Trip report: Berkeley 2010 Juggling and Unicycling Festival

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When @johnnyfuncheap tweeted that there was going to be a free juggling and unicycle show in Berkeley this weekend, we were torn, torn, torn.

We don’t much enjoy driving to Berkeley and we always dread the drive back. It’s a long drive for us, we who have a very painful personal history with bridges letting us down hard (literally), and the Bay Bridge has not been retrofitted, etc., etc. But we nearly always have a great time when we get to Berkeley.

The fire juggling show at ten was what compelled us, and so we dragged ourselves to the Berkeley High School Jacket Gym to see what it would be like.

Our festival experience did not start all that auspiciously. We have never SEEN a high school that big. But beautiful, very, very clean. Nicely laid out. Big though. We drove around, drove around looking for parking. Eventually, we DID find a legal parking space very close by.

We arrived at the huge, huge gym and found it absolutely PACKED with incredible jugglers. There was a guy juggling miniature toilet plungers. There were large groups hurling pins at each other. There were folks with rhinestone-encrusted hula hoops. There was a guy spinning balls on his fingers. There was a woman in a purple t-shirt who kept doing incredible juggling things while the expression on her face implied that nothing whatsoever was going on. We kept having to dodge out of the way of stray pins and lurching unicycles.

I said the gym was PACKED with incredible jugglers, but that was a lie. About a third of the gym was dedicated to a ferocious game of unicycle basketball. Some of the players were on normal unicycles, some were on taller ones. Each rode with a unique style. It was simply amazing that in all the time we watched, no horrendous crashes occurred. We noticed that traveling with the ball seemed to be legal, as did handling the other players pretty roughly, and we also noticed that players fell off and go back onto their unicycles as if rolling out of and then back into bed.

Well, we talked with a bunch of the talented jugglers around us, watched jealously as a tiny, tiny boy getting his first unicycle lesson on a tiny, tiny unicycle, and gawked at the wide array of missiles soaring from hand to hand and at the apparently never-ending basketball game. After about 45 minutes or so, my daughter said, “We don’t know how to do these things. We don’t belong here.” It was still an hour until the fire show.

And then, who should take us over? Dan Chan, Magic Man. He asked my daughter if she knew how to juggle. She answered, “A little.” He offered her a lesson. She shyly refused. Dan did not give up. He asked ME if I knew how to juggle. I said, “Not a bit.” He said, “Are you willing to learn? Come over here.” So I went. And my daughter followed.

Dan handed me the most enchanting juggling balls you’ve ever felt. They are called GBallz and they are made of buttery leather and stuffed with millet. They seem to be the perfect size for any hand. They have a very reassuring weight as they drop into your palm. When they fall, they make a very, very quiet, non-embarrassing splat and THEY DO NOT ROLL AWAY.

So poor Dan started to teach me to juggle. I was an attentive but inept student. And by then Dan could see that my daughter was begging to just hold the GBallz, let alone learn from Dan. He looked at my daughter and said, “She’ll be juggling in 20 minutes.” He gave her three GBallz. (We later learned that this was very kind, since they are very expensive and we were sorely tempted to take them home so we could keep juggling them all night and for the rest of our lives ….)

Dan is just a fantastic teacher. He shows you something, and then he lets you try it and gives you feedback. Then he says something like, “Do that ten times and then you’ll learn something else.” Then he walks away and shows back up a little later when you’re ready to learn more.

I learned to juggle two balls fairly well considering I have no talent in this area. My daughter was juggling three pretty nicely before an hour or so had passed. People whose juggling we admired kept walking up to us and giving us helpful tips.

In no time at all, the incredible, wonderful, exceptional fire show was on. At fire show, there was a guy on a unicycle making origami from burning paper, shouting in Spanish and English for us to cheer him on. There was a guy with a burning whip. There were several flaming unicycle-riders juggling fire. There was a fire-eater and a fire-dancer and the music was great and the space in which we watched was comfortable and beautiful.

The Berkeley 2010 Juggling and Unicycling Festival runs through tomorrow, Sunday, July 11. If you can go tomorrow, go. If you can’t, look for it next year and go to their workshops. (Everything except a show on Saturday night was free, far as I know.)

My photos are here:

One Response to “Trip report: Berkeley 2010 Juggling and Unicycling Festival”

  1. admin says:

    Dan Chan, our wonderful juggling teacher, will be performing in some Bay Area venues for free in the next few weeks.

    I’ve never seen him perform, but I think we will try to attend at least one of these performances. I suspect he will be very impressive.

    — Emily

    July 13th, Daly City Public Library, West Lake Branch 7:00 pm
    July 21st, Chinatown Public Library, San Francisco 2:30 pm
    July 21st, Sunnyvale Public Library 7:00 pm
    July 23rd, West Portal Branch, San Francisco 2:30 pm
    August 29th, Oakland Chinatown Street Festival 3:00 pm
    October 2nd, Merced County Library at 2:00 pm

    Jan 9th, 2011, Buddy Club, Berkeley CA 1:00 pm
    Feb 27th, 2011 – March 2nd, Las Vegas, Nevada

    Dan is also available for private shows. (And, no, I won’t get a referral fee. I just really thought him a very talented performer.

    Dan writes:

    Please note if you’re looking to book a show I recommend booking early as I have deposits as far out as May of 2011.

    We’ve added the following to the show:

    1.) A levitation where I actually float up over a foot above the ground.
    2.) Comedy routine where stuff myself inside a 6 foot tall by 6 foot wide balloon
    3.) Bian Lian – a 300 year old Chinese magical secret
    4.) Bullet Catch where I actually catch a bullet in my mouth. (not performed for guest under the age of 18)
    5.) Cube juggling (Only for the largest of Venues)

    Are your young ones budding magicians – check out our free tutorials at this link below
    Click here for free tutorials.

    Thank you for your support and referrals. If you are in the PTA, please let your school know about our programs.

    Dan Chan the Magic Man and Kat the Acrobat