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KID STUFF

A HANDS-ON DAY : Jugglers Invite Amateurs and Others to Toss Around Ideas Saturday in Orange

June 15, 1995|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition.

Steve Gerdes has been known to juggle hammers, vise grips and other hand tools to entertain his co-workers. The fact that they wear hard hats during his show doesn't offend him a bit.

By day a Long Beach construction worker, Gerdes by night is president of the Orange Jugglers, a local band of juggling enthusiasts who meet weekly in a Corona del Mar senior citizens' center to refine their juggling skills and swap tricks of the trade. Hard hats, we would guess, are optional.

Though composed primarily of hobbyists, the 55-member Orange Jugglers also includes some leading professional jugglers in the area, including Owen Morse and Jon Wee, a.k.a the Passing Zone, a comedy juggling team that has appeared on "The Tonight Show," in Las Vegas and in top comedy clubs around the country. Jahnathon Whitfield performs at Laguna Beach's Sawdust Festival and presents juggling workshops.

Orange Jugglers is an affiliate of the International Juggling Assn., a nonprofit group started in 1947 that includes about 4,000 jugglers worldwide.

In celebration of the IJA-sponsored World Juggling Day on Saturday, visitors to Irvine Park in Orange will be able to pass the time of day as well as balls, clubs and other juggling props with members of the Orange Jugglers. Instruction in all levels of juggling, plus ongoing demonstrations and informal juggling shows, will be offered from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free; parking is $2.

Gerdes has no aspirations of becoming a professional juggler. It's the health and social benefits of juggling that interest him.

"Some people get kind of a meditative thing from [juggling]," Gerdes said. "I don't experience that too much myself. I like it because it's good exercise and social; it's a lot of fun. Jugglers are just neat, interesting people who are fun to be with."

Though Gerdes didn't start juggling until high school, he says kids as young as 8 can master the basic skills. At the Irvine Park event, newcomers will start by tossing one bean bag from hand to hand, then may work their way to keeping two and eventually three bags aloft. More accomplished jugglers may pick up tips on four- and five-ball juggling and club passing, if they're so inclined. Foam-rubber clubs will be used so "people don't mash their fingers so much," Gerdes assured.

Visitors can also try juggling props, such as the diablo, a spinning top balanced on a string held taut between two sticks; or attempt the devil sticks, in which the juggler performs stunts with one stick by batting it back and forth between two other sticks.

IJA co-founder Art Jennings, 82, has seen the art of juggling, and the public's response to it, change considerably in the 60 years since he first juggled oranges on a vaudeville stage.

"Juggling used to be considered an art for the benefit of the audience, not the performer," explained Jennings during a phone interview from his home in San Antonio, Tex. "Now it's become more of a sport, where performers work for their own gratification."

There has been a huge increase in the number of people taking up juggling as a hobby, Jennings said, largely because of mail-order catalogues selling props and accessories.

"Fifty years ago, there were only a handful of artists who juggled five clubs," Jennings recalled. "Now little kids are doing it."

Besides circuses, variety shows and theme parks, professional jugglers are being seen more frequently in films (the Passing Zone, for example, appeared in "The Addams Family" movie, and the Flying Karamazov Brothers were featured in "Romancing the Stone") and on television. And, noted Jennings, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there's been a sharp rise in the number of Russian jugglers and circus artists now touring the United States.

Professional jugglers, especially in the United States, are more inclined to build acts that combine comedy with juggling, said Jennings, citing the Karamazovs and Passing Zone as examples. Oddball props also are a popular twist.

"There's hardly anything that hasn't been juggled, including cannon balls," Jennings said. "Dick Franco, who does a revue in Las Vegas, was one of the first to juggle chain saws, swords and knives. And W.C. Fields, who was a very good juggler by the time he was 16, even juggled white mice.

"Anywhere the imagination can go, juggling can be adapted to it."

* What: World Juggling Day hosted by the Orange Jugglers.

* When: Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

* Where: Irvine Regional Park, 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange.

* Whereabouts: From the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, exit at Chapman Avenue and go east to Jamboree Road. Turn left and follow Jamboree until it ends at the park. From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, exit at Jamboree and drive north to the park.

* Wherewithal: FREE. Parking is $2.

* Where to call: (310) 497-1097. You can also e-mail the Orange Jugglers at or ngejug lr@aol.com

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IN COSTA MESA: FREE PLAY

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On Tuesday, from noon to 4 p.m., kids visiting the Huntington Beach Central Library, 7111 Talbert Ave., can enjoy stories, music, dance and games from around the world in a kickoff for the library's summer reading program. Activity tickets start at 50 cents. (714) 375-5107.

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