five steps.
Slow with the left.
Slow with the right.
Quick with the left.
Quick with the right.
Slow with the left.
When juggling a tango begin with the striped ball and the white ball in the left hand, and the black ball in the right hand.
Throw the striped ball from the left hand to the right hand with a high cascade for a slow.
Toss the black ball from the right hand to the left hand. This is the second slow beat. Catch the striped ball in your right hand.
Throw the white ball out of the left hand and claw-catch the black ball in the left hand for a quick.
Throw the striped ball out of the righ hand and claw-catch the white ball. This is the second quick.
Fountain or column-throw the black ball from the left hand back to the left hand. Catch the striped ball in the left hand. This is the final slow.
The pattern repeats by throwing the striped ball from the left hand to the right hand for the first slow in the next series of five steps.
It may be helpful to repeat "slow, slow, quick, quick, slow" to maintain the rhythm.
Keep juggling and you will notice that you only throw the striped ball on the first of the five throws. The fountain throw from the left hand back to the left hand alternates between the black ball and the white ball.
Some resources that I found useful in preparing this article are:
Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing by The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing Revised by Peggy Spencer, NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, IL, 1975.
The Complete Book of Ballroom Dancing, Richard M. Stephenson and Joseph Iaccarino, Doubleday, New York, NY, 1980
Christy Cote, Dance Instructor at the Metronome Ballroom, was quite helpful in clarifying several confusing questions I had.
copyright 2006 by Todd Strong