How Plate Spinning Works

Tricked-out Plates

A boy in Tibet practices his plate spinning while adding a little complexity to the trick.
A boy in Tibet practices his plate spinning while adding a little complexity to the trick.
© Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images

At its simplest, plate spinning most commonly features a single spinning plate balanced on a stick. That's where all novice spinners begin. But it doesn't take long before most begin incorporating fancy new moves into their repertoire.

The Australian catch, for instance, is when the spinner tosses the plate into the air and then flips the stick, landing the plate on the opposite end of the stick. Spinners might throw both the stick and the plate into the air and then catch them again, or pass the plate between their legs, or even transfer the plate from the stick to index fingers.

They might balance the stick on their chins and let go entirely. Or they might balance the plate in one hand while juggling multiple balls with their free hand. More experienced spinners add more and more flourishes to their routines, making a difficult act that much harder.

Plate spinners are typically side acts in a larger show, so they don't achieve much in the way of celebrity. One plate spinner, though, took his act from the side of the small stage to the international spotlight. His name is Erich Brenn, and he's the best known dish spinner on Earth.

Brenn made a name for himself thanks to his eight appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in the 1950s and '60s. With his bow tie and huge smile, Brenn was one of the most memorable variety acts on the show, in part because his frenetic pace kept audience members on the edge of their seats.

Perhaps his most notable act included spinning five glass bowls perched atop tall sticks while spinning eight plates on their edges. To maintain the spinning, he raced about the stage deftly adding momentum to each object just before it was about to wobble and fall to the floor. It was an anxiety-inducing set — one that seemed destined for failure at every moment— but somehow Brenn was just speedy enough to keep each dish from plummeting to a broken end.

In 1996, a spinner named David Spathaky set the world record for number of simultaneous spinning plates. With an assistant handing him plates one after another, Spathaky rested the plates on dowels and, with a flick of his wrists, sent them spinning for minutes at a time. He reached 108 plates before his feat crashed to a halt.