Fifteen-year-old Jason Garfield, of Seattle, likes to be among his own kind, and this week he is.
Garfield is one of more than 1,000 jugglers from 50 states and several foreign countries expected at the 43rd annual festival of the International Jugglers Assn., a five-day event of workshops, performances and competitions being held at UCLA.
On Tuesday morning, the opening day of the event, Garfield felt at home among the 25 jugglers on the floor of Pauley Pavilion as they practiced their routines with a rainbow of clubs, rings and balls cascading above their heads.
At the west end of the floor, near the free-throw line, Garfield's eyes were fixed on an invisible point above his head as he juggled seven clubs, which look much like bowling pins. His arms and the clubs blurred as he quickened his pace to send the blue and gold clubs from his hands into an arc above his head. He brought them down--three in one hand, four in the other--without a spill.
Garfield began juggling at age 11. Two years later, he won the junior juggling championship in Denver. This year, he has qualified to compete in the senior's competition.
The festival is the one time of the year that Garfield gets to mingle with other jugglers, whose skills range from beginner to advanced. Not only does it provide an opportunity to learn from others, but it does wonders for his self-esteem. Here, he is understood.
"When I practice in Seattle, I practice by myself at a YMCA . . . and there's just these people there stretching, not juggling or anything," he said. "Most of them don't like me being there because they think juggling is for clowns and circuses and whatever.
"But then I come here and people watch me and they say, 'Wow, you're good.' "
In this country, juggling has evolved beyond its vaudeville and circus roots. Festival participants say it is a performance art that nets big fees at business conventions and at private parties. Jugglers have entertainment careers in nightclubs, on Las Vegas and Atlantic City stages, and as opening acts for celebrities.
"Everyone associates it (juggling) with clowns and circuses," Garfield said. "That's something I'd really like to get rid of because I don't plan to be in a circus or on being a clown. My goal is to get a steady job on a stage, maybe in Las Vegas."
Still to come in the five-day festival is the senior individual and team juggling championship to be held today at 7:30 p.m. at UCLA's Royce Hall.
"Joggling," a 4-year-old sport of running and juggling, will be featured at the Drake Track Stadium at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Jogglers will compete in 100-meter, one-mile and five-kilometer events, as well as a one-mile relay race. Those in the know expect records to be broken for both the 100-meter and the one-mile joggling events. The records now stand at 11.9 seconds for the 100-meter and 4 minutes, 43 seconds for the one-mile event, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Also on Saturday, other contests and demonstrations at Pauley Pavilion will start at 1:30 p.m. Representatives from the Guinness Book will document any records set at the demonstration. The festival will end with performances from world-class professional jugglers in the New Vaudeville Revue at 8 p.m. in Royce Hall. All events are open to the public.