Have you ever seen the 1986 Jim Henson film "Labyrinth?" If so, then you have seen contact ball juggling! The crystal balls that David Bowie's character was seen manipulating throughout the film were actually contact juggling balls. Although the balls appear to levitate and defy gravity, the stunts were performed live on set by Michael Moschen and no editing or post-production was necessary to create the illusion. Contact ball juggling is a form of juggling in which the objects that are juggled are not flung into the air but remain in contact with the body at all times. A skilled contact ball juggler can create incredible optical illusions that may appear to be nothing other than pure magic!
Unlike normal rubber, leather, or silicone juggling balls, balls for contact juggling are hard, perfectly spherical, and usually made from a clear material. Acrylic contact juggling balls such as the Fushigi are by far the most common, as materials such as glass or crystal are costly, heavy, and highly fragile. There are three main techniques used in contact ball juggling:
Body rolling is the manipulation of one or more acrylic contact juggling balls around the hands, arms, and body by rolling. The balance required to control a rolling ball is one of the many difficult skills the contact ball juggler has to acquire.
Palm spinning is the manipulation of two or more balls in the open hand so that at least one is in motion. Balls may be in both hands or transferred between them to make graceful and fluid motions.
Isolation is making an acrylic contact juggling ball appear to hover in one spot by moving the hands and body around it while keeping the ball itself stationary. Because the ball is perfectly spherical and transparent, any rotation is invisible to the audience, and the ball appears to be still and suspended in midair while the performer moves around it.
While some of the techniques used in contact ball juggling have been around for centuries, the artform as it is known today originated from a routine by Michael Moschen in the 1980's called "Light." Moschen and his new form of juggling slowly began to gain recognition, including the aforementioned appearance in the movie "Labyrinth." For the film, Moschen stood behind David Bowie and reached his arms around, making it look as if Bowie himself were manipulating the balls with his own arms. Because Moschen had to stay hidden from the camera, he had to perform all of the tricks blind.
Today, the art of contact ball juggling has a large, diverse, and devoted community of practitioners and fans. Numerous contact juggling conventions have been held all over the world since the first one in 2001. There are certain to be many more in the future as the already immense popularity of contact ball juggling continues to grow.