A to Z Glossary of Circus Skills and Juggling Equipment Prop Definitions
This glossary contains simple descriptions of props you are likely to find if you attend a Juggling / Circus Skills Workshop. “Juggling” in a general sense can refer to all forms of object manipulation such as diabolo, devilsticks, spinning plates etc, so it is more than just the art of throwing multiple objects in the air at the same time!
Astrojax – A toy that contains 3 balls on a string. One ball is fixed to each end of the string and the middle ball is free to slide between the two end balls. This skill toy allows you to do a combination of juggling, yo-yo and lasso tricks. It was invented in 1987.
Bar Flair – The practice of bartenders entertaining their guests while mixing drinks (such as cocktails) using bottles, cocktail shakers etc. “Flair” can include juggling and flipping the bottles, catching in the shaker cups etc. This skill became popular when seen on the 1988 film “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise and on Britain’s Got Talent where the Bar Wizards made it all the way to the Grand Final in 2007.
Beach Flingo – A game where you pass a small ball between yourself and a partner using a bib that is made of trampoline type fabric. Very addictive and you can use these bibs to play volleyball or for a massive group game of keepy-uppy’s!
Bounce (Floor) Juggling – The art of bouncing balls off the floor in various juggling patterns.
Cigar Box Manipulation – Three rectangular shaped boxes which resemble cigar boxes but are much more solid. They are usually padded at the edges with a felt-like material. The basic tricks involve holding the two outer boxes, trapping one box in the middle (known as the “home position”) and then manipulating the middle box in various directions. W. C. Fields popularised this prop, and it gained popularity in the UK when Kris Kremo performed expertly with them on TV’s The Generation Game Christmas Special in 1993.
Club (Juggling) – One of the main juggling props. It consists of a handle and a body. You throw from the handle so that the club completes one or more spins before you catch by the handle once again. Referred to as “pins” and “skittles” by our American buddies or “torches” if they are set alight!
Club Rolling – When you roll a club on the floor, it will roll in a perfect circle. This allows many fantastic and interesting patterns to be created with 3 or 6 clubs.
Club Swinging – The swinging of two clubs around the body, arms and legs. This is a form of Contact Juggling as the props stay in contact with the performer at all times.
Contact Juggling – a form of object manipulation where one or more objects stay in contact with the body (hands, feet etc) at all times. The most common form of contact juggling is using a ball (usually an acrylic or stage ball). This was made popular in the film Labyrinth. Other props you can contact juggle with include Poi Spinning, Club Swinging & Pen Spinning.
Diabolo – A large hourglass shaped object which can be spun and caught on a string between two handsticks. The name is derived from a Greek verb meaning “‘to throw across”. Multiple diabolo’s can be spun on a string, and the possibilities for this prop keep on expanding every year with new people pushing the boundaries!
Devilstick (also known as devil stick, rhythm sticks, lunastix etc) – This consists of 2 handsticks (coated in rubber/silicone) and a larger stick in the middle which is manipulated in hundreds of different ways. Flowersticks have tassles on the end which allow it to move a bit slower in the air (making tricks easier to learn).
Feather Balancing – One of the easiest objects to balance as they move so slowly in the air. Peacock and Ostrich feathers are ideal. Try balancing on your hand, finger, chin, nose etc.
Fire Juggler/Juggling – Many of the Circus Skills props featured in this glossary have versions with wicks you can soak in fuel (such as paraffin) and light on fire. The main fire props include Fire Poi, Fire Staff, Fire Devilstick, Fire Diabolo, Fire Clubs and even Fire Balls (you may need kevlar gloves to be able to juggle these!)
Giraffe – Tall unicycle (usually between 5-6ft) where the pedals & wheel are connected by a chain. It can actually be easier to ride than a normal sized Unicycle as long as you aren’t scared of heights!
Glow Juggler/Juggling – Many of the Circus Skills props featured in this glossary have versions which you can light up. The more expensive glow props will even let you programme light sequences! Most common glow props include Glow Poi, Glow Balls, Glow Diabolo, Glow Devilstick, Glow Rings, Glow Clubs & Glow Staff.
Hat Manipulation/Juggling – Throwing and catching one or more hats using hands, feet, body and head. Tricks usually finish with the hat being thrown or placed back on the performers head.
Jitter-Ring / Gyro Ring – The Jitter ring is really just 5 little tops of slightly unusual design which are strung onto a metal ring so that they can freely spin. The discs can spin up to 1000 rpm! Makes a very pleasing rattling spinning noise.
Kendama – Traditional Japanese toy which consists of a ball on a string, a spike and several different sized cups. It bears some resemblance to the classic cup and ball game but is much more difficult!
Parasol – The rolling of an object such as a ball, coin, juggling ring or box on an Oriental parasol (which looks like a very delicate umbrella).
Pedal Racers / Fun Wheels – Fun toys with wheels that are great for learning balance.
Pen Spinning – If you have ever been bored at work/school & started turning a pen (or pencil) between your fingers, then you have been pen spinning! Lots of skilful tricks can be learned. This is a form of contact juggling, as the object stays in contact with your body at all times.
Plate Manipulation – the manipulation of plates all around the body with hands, arms, feet and body.
Plate Spinning – The art of spinning a plate (or bowl) on a stick (or pole).
Poi Spinning – Poi is a weighted object (such as a ball or beanbag) suspended from a rope or chain. You hold the other end of the rope/chain and can swing the poi in many different directions. This originates from the Maori people of New Zealand where “poi” simply means ball.
Rings (Juggling) – Flat circles of Plastic with a hole in the middle. A common item to juggle with and is considered easier than club juggling when it comes to learning with more than 3 as the rings are so thin that they are less likely to collide with each other and they are easier to stack/hold in your hands.
Rola Bola (aka Balance Board, teeter board, bongo board, rolla-bolla etc) – This consists of a round tube (such as a PVC pipe) and a board that is strong enough to hold your weight when placed on top of the tube for you to balance on. It is like a one man see-saw! Once you master the basics, then you can learn to juggle on top of the rola-bola to add a bit of danger and excitement to your performance!
Scarves (Juggling) – A square of fabric (such as chiffon). This can be the ideal way for a child/beginner to learn the basic tricks if they are having problems learning using juggling balls. This is because the scarves float gently in the air, and you have more time to put your hands in the right place to catch them (and you can catch any part of the scarf)! Simple tricks include blowing the scarf back up in the air, letting the scarf land gently over your head!
Shaker Cups – Shaker cups are also called nesting cups, as they are cups that are designed in such a way so as you can catch (nest) them inside each other. They are designed in such a way as not to stick or wedge themselves together when caught, so the inside cup is ready for release again. This is possibly the noisiest prop in a jugglers performance bag, as they are made from metal and make a huge noise when they clatter together!
Speedcups (aka Flashcups) – 12 brightly coloured cups which can be stacked in a variety of different patterns and sequences. There are Sport Stacking competitions where people compete against the clock or another person. The patterns are usually with pyramids of 3, 6 or 10 cups.
Toothbrush Twirling – Using a rubber/silicone devilstick handstick, you can hang the toothbrush from the stick and twirl it round. You can use multiple toothbrushes on one stick and have a stick in each hand. A fantastic & extremely silly activity that is a great warm-up at the beginning of a Circus Skills workshop. A toothbrush with an angled head is best! Toothbrush can also be spun on the finger, but it is best to wet your finger and the toothbrush first to give it a bit extra grip!
Unicycle – Looks like a bike but with only one wheel and no handlebars! Most likely heckle if you are riding a unicycle will be “where’s the other wheel”. You can always reply “it’s on back order” unless you are two tyred of such puns!
Walking/Balancing Ladder – An extra wide ladder which you can balance on, and then learn to walk along the ground moving the feet of the ladder (one step at a time)! You can also balance on the top rung (one leg at each side of the ladder) and start juggling while walking along.
Walking Globe – Large ball that a performer balances on top of. Various gymnastic and juggling stunts can be performed while the ball is kept moving. You have to walk backwards to roll the ball forwards!
Yo-yo – Pocket-size toy that consists of a length of string attached to a flat spool. The spool moves up and down the string allowing you to attempt several well known tricks such as “walking the dog” and “cat’s cradle”. The yo-yo has been around since the time of the Ancient Greeks.