Juggling Trick Taxonomy 

This is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done. Well, besides playing Magic: The Gathering professionally. Or being my highschool’s official Dungeon Master. Never mind. This is pretty low on the list. It is perhaps the nerdiest juggling thing I’ve ever done. Below is a taxonomy of juggling tricks. I was inspired by Dariel Fitzkee’s list of magical effects from his book The Trick Brain. His list is comprehensive and aspirational (his list includes things like sympathetic reaction and penetration, two things magicians rarely experience but really want to). I thought it was a great idea and was surprised (not really) that juggling didn’t have something similar. 

What Is A Taxonomy? 

A scheme of classification. Each part of the Taxonomy is called a taxon. 

Why A Juggling Trick Taxonomy? 

Juggling shows can be boring. Really boring. On my last cruise contract I must have heard a hundred different guests say they wouldn’t be attending the show because “An hour of juggling?”. After all, how different, really, are your ball, ring, and club juggling routines? In my own work I used to have two tricks in the show that would be classified under the taxon balancing

Balancing (remain upright; club balance)

They were both good tricks and I was happy with both of their presentations. At the top of the show I would open with the Herringbone cigar box balance and it was well received. Later in the show I would balance a fishbowl on a juggling club on my chin and juggle three clubs. A more exciting trick with a much higher level of difficulty. The jokes were better and I thought it was just better all around. However, it always got a smaller response than the cigar box balance. The audience had already seen me balance something so it wasn’t as impressive the second time, even though I had more elements, better jokes, and a more difficult trick. When I starting thinking about having only one of each kind of skill in the show I realized that they were basically the same thing. I cut the cigar box trick and made sure I didn’t have any other balancing things in the show. I also I didn’t repeat any skill in the show (one juggling routine, one balance routine, et cetera) and my show improved. 

I didn’t have a Juggling Trick Taxonomy then. Like most comedy jugglers I realized that I had too many balance tricks in the show by trial and error or some measure of instinct. The reason for having a Taxonomy is two fold: it simplifies and codifies juggling tricks to make it easier to talk about them and change the structure of your show & when you make a system for something it invites the expansion of the system. If we start to categorize tricks we can start to look for new categories. 

All juggling tricks can be into sorted into one of these 11 taxons. Most juggling tricks involve more than one of these things if you look hard enough, but the purpose of this particular taxonomy is to break down the juggling tricks into their core concepts. It’s looking for the thing that sets the trick apart from other tricks. Take for example, the Herringbone cigar box balance. Technically it would encompass both Balancing and Creation.

Balancing (remain upright; club balance)

Creation (change object(s) into another; the herringbone) 

 However, I would classify it only as Creation because that is the part of the trick that separates it from balancing a club on your chin. Taxonomies allowed for sub-classifications so I’d sub-classify it as a Balance. Similarly you can’t perform the Ass Catch (Catching) without Throwing but the thing that separates the Ass Catch from say, the three ball cascade, is the catch. 

                          The Taxonomy

Throwing (force into a particular position; knife throwing

Catching (intercept and hold; the ass catch)  

Bouncing (rebound once, or repeatedly; head bouncing

Balancing A (object remains upright; club balance)

Balancing B (performer remains upright on object; unicycle)

Balancing C (performer(s) remains upright on another performer(s); acrobalance)

Exchanging (give or receive one thing in place of another; 

ball transfer trick)

Elimination (remove object(s); stacked cigar box knock out)

Destruction ( change object(s), cannot be reversed; 

balloon mouthstick trick)

Creation (change object(s) into another; the herringbone

Transposition (change in location; club transfer

Transformation (change in appearance; color changing rings

Attraction (adhesion; magnet clubs

2 thoughts on “Juggling Trick Taxonomy 

Add yours

  1. Would it be useful to separate balancing into two taxa, i.e. balancing yourself (unicycle, roll bola, slack rope) and balancing something else (club, rowboat, pool-cue)?

    I think the audience perceives these as two classes differently enough that having a fishbowl balanced on a stick trick and doing the Texas Skip Rope on a unicycle in the same show will be seen as different enough as to not detract from each other.

    I also think your taxonomy is a REALLY useful way of thinking about the variety of tricks in an act.


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