Toss juggling

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This article is about toss juggling. For a more general discussion of juggling, see Juggling.
Juggling pair performing basic two-person "pass and feed" with clubs

Toss juggling is the form of juggling which is most recognisable as 'juggling'.[1] Toss juggling can be used as: a performing art, a sport, a form of exercise, as meditation, a recreational pursuit or hobby.

In toss juggling, objects — such as balls, bean bags, rings, clubs, etc. — are thrown or tossed into the air and caught. Toss juggling is a form of object manipulation.

Juggling techniques and patterns[edit]

'Toss juggling' has a number of basic principles and patterns. Most more complex patterns are variations of the basic ones and all toss juggling must conform to these basic principles.

Basic principles[edit]

Toss juggling is, according to most sources, the throwing and catching of objects, where there are more objects than there are hands (or sometimes other parts of the body) doing the throwing and catching.[2] Three balls thrown and caught between two hands is toss juggling, as there are more balls than hands. Two balls between two hands would not be considered toss juggling, as the number of balls and hands is equal.

Basic patterns[edit]

There are three basic patterns in toss juggling with many variations, some exceedingly complex, that are based on these basic patterns.



The shower is the most commonly depicted pattern in pictures and illustrations of jugglers (although often wildly exaggerated). The objects juggled follow a circular pattern with one hand doing higher throws and the other passing or doing low throws to the first hand. This pattern can be used to juggle an odd number or even number of objects. In siteswap notation, a three object shower would be called 51.



The cascade pattern is often the first pattern taught to beginner jugglers. The objects juggled follow a horizontal figure of eight pattern with each hand throwing the object to the same height when the previous throw has reached it peak. This pattern is most commonly used to juggle an odd number of objects. In siteswap notation, a three object cascade would be called 3.



The fountain is where each hand throws and catches objects and they do not transfer to the opposite hand. This pattern is most commonly used to juggle an even number of objects. In siteswap notation, a four object fountain would be called 4.

Advanced patterns and tricks[edit]

Main article: Juggling pattern
Mill's mess

Besides the cascade (or reverse cascade), other toss patterns include the box or column, and any number of multiplex patterns or contact juggling tricks within the pattern.

There are also amusing stunts such as the Yo-yo and the Robot, which give the illusion that the balls are connected to each other or to the juggler's body. By adding elementary skills to any juggling pattern the pattern can be increased, incrementally, in complexity.

There are even wildly intricate patterns such as the Mills Mess, which is widely attributed to Steve Mills of The Dazzling Mills Family. For a given pattern any number of variants may occur to the juggler, for instance, Mills Mess has at least three well-known variants, produced by adding flourishes such as chops, holds, stalls, and carries. "Mills" colloquially refers to any pattern in juggling where the hands cross back and forth over one another. Any pattern valid in siteswap notation can be done "vanilla", reverse, and in Mills.

Other patterns[edit]

Below is a list of other common three-ball patterns.


Juggling has been used as a performance skill for thousands of years. Toss juggling has been significant in such performances and has continued to be a major part of juggling performances up to the present day. Juggling performances are usually of two types: a performance which shows off the technical skill of the juggler which is often performed to music; and a performance of juggling with comedy. The two types are not mutually exclusive with both technical skill, comedy, music and sometimes other skills being incorporated into an performance or show.


As a sport, juggling can be done competitively, with jugglers taking turns to try to best each other's abilities, or juggling together, in teams—called passing. In passing, two or more jugglers will throw objects to each other, performing such feats as may be accomplished 'solo', but juggling more objects. Jason Garfield is a leader/initiator of the concept "Sport Juggling". This concept really took off in 2004 when he put together the World Juggling Federation competition. This is an annual event that has been previously held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Passing and feeding[edit]

Main article: Passing (juggling)

If three jugglers can each juggle three items, together they may readily juggle nine items. A variation on simple passing, called feeding , is performed by two or more jugglers all tossing to one specific juggler—called the feeder. The feeder is usually the juggler with the better-developed skill. In a 3-person feed, the feeder may pass on every second beat (called "solids" or "2-count") -- alternately passing to the other two jugglers, where every right hand throw is a pass, while they in turn pass back to him on "every others" (every fourth beat (sometimes called "4-count"), where every other right hand is a pass). Meanwhile all the balls not passed to the feeder are 'self-tossed' or thrown to oneself. Of course, a seemingly infinite variety of combinations of number of balls, number of jugglers, feeding directions or rhythms, etc. may be accomplished. Pass juggling helps to develop a better sense of rhythm.

Exercise and fitness[edit]

As exercise, juggling is a highly aerobic activity, increasing the heart rate and respiration. Juggling helps one to develop good hand-eye coordination, physical fitness and balance.


Juggling helps to develop quick reflexes, and in fact, jugglers develop "higher-order reflexes", reflexes not typically associated with normal human activity. These reflexes are formed through repetition of what are, at first, slowly learned and difficult processes. As the various processes develop into reflexive actions, additional, more difficult or complex skills are 'layered' atop previous, well-developed skills. These new more complex skills eventually become more reflexive, and eventually, various unusual high order reflexes develop. An example is that, while catching a raw chicken's egg may be quite challenging to a novice juggler, a more skilled juggler might be able to easily catch — unbroken — an egg thrown towards him without warning.


Paradoxically, the same processes that are well known for exercising the body, can also be a very relaxing activity. As meditation, juggling a repeating pattern or patterns can take one's mind off the stresses they might encounter in their daily lives. Jugglers have described a phenomenon of near-disembodiment and tranquility which may come over them while juggling.[citation needed] The constant rising and falling of the objects, the regularity of the rhythms, can become almost hypnotic, and the attention of a juggler while tightly focused on the juggling pattern may seem to expand and even to "encompass the universe".


As a recreational pursuit, juggling excels in many ways. Besides the previously mentioned health benefits, any form of juggling is at its best when done socially. The equipment is inexpensive or free — though very costly equipment is also available — and easily portable. Juggling is great for "breaking the ice" at parties and other social gatherings[citation needed]. Jugglers are a friendly sort, usually, and are often very willing to help beginning jugglers with advice. Juggling conventions, clubs and other gatherings where jugglers congregate can be great places to meet and share the art of juggling, for experts novices and even 'non-jugglers' — who often find themselves doing some form of juggling themselves.

In 1990 it was estimated by the International Jugglers' Association that twenty-three percent of Americans can juggle a three-ball cascade.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Definitions of "juggling" limited to toss juggling:
    • "Continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others, typically for the entertainment of others." - "Juggle",
    • "To keep several objects in motion in the air at the same time by repeatedly throwing and catching them." - "Juggle",
    • "To keep (two or more objects) in the air at one time by alternately throwing and catching them." - (1983). American Heritage Dictionary. Cited in Ernest, James (2011). Contact Juggling, p.1. ISBN 9781591000273.
    • "In the twenty-first century the term juggler is applied to that kind of entertainer who throws up objects from one hand to another in a continuous rhythmical sequence without dropping them to the floor." - Butterworth, Philip (2005). Magic on the Early English Stage, p.3. ISBN 9780521825139.
  2. ^ For example, "1. What is juggling?", IJDb at the Wayback Machine (archived December 1, 2008). Cited in Rosenberger, Phillip (2011). Juggling Basics, Why and How To. ISBN 9780983339700.
  3. ^ Juggler's World Vol. 42 #3. Cited in Havlick, Joseph T. (2008). The Effect of Varying Imagery Perspective and Modality on Juggling Skill Acquisition Using Internet-based, Modular Instruction, p.97. Temple University. ISBN 9780549775423.

Further reading[edit]