Juggling is a physical skill, performed by a juggler, involving the manipulation of objects for recreation, entertainment, art, or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling. Juggling can be the manipulation of one object or many objects at the same time, using one or many hands. Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as props. The most common props are balls, clubs, or rings. Some jugglers use more dramatic objects such as knives, fire torches or chainsaws. The term juggling can also commonly refer to other prop-based manipulation skills, such as diabolo, devil sticks, poi, cigar boxes, contact juggling, hooping, and hat manipulation.
The earliest record of juggling is suggested in a panel from the 15th Beni Hasan tomb of an unknown Egyptian prince, showing female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Juggling has been recorded in many early cultures including Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Aztec (Mexico) and Polynesian civilizations. Juggling in ancient China was an art performed by some warriors. One such warrior was Xiong Yiliao, whose juggling of nine balls in front of troops on a battlefield reportedly caused the opposing troops to flee without fighting, resulting in a complete victory. In Europe, juggling was an acceptable diversion until the decline of the Roman Empire, after which the activity fell into disgrace. Throughout the Middle Ages, most histories were written by religious clerics who frowned upon the type of performers who juggled, called gleemen, accusing them of base morals or even practicing witchcraft. Jugglers in this era would only perform in marketplaces, streets, fairs, or drinking houses. They would perform short, humorous and bawdy acts and pass a hat or bag among the audience for tips. Some kings' and noblemen’s bards, fools, or jesters would have been able to juggle or perform acrobatics, though their main skills would have been oral (poetry, music, comedy and storytelling). In 1768, Philip Astley opened the first modern circus. A few years later, he employed jugglers to perform acts along with the horse and clown acts. Since then, jugglers have been associated with circuses. In the early 19th century, troupes from Asia, such as the famous "Indian Jugglers" referred to by William Hazlitt, arrived to tour Britain, Europe and parts of America. In the 19th century, variety and music hall theatres became more popular, and jugglers were in demand to fill time between music acts, performing in front of the curtain while sets were changed. Performers started specializing in juggling, separating it from other kinds of performance such as sword swallowing and magic. The Gentleman Juggler style was established by German jugglers such as Salerno and Kara. Rubber processing developed, and jugglers started using rubber balls. Previously, juggling balls were made from balls of twine, stuffed leather bags, wooden spheres, or various metals. Solid or inflatable rubber balls meant that bounce juggling was possible. Inflated rubber balls made ball spinning easier and more readily accessible. Soon in North America, vaudeville theatres employed jugglers, often hiring European performers. 20th century Main articles: Modern juggling culture and Juggling convention In the early to mid-20th century, variety and vaudeville shows decreased in popularity due to competition from motion picture theatres, radio and television, and juggling suffered as a result. Music and comedy transferred very easily to radio, but juggling could not. In the early years of TV, when variety-style programming was popular, jugglers were often featured; but developing a new act for each new show, week after week, was more difficult for jugglers than other types of entertainers; comedians and musicians can pay others to write their material, but jugglers cannot get other people to learn new skills on their behalf. The International Jugglers' Association, founded in 1947, began as an association for professional vaudeville jugglers, but restrictions for membership were eventually changed, and non-performers were permitted to join and attend the annual conventions. The IJA continues to hold an annual convention each summer and runs a number of other programs dedicated to advance the art of juggling worldwide. World Juggling Day was created as an annual day of recognition for the hobby, with the intent to teach people how to juggle, to promote juggling and to get jugglers together and celebrate. It is held on the Saturday in June closest to the 17th, the founding date of the International Jugglers' Association. Most cities and large towns now have juggling clubs. These are often based within, or connected to, universities and colleges. There are also community circus groups that teach young people and put on shows. The Juggling Edge maintains a searchable database of most juggling clubs. Since the 1980s, a juggling culture has developed. The scene revolves around local clubs and organizations, special events, shows, magazines, web sites, internet forums and, possibly most importantly, juggling conventions. In recent years, there has also been a growing focus on juggling competitions. Juggling today has evolved and branched out to the point where it is synonymous with all prop manipulation. The wide variety of the juggling scene can be seen at any juggling convention. Juggling conventions or festivals form the backbone of the juggling scene. The focus of most of these conventions is the main space used for open juggling. There will also be more formal workshops in which expert jugglers will work with small groups on specific skills and techniques. Most juggling conventions also include a main show (open to the general public), competitions, and juggling games.