As a working mum with two small children, multi-tasking is my middle name. You want a healthy packed lunch made up in less than 30 seconds while I send an email, feed the dog and read the toddler a story? No problemo! But, juggling tasks is one thing – and juggling balls is quite another.
I admit I’m catastrophically cack-handed. My hand-to-eye coordination has always been way below average. If there’s a cup to be broken, a toy to be tripped on or a door to be walked into – I’m your gal.
At school I was the kid nobody wanted on their rounders, cricket, netball, hockey, badminton, tennis (I could go on) teams. I was so bad at catching, hitting and throwing that even the Stalinist games teacher (after doing her best to teach me) plucked out her beard in frustration and banished me permanently to the bench. Worryingly though, the latest research shows there’s a direct correlation between poor physical coordination and a child’s mathematical ability. True to form, my maths is even worse than my ball skills.
So when Ian McKellar, CEO and founder of The Jugglebox, a company that teaches circus skills to families and runs school programmes and corporate events, offered to teach me how to juggle in one lesson, I was game – but realistic.
‘I’ve taught a complete novice to juggle three balls in four-and-a-half minutes,’ he laughs when I warn him of my total lack of dexterity. ‘But everyone’s different. Your ability is based on your brain’s capacity to pick up and process the movements. It’s dependent on your character and your left and right brain communication.’ I nod sagely, wondering how long it will take this optimistic father-of-two (who’s been juggling for 30 years) to dissolve into a jellied heap as my total lack of talent confounds his fail-safe system.
We start with the basics. One ball, one throw, no catching. Simple. I use my left hand to throw the ball from below my navel – up into the air, a foot above my head. And I let it drop. But for some reason (my clumsy butter fingers), the ball has a life of its own. It goes zinging off in all directions, a bit worrying considering I’m having the lesson in a coffee shop (it was either that or the office). Several broken crockery pieces and apologies to the manager later, I finally manage to get the ball above my head, only for it to come down with a plop on my crown and knock off my glasses. But all Ian sees is progress. ‘Well done! You reached your objective point (the space above my head). Now we’re ready for stage two.’
I gulp as he suggests I catch the ball in my right hand, rather than let it fall to the ground. But after several mad throws that send a couple of diners ducking for cover, I manage and shout a surprised ‘Hooray!’
‘Good work! Remember, juggling is about throwing – not catching. Your hands will catch the balls as long as you throw them to the correct point. Now, let’s try with two balls.’
After the first couple of tries (during which I retrieve a ball from a pitcher of juice on the café’s counter) something peculiar happens. My left hand reaches out and smartly catches without me even realising. One minute I’m throwing, and the next minute, the ball’s back in my hand. Cor!
‘Brilliant! Now you’re performing five tasks in four seconds. You’re looking, throwing, looking, throwing and catching. Your brain is adjusting!’ declares Ian proudly. I check my watch and am surprised to find that we’ve only been going for about 30 minutes. Not bad.
We practise for a while and I manage to catch two balls (amazingly) without much effort. Then we move onto three, and things go a bit pear-shaped. Two elderly Lebanese gentlemen sitting dangerously close, gruffly tell me that they hope I won’t be charging them for my performance as a ball lands deftly in their sugar bowl.
But after an hour, I can throw three balls and catch two – a total of eight movements in four seconds. I still need to work on the third – practise makes perfect. I’ve realised juggling isn’t about speed, it’s about being strategic. If you throw the ball high into the air, you have plenty of time to chuck up another two and catch the first and second ones again before they hit the ground. Clever, eh?
We end the lesson there, not because my time is up, but because my brain is feeling exhausted. ‘You’ve really exercised it – feeling drained after a lesson is perfectly normal,’ remarks Ian. And frankly, I’m also worn out from running around and picking up stray balls every few seconds, too. But, I’m also feeling really triumphant. What Ian has managed to teach me in 60 minutes – no-one else has been able to teach me in 35 years. Quite an achievement. Now, where’s that maths book?
What is The Jugglebox?
The Jugglebox runs a series of shows for schools that reinforces learning principles through theatrical lessons. The Healthy Chef Show uses juggling, conjuring and unicycles to teach students the benefits of a balanced diet. Juggling your Priorities is aimed at older students and teaches the importance of discovering and focusing on objectives, while Mr Dropsy’s Feelgood Circus reinforces positive thinking, being kind, self respect, trust and cooperation. The Jugglebox also runs weekly classes for parents and children so they can learn the art of juggling together. Unicyle lessons for the truly adventurous will be coming soon.
For more information visit www.thejugglebox.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.