What’s Contact Juggling?

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David Bowie’s Goblin King in the film Labyrinth was shown contact juggling, a form of juggling where balls are rolled over the hands or upper body. Michael Moschen, a juggler, was the genius behind the coordination and is credited with popularizing the art form. Contact juggling has been around for at least 200 years and is now taught through videos, books, and workshops.

In Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth, released in 1986, the Goblin King, played by David Bowie, is shown juggling crystal balls, rolling them on his hands in surprising and deft ways. Bowie didn’t actually do this juggling, called contact juggling. The genius behind this feat of coordination was a juggler named Michael Moschen, who has emerged as one of contact juggling’s greatest practitioners.

In contact juggling, instead of throwing and catching balls or other objects, the primary juggling occurs by rolling the balls over the hands or upper body. The balls can be rolled across the face, shoulders, neck or arms. One of Moschen’s most amazing tricks is his ability to suspend a ball from his index finger, which appears to defy the laws of gravity.

Contact juggling gained particular attention after Labyrinth was released. Virtually every primetime newscast of the time did a piece about Moschen’s incredible skills, which differed so much from more recognized forms of juggling. Although Moschen is often credited with inventing contact juggling, this form of ball rolling, particularly on the backs of the hands, dates back to Chinese acrobats who performed the art form at least 200 years ago.

Another form of contact juggling, which most people recognize immediately, is the work done by the Harlem Globetrotters. Spinning balls on your fingertips is another aspect of contact juggling that has delighted audiences for years. Harlem Globetrotters also employ ball rolling on their arms, neck and shoulders.

Michael Moschen doesn’t use contact juggling often now, but his other routines are amazing feats of precision, as well as being visually appealing. Tyas Frantz is very popular in the contact juggling world and performs regularly in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Moschen’s work has inspired many to learn the art of contact juggling, and there are now videos, books and workshops that can help those willing to learn. It requires extraordinary coordination and appears to be learned more easily by children than adults.

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