By Kyle Petersen

Via VisualThesaurus.com

The French have given us many things: the Statue of Liberty, the bikini and of course, the word “juggler”. As Merriam Webster’s dictionary explains, the word “juggler” evolved from the Middle English world jogelour (a minstrel or magician), which came from the Anglo-French term jugleur. This word evolved from the Latin term joculator, a derivative of joculari, which means to joke or to jest. This word, in turn, was derived from the Latin noun iocus, which means “joke”.

The evolution of this word leads us to an interesting conclusion: the first “jugglers” were not jugglers at all. Rather, they were roving performers who made a living telling jokes, singing songs and performing various stunts (which may or may not have included juggling). They were more closely related to troubadours, jesters or minstrels and were not “jugglers” in the modern sense of the word.

Often, these traveling performers were not highly regarded socially, and were known for trickery. It is for this reason that “juggle” has a number of negative connotations. Dictionary.com lists “to alter or manipulate in order to deceive” and “to use artifice or trickery” as alternative definitions.

As this blog has pointed out, the word “juggling” has taken on new connotations in recent years. A quick Google News search for “juggling” will find more articles about President Obama juggling priorities in the Middle East than it will about Anthony Gatto or the International Jugglers Association. In common usage, juggling most often refers to the act of multitasking: juggling family and a career, juggling multiple lovers etc.

Even among those who use “juggle” to refer to object manipulation, there isn’t any consensus as to what the word actually means. Some use the term to refer to “toss juggling”; keeping more objects in the air than number of hands used. Others insist that contact juggling, which often envolves only one object, should be considered “juggling” as well. Still more think that cigar box, devil stick and diabolo should be categorized as juggling.

According to Merriam Website, the word “juggle” first appeared in the English language in the 15th century. If the term seems a little vague to you today, just remember that it’s been that way for nearly 600 years.

Cigar box manipulation is a vaudevillian throwback. Although we can’t say with certainty who first developed the concept of box manipulation, we do know that the art form was pioneered and popularized by the great W.C. Fields around the turn of the century. The first cigar box jugglers used actual cigar boxes (hence the name) which were typically nailed shut. The juggler holds onto two of the boxes and uses them to trap the third box. By turning, tossing, tumbling and flipping the boxes, box jugglers are able to execute a vast array of tricks. Box juggling is a standard part of any gentleman juggler act.

Cigar box juggling reached the peak of its popularity during the height of vaudeville, and suffered a slow decline after the advent of motion pictures. For years the art form had few practitioners until a young man named Kris Kremo burst onto the scene in the 1970s. Kris learned the art of cigar box juggling from his father, Bela Kremo, and the two even performed an act together. Kris is noted for his stage presence, and brought the art of box juggling to a broad audience.

While Kris focused on presentation, former Flying Karamazov Brother Charlie Brown is noted for his technical prowess. Charlie Brown would often perform in jeans and a t-shirt, and was something of a juggling rock star. Charlie’s message was clear: box juggling isn’t just for the gentleman juggler anymore. Even today, Charlie Brown is considered one of the great technical box jugglers of all time.

Like many juggling disciplines, cigar box juggling is experiencing a resurgence on the internet. Thanks to YouTube, the art form has been able to reach a much wider audience than before, and the level of technical ability has gone up dramatically. Of the current generation of cigar box jugglers, Eric Bates, Ryuhan, Tao Wei and Nick Flair stand out.

Brian Dubé’s father started manufacturing wooden boxes in the late 1970’s, and the boxes he made are very similar to the ones we sell today.  We started construction of our polyethylene boxes in the 1990’s.  Our plastic boxes are super durable, our decorated plastic boxes look outstanding on stage, and our wooden boxes have a traditional look and feel that many jugglers prefer. Stacking boxes are designed specifically for the 9 box pyramid stack.

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