Playing with fire

Juggling club hones skills in circus arts

Alex Perren is president of Queen’s/Kingston Juggler’s Club.
Alex Perren is president of Queen’s/Kingston Juggler’s Club.
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Alex Perren juggles on a unicycle in Banff, Alta.
Alex Perren juggles on a unicycle in Banff, Alta.
Juggling cigar boxes involves jugglers exchanging several wooden boxes.
Juggling cigar boxes involves jugglers exchanging several wooden boxes.
Poi are balls attached to a cord, and swung in rhythmic patterns.
Poi are balls attached to a cord, and swung in rhythmic patterns.
Diabolo is a spool designed to spin on a string, attached to two sticks.
Diabolo is a spool designed to spin on a string, attached to two sticks.
The manipulation of devil sticks — the baton controlled and thrown by two control sticks — is a form of juggling.
The manipulation of devil sticks — the baton controlled and thrown by two control sticks — is a form of juggling.

Most jugglers aren’t adverse to flesh wounds.

“[You use] a special club with a torch on the end. You light it and make sure it’s not dripping too much,” said Alex Perren, president of the Queen’s/Kingston Juggler’s Club.

Perren, Sci ’12, has juggled since high school and said he hasn’t had any dangerous encounters with fire.

“I’ve caught the wrong end before … but you just throw it right away.”

Members of the Queen’s/Kingston Juggler’s Club were nervous to attempt juggling fire at first, he said.

“It was pretty fun to watch.”

While Perren hasn’t incurred any injuries juggling fire, the same can’t be said for knives.

“I hurt my toe,” he said. “I wasn’t wearing shoes and dropped one.”

The Queen’s/Kingston Jugglers’ Club was created in 1992.

Last year, the club juggled at the Earth Hour Fire Show in downtown Kingston.

At 8 p.m., lights were shut off, and fire-breathers performed while the juggling club tossed flaming clubs, Perren said.

The club also performs at local hospitals, including St.

Mary’s Hospital.

But what do juggling performances entail?

“Music is usually involved. There’s typically two or three of us, but sometimes we perform alone,” Perren said. “We each have a mini-act, and sometimes we’ll pass between each other.”

Oftentimes, the juggling club incorporates the audience into its performances.

“Sometimes we’ll bring up an audience member, and juggle clubs around them, or have them throw a ball into the pattern,” he said.

The club practices and performs toss juggling, bounce juggling and contact juggling.

Toss juggling is the most common, involving the throwing and catching of objects in the air. Bounce juggling requires that objects are bounced off the ground and contact juggling entails the manipulation of an object in contact with a juggler’s body.

Since its inception, the club has maintained an annual membership of between 10 and 20 members from both the Queen’s and Kingston community, Perren said.

This year, the club has 12 official members.

“We take anybody who shows up,” he said. “Everyone sees it at clubs night, and we usually get 20 to 25 people at first … then it dwindles. We probably have five to six regulars.”

Most members are Queen’s students, but the club has also included RMC students and Kingston residents, Perren said.

The club even includes families — this year a father and son team joined.

A membership fee of $10 helps to cover the cost of juggling and circus equipment, which the club supplies for its members.

“We get a lot of supplies cheaper at juggling festivals,” Perren said.

Unicyclists are also welcome in the club — a skill that can be combined with juggling.

“It took a while to get used to … there’s a lot of falling over. I want to improve, its still a little sketchy,” Perren said. “It draws a crowd though.”

Juggling offers several perks to participants, Perren said.

“It’s a great distraction to studying,” he said. “It’s a great stress reliever … juggling is a very satisfying skill.”

Last term, exchange students from Sweden, the United Kingdom and Japan wanted to get involved in the Queen’s community and did so by joining the club, Perren said.

Perren himself doesn’t have any formal training in juggling.

“I picked it up myself when I saw someone on TV in Grade 9,” he said. “I was kind of bored and thought it’d be kind of cool.”

The following summer, at the Halifax International Busker Festival, Perren bought his first set of clubs.

He later incorporated juggling into summer busking gigs in Banff, Alta.

He said the best part of juggling is the gradual improvement in skill.

“I love being able to see something being done, and then actually accomplishing it,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to juggle five clubs, and I’m now at the verge of where I can comfortably juggle five clubs.” Though he’s primarily self-taught, he’s more than happy to teach interested jugglers, he said.

“Anyone can juggle, even people who say they aren’t coordinated,” he said. “If you’re dedicated and follow the right steps, you can learn to juggle three balls in a two hour meeting.”

According to Perren, the public reaction to juggling is largely positive.

“Most people love it,” he said, adding that AMS groups at Queen’s have asked the club to participate in team-building and icebreaker exercises.

Aside from performances, members of the club also attend festivals.

This year, Perren and four other members of the club attended the fifth-annual Turbofest, a weekend juggling festival hosted by the Quebec Circus School.

Over 500 jugglers converged in Montreal for the festival from Jan 7 to 9.

“It’s an awesome festival, probably one of the best ones in Canada,” Perren said, adding that the festival attracts international talent.

The Montreal festival featured performances and workshops led by Russian and Parisian jugglers.

Most attendees are North American, Perren said. Other attendees include locals, circus school students, and students from other university juggling groups including members from the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo.

“This year there was a big group from New York who were at the event,” Perren said.

During the festival, Quebec Circus School has a space open 24 hours for anyone who would like to show off their juggling talents.

“A lot of people don’t sleep all weekend,” he said. “They just keep juggling upstairs.”

— With files from Jessica Fishbein

Meetings are held on Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. in Wallace Hall in the JDUC.

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