Up in the air

Bill Iha

Photo By Marisol Salgado

Back in the day when Bill Iha was a fisherman waiting around on beaches, he picked up some rocks and taught himself to do a basic juggling trick—"the shower.” Five years ago, Iha started to frequent Bidwell Park and became a regular member of an informal community of jugglers. Led by a man who goes only by Jeff, the group can be found at the park, near the pool, every Saturday between 1 and 5 p.m. But this isn’t an exclusive club where skills are merely put on display. Iha, a freelance choreographer and teacher, and Jeff (pictured at left), an elementary-school custodian, will teach anyone to juggle, free of charge. In fact, 15-year-old Cody spent six months searching for Iha and Jeff, and a year later he is giving the juggling veterans a run for their money. With the International Jugglers Association’s World Juggling Day coming up June 16, there is still time to pick up some basic skills and maybe some tricks, too.

How long does it usually take a beginner to learn the basics of juggling?
Iha: One out of 10 probably stays and really gets more proficient, sometimes two out of 10. Anyone who stays here for two hours gets the basic idea of it. After two Saturdays, you’ll have it.
Jeff: Or five minutes. Some people are disgusting; they can pick it right up. If they do know basic juggling, Bill might show them how to do a steal, a take-away, so they learn something new.
Iha: As soon as you learn to pass and steal, then you’re juggling with someone, and that keeps it alive longer. Anything done alone is much easier when it’s done within a community, even if it’s only two or three other people. The three of us are pretty hardcore.

Do each of you bring your own juggling pieces?
Jeff: I have a collection of stuff. We all have our own stuff, though.
Iha: But Jeff is the one who attracts attention so little kids can practice and neophytes can come up and say, “Wow.” We’ve had 8- and 9-year-olds come up, and we’ve had guys in their 50s come up and try. Usually when they are older, they are more hesitant because they don’t want to look foolish. Kids don’t care.

Is juggling more than just fun?
Iha: It’s really a good stress reliever because it’s upper-body stuff. It’s great because you don’t think of it as exercise, but if you juggle for about an hour you’ve done some upper-body work.

Does it ever get competitive between you guys?
Iha: Jeff and Cody are going to have a contest to see who the better five-ball juggler is.
Cody: Just for fun.
Iha: We have old King Lear here and his son-in-law.
Jeff: I don’t know my Shakespeare. Have I been insulted?
Iha: Not at all.