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Never Thrown for a Loss

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The spinning, throwing, laughing jugglers out celebrating their friendships and their sense of fun made it all look easy Sunday.

Gathered in Irvine Regional Park near Orange to mark what the International Jugglers Assn. has dubbed World Juggling Day, they hurled clubs and balls into the air and juggled everything from tops to objects called feather sticks at astonishing rates.

And when they weren’t showing off their latest tricks, they found time and patience to help all comers learn the art they love.

“Anyone can do this,” said Mike Lowry, 21, encapsulating the spirit of the day as he taught a struggling beginner. “You’ve got to think positive.”

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The gathering of perhaps two dozen juggling enthusiasts was like a circus without the rings. There were silicone and bean-filled spheres looping through the air, and girls on unicycles. There was a tall man manipulating a top on a string. There were teenagers and younger children playing a sort of volleyball that jugglers call “volleyclub.”

Juggling seems to attract people with a mathematical or scientific bent, the jugglers said. And indeed, the crowd Sunday seemed to bear out that theory. Amid the devil sticks and rhythm sticks was a group of highly educated engineers, physicists and computer scientists breaking loose and having a good time.

“It’s kind of hard to be mad at anything or at anybody when you’re juggling,” said Frank Nielsen, 43, who juggles on breaks at his engineering job.

Nielsen was one of many people at the gathering throwing around talk of “moments of inertia,” aerodynamics and the infinite variety of juggling patterns. For what Lowry termed “technical people and computer geeks,” who were in the majority Sunday, such chatter appeared to offer relaxation and calm.

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Sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Join the fight against gravity,” Nielsen takes the motto to heart.

“Gravity means seriousness, the weight of the world. I think we’re all here in the fight against seriousness,” he said.

The Orange Jugglers, the 11-year-old club that organized the event, is a tightknit group made up primarily of amateurs. They meet every Friday night at a Costa Mesa community center with, one member observed, “a very high ceiling” to set flying balls and anything else that can be thrown and balanced.

When they are not there, many said they are liable to start juggling anything, anywhere, without notice. Steve Heal, 27, is so addicted that he has juggling paraphernalia in every room of the house--except the kitchen, where he said most available fruit will do.

While Sunday’s event was open to the public, the gathering in the park in an unincorporated swath of county land attracted no novices save for a not particularly agile reporter and a few passersby.

But friendly jugglers eager to share the fun descended on each newcomer, offering lessons, encouragement and advice.

“They are all very friendly, and with a little bit of help and practice I think I can get the hang of this,” said Tim Tunnell, 61, who read about the gathering in the newspaper and decided, along with his wife, to come.

The Laguna Beach life insurance salesman said he took up juggling balls 20 years ago. But Sunday the challenge was juggling clubs, and he spent most of an hour quietly practicing the new twist on what he already knew.

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A few yards away, 11-year-old Jon Sosin was twisting and turning and catching and throwing in a whir of action and color. And Ron Polk, 57, was manipulating his favorite prop, three weighted poles known collectively as the devil stick.

Polk, a free spirit who makes a living traveling around the country and sewing torn upholstery in used cars at dealerships, said he happened upon juggling one day about a year ago in Omaha.

“I saw a street performer doing it, and it just fascinated me,” Polk said. “Now this is my love. I used to do magic sometimes in bars. I think there’s magic to juggling, don’t you?”


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