By Kyle Petersen

Michael Moschen

Michael Moschen, photo by Brian Dube

Last week, after a performance, an audience member approached me and told me, “that was amazing, I can’t even juggle one ball!” I replied to her that some of the best jugglers in the world only juggle one ball.

I am referring, of course, to contact jugglers. But is contact juggling actually juggling?

By many people’s definition, juggling requires throwing objects, maintaining one airborne at all times. If juggling is defined in this way, contact juggling does not fit the bill.

Merriam Webster, however, provides a broader definition of juggling: “to engage in manipulation especially in order to achieve a desired end.” But what does manipulation to achieve a desired end mean? Under this definition, sleight of hand illusions, playing the piano and driving a car could all be defined as “juggling” Clearly, Webster’s definition is too broad to be of any real utility.

So how do we define juggling? Describing all manipulation as juggling seems excessively inclusive, while restricting the definition of juggling to traditional toss juggling is a little too exclusionary. But is there a middle ground?

Before 1990, contact juggling was a genre in search of a name. Michael Moschen, the godfather of modern contact juggling, preferred to call it “dynamic manipulation”, a term which never caught on. In the 1986 movie The Labyrinth credits Moschen with “crystal ball manipulation”, a term which is inadequate for a number of reasons.  The term “contact juggling” was born when James Ernest wrote Contact Juggling, the first-ever published guide to single-ball manipulation. But that still leaves the question: is contact juggling actually juggling?

The term “manipulation” seems to be a convenient catch-all. Juggling, devil sticks, diabolo, whip cracking and poi spinning all fall under the umbrella of manipulation. There are few who would argue that poi spinning should be considered a form of juggling. So why should contact juggling be classified as juggling?

We are left in a difficult situation. On the one hand, the term “contact juggling” seems inadequate. On the other hand, it seems useless to rename something that already has a name. So is contact juggling actually juggling? Should it be considered a category altogether separate from juggling? Should we leave this mess of confusing nomenclature as it is? Let us know what you think!

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