How Juggling Works

By: Jonathan Strickland

Other Forms of Juggling

Two jugglers practice contact juggling.
Two jugglers practice contact juggling.
Photo used under the GNU Free Documentation License

While most people think of toss juggling when you mention the word juggler to them, there are many other object manipulations that the term covers.

Contact juggling is a recent art form in which the juggler manipulates one or more balls through constant contact with his body. Popularized by juggler Michael Moeschen, who performed the contact juggling in the film "Labyrinth," the art requires finesse and control. One important concept in contact juggling is isolation. Isolation is the illusion that the ball stays in the same space no matter what the contact juggler does. An accomplished contact juggler can roll a ball across his body in smooth, gliding motions that seemingly defy gravity.


Another popular form of juggling is the manipulation of devil sticks. A devil stick is a rod that is slightly wider at the ends than it is in the center. The juggler keeps the devil stick in the air using two control sticks. Jugglers can toss devil sticks back and forth, twirl them around like a helicopter's blades and perform several other impressive tricks.

The diabolo is another favorite prop for jugglers. A diabolo is a spool that a juggler manipulates using a string tied to two sticks. A good juggler can spin the diabolo very fast, performing tricks like complex throws, grinds and loops on the string or even on the sticks themselves. Diabolos are sometimes called Chinese yo-yos.

A performer balances on a rola-bola while juggling.
A performer balances on a rola-bola while juggling.
Photo used under the GNU Free Documentation License

Plate spinning is yet another form of juggling. Jugglers balance spinning plates on rods, tossing them in the air and catching them again. Some plate spinning routines require a dozen or more plates all spinning at the same time.

There are several other acts of dexterity that fall under the juggling category, including balancing on a rola bola -- a board sitting on top of a cylinder -- or standing on the top of a freestanding ladder with no other support. Many jugglers incorporate balancing acts in their performances. Often you'll see a juggler balance a club on his chin or spin a ball on a rod while toss juggling other props.

Some toss jugglers feel that these and similar activities shouldn't be categorized with juggling at all. While they admit that performing these feats and tricks takes skill and practice, they say that it just isn't juggling. However, historically people have used the word "juggle" very loosely for all sorts of skillful displays. It's likely the boundaries of what people consider to be juggling will continue to grow as people find yet more ways to astonish audiences with prop manipulation.

To learn more about juggling, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "juggler." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 9 July 2007.
  • Bebko, James et al. "Acquisition and Automatization of a Complex Task: An Examination of Three-Ball Cascade Juggling." Journal of Motor Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2003.
  • Beek, Peter J. "Timing and Phase Locking in Cascade Juggling." Ecological Psychology. Vol. 1, No. 1, 1989.
  • Beek, Peter J. and Lewbel, Arthur. "The Science of Juggling." Scientific American, Vol. 273, No. 5, 1995.
  • Cohen, Steve. "The Juggling Girls of Tonga." Whole Earth Review, Spring, 1988.
  • Juggling Information Service
  • JugglingWorld
  • Kalvan, Jack. "Optimal Juggling: The analysis and over-analysis of juggling patterns." 1996.
  • Lewbel, Arthur. "Research in Juggling History."
  • Santvoord, A. A. M. and Beek, Peter J. "Phasing and the Pickup of Optical Information in Cascade Juggling." Ecological Psychology, Vol. 6 No. 4, 1994.
  • The Internet Juggling Database
  • The Silver Man's Contact Juggling Page
  • Voss, Jochen. "The Mathematical Theory of Juggling."
  • Voss, Jochen. "The Physics of Ball Juggling."
  • World Juggling Federation