What It Takes to Be a Juggler

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2014

By Cole McDonnell

Catawba College


Performance arts are a thriving sector in today’s world and have been since the beginning of time.

While music, dance, theatre and visual arts are the usual suspects in this crowd, there is another face of visual and physical art which is sometimes forgotten or taken for granted – circus.

When merely taking a glance at this astonishing phenomenon, it is difficult for many to fathom the incredible amount of dedication, discipline, talent, and commitment that goes toward creating what is considered the “greatest show on earth.”

One of the staples of the circus enterprise is object manipulation, also known as juggling. Juggling is a combination of dance, balance, imagination, timing, mathematical strategy, physical strength, musical expression and understanding, as well as personal discipline.

My name is Cole McDonnell, a music major at Catawba from Waverly, Pa. I began juggling when I was 10 years old.

I started eager as ever to expand my talents and challenge my mind. I began just like everyone else who first learns how to juggle, with a toss-toss-DROP-DROP. I was determined to accept the failure and push myself to never give up. Now, more than 10 years later, I am still juggling and incorporating this exciting hobby into my daily schedule.

Being a senior in college means that life is quite stressful. Aside from participating in the musical arts programs here, keeping up with friends and family and staying physically active, I find time every day to juggle because it helps me relax. It de-stresses my body and releases any pent-up energy after being in class all day.

The Catawba PRIDE marching band chose a Cirque du Soleil-themed field show for their football games this fall, and this served as a perfect way to show public audiences how juggling can be incorporated into a college-level music program.

What truly never ceases to amaze me is the amount of wonder I can see in the faces of people when they watch me juggle.

Recently, I was hired by a children’s theatre company in Winston-Salem as a juggler for a Halloween festival. Seeing the guests’ eyes brighten up as I performed my tricks was all worth the incredible amount of practice time invested.

Many children have asked me to teach them how to juggle, and I always start my classes with the following quote: “You must learn to crawl before you learn to walk. Then learn to walk before you run.”

This translates to juggling in one word – patience.  Juggling is a skill which requires active participation from both sides of the brain: creative and imaginative; and problem solving and physical awareness. In this case, it becomes an amazing physical and mental workout!

Because juggling is difficult, it serves as an incredible boost of confidence when mastered.

It always amazes me what people learn about themselves when I teach them how to juggle. They always begin by attempting, failing, then giving up almost immediately.

It takes patience and mental strength to pick the objects back up and try, try again.

Most people will say, “I can’t do this,” when in reality, yes, they absolutely can.

I constantly tell my audiences that juggling is like anything else.  You are working towards a goal by practicing a lot. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it certainly opens the opportunities to expand your potential. If you or anyone you know wants to learn how to juggle, I will be offering lessons in Winston-Salem on Nov. 20 at The Children’s Theatre, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. I hope to see you there.

 McDonnell is a member of Catawba’s class of 2015.