The Future of IJA Juggling Competitions
By Jack Kalvan - 2006 (updated 6/30/07)

I love juggling. I've now been juggling for over 2/3 of my life and I've done it professionally for the last 15 years. I also like watching other jugglers, especially if they're good. I've gone to every IJA convention for the last 22 years (as well as many EJC, WJF, and numerous regional fests). At many of those conventions and festivals they've held competitions, which I have either competed in or helped judge.

The IJA's competitions are the most visible and controversial feature of the IJA Festivals. I know a lot of you think the competitions are great as they are, but try to read this through with an open mind before trashing it.

Whether you consider juggling an art or a sport, I think we can all agree that all juggling is a form of "entertainment". Sometimes we are entertaining a paying audience. Sometimes we are just trying to impress other jugglers. Sometimes we are just entertaining ourselves. Juggling can be different things at different times. It depends on how you do it.

The IJA wants to encourage all kinds of juggling and provide a venue for good jugglers to be recognized for their efforts. This applies to polished juggling acts, aspiring performers, and non-performers who just do really hard tricks.

First we have the young technical jugglers who are constantly busting out crazy new tricks. They are pushing the limits technically and creatively. They live and breathe juggling. They post videos on the internet. They don't have polished juggling acts. Many aren't even interested in performing. But they are on the cutting edge, they are inspirational, and they are the future of juggling.

For these hot tricksters, we created the exciting and new Extreme Juggling Competition. Here, the top technicians take turns showing off their best tricks in rapid succession. Polished presentation is not emphasized. Costumes and choreography don't matter. There are no "acts" or "routines". All that matters is pulling off the most outrageous, insane and extreme trick within the time limit. This competition has been very succesful so far. We expect it's popularity to continue and to help inspire a new generation of young jugglers to join the IJA.

Next we have aspiring performers who have put together a short juggling routine with some prop. I believe the IJA's Individual Prop Competitions are the perfect venue for them to showcase their routines. Here competitors perform a two-minute routines to music using a basic single props (3 balls, 3 clubs, 1 diabolo, 3 boxes, 1 devilstick). For each prop, routines are judged on "technique, performance, and originality". This is a great competition because it encourages the development of a performable bit of juggling. I think it could still be polished up, but the basic idea of short routines competing with the same props is good.

Maybe the IJA could also provide other opportunities for aspiring performers to have their acts critiqued by professionals. That would be useful for jugglers developing their acts.

Finally, we have jugglers with polished, performable acts. When longer routines are performed for an audience, juggling becomes an art, as in "performing arts". The IJA Stage Championships has been the most controversial of the competitions because judging art is subjective and sometimes difficult. Some say the problem is with the judges. Some say the problem is that the rules aren't specific enough about what the judges want. I say the biggest problem is that we are comparing apples and pickles, and trying to decide which is best.

Since juggling is a performing art and these acts are supposed to be entertaining in some way, these acts should be judged on their entertainment value. Some acts are entertaining because they perform really hard sequences of tricks without dropping. Some acts are entertaining because they are funny, and some acts are entertaining because they are graceful or creative and perform skills you've never seen before.

Which kind of performance is best is a silly question. There are many places jugglers can perform and different kinds of acts work better in different venues. Different audiences like different things at different times. Variety is one of the great things about juggling. It's a #$%& variety art! Choosing one type of performance as more desirable than another will only stifle the creativity of jugglers and make all the jugglers look more alike.

There are jugglers who do many different styles of juggling well and I want to see them all, and I want to see all the good acts get rewarded. So, instead of judging vastly different acts against each other and arbitrarily chosing one to get the one gold medal, I think multiple gold medals could be given to reward acts that excel in different areas. Good judges should be experts in these other areas of performance as much as they are experts on juggling.

I think the IJA should reward good juggling performances, not just good technical juggling. Other competitions, such as those at WJF conventions, reward pure technical juggling and they are, in my opinion, boring. I'd much rather see technical juggling (and sometimes non-technical juggling) incorporated into an energetic (or at least interesting) performance.

Gold medals could be given for categories such as:

Innovative Presentation of Juggling
Best Comedy Juggling Act
Technical Virtuosity
Artistic Excellence
Most Creative New Ideas
People's Choice / Audience Favorite
Quality Team Juggling Act (Passing Zone Trophy)
Best Up-and-Coming Performer (under 18)
Most Inspirational Young Female Juggler (if you like the current Flamingo Award)
Most Unbelievable 9-year-old

These awards could be given at the end of the convention to the best acts that performed in any of the stage shows throughout the convention.

And in case there are still jugglers who feel they still aren't getting duly recognized for their juggling, there is still the Numbers Competition and the numerous fun events on Games Day.

If changes like I've outlined here are made, I think the IJA conventions will be a much more popular, and jugglers of all types will be able to get the recognition they deserve.

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