Inhabitants of Two Worlds Neatly Juggle Lives

The News World

Inhabitants of two worlds neatly juggle lives



MARCH 5, 1982

On weekdays, Richard Friedberg teaches physics at Barnard College. On Sunday afternoons, he foregoes shaving, grabs his teenage daughter, Cindy, and heads to the Sloane House YMCA where he spends a couple of hours playing with balls and clubs.

No, the professor isn’t a baseball nut. He’s into another sport—one with all the physical exertion of basketball, the eye-and-hand coordination of ping-pong and the popularity of stiltwalking.

Friedberg is a juggler, as is his 15-year-old daughter.

True, juggling may never catch on as well as jogging (who ever heard of Jordache juggling shorts?) but juggling isn’t just for circus clowns, either.

“Juggling is a lot easier than you think and more difficult than it looks,” said Steve Schneider, a pianist and one of the core members of Falling Debris, a juggling group in Manhattan.

“It has a lot of benefits,” adds his girl friend, Barbara Storper, who is a nutritionist for the Board of Education when she’s not throwing rubber clubs around.

Increases hand and eye coordination

“Juggling increases hand and eye coordination and quickens your reaction time and your reflexes,” she said. “It also has a rhythm to it; it’s like meditating when you get the balls going. It really gives you a high—especially when you juggle with others.”

Schneider and Storper hold classes Sunday afternoons, which are open to the public for a small donation. Usually, they prefer the open space of Central Park but during the winter months they rent the gymnasium at the Y on West 34th Street near Ninth Avenue from 11:30 to 2:30.

The kind of people that show up proves that you don’t have to wear greasepaint to get the hang of juggling.

Michael Rainone, for example, has been practicing steadily for 10 months and has grown quite proficient. An abstract artist by profession, the 32-year-old, dark-haired, mustachioed Brooklynite admitted he didn’t get his well-toned physique by wielding paintbrushes.

“I practice a lot,” he said shyly, “and I take classes.”

When asked why he took up juggling, he said it was just something he “always wanted to do.”

Then, when my wife and I separated, it seemed like the right time to start juggling.”

Curt Hall, 25, travels all the way from Bay Shore, L.I., every Sunday to learn form Schneider and his group.

“It’s hard to practice indoors at home, so I don’t really get a chance to practice until I come here,” said Hall, an electrician.

Standing off in a corner, his curly shoulder-length black hair tied back in a ponytail, Hall was one of the neatest of the 30-odd jugglers who came to the Y a few Sundays ago. He stood facing the gym wall and methodically threw three and then four balls in rotation. Then he switched to his sparkling, metallic blue clubs, which cost $17 apiece.

Asked if he expected to perform some day, he grinned and shook his head. “It’s a hobby for me. I only started a couple of months ago.”

Camaraderie in the wings

For the serious juggler, there’s all kinds of camaraderie waiting in the wings: there’s the International Jugglers Association to join and neat juggling balls, hoops and clubs to buy. There’s the Juggler’s World magazine to subscribe to, in which other jugglers, rich, famous, not-so-rich and not-so-good, send in stories and pictures about new techniques, new places to perform (and of course, the date of the next jugglers’ convention).

But if you just want to throw things around, juggling is still a lot of fun.

Schneider had invited members of Girl Scout Cadet Troop 2262 from Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area to attend a session. He lined up the five scouts and troop leader Doris Brown and taught them how to throw one ball, then two. The final step—actually juggling three and four balls—didn’t come readily to all the girls, but it was apparent that with a little practice everyone would get the hang of it.

But the most gallant juggler was Friedberg, who shied away from group activities. The grey-haired professor worked diligently with his clubs, oblivious to his flapping shirttail, and succeeded in keeping the clubs in the air for longer and longer periods of time. His face keenly reflected the juggler’s heart—the concentration of starting the clubs in action, the exhilaration of keeping them going and the crestfallen look when they clattered to the floor.

He said his daughter is the one who got him going on juggling.

“She’d walk around everywhere with three balls—at the bus stop, down the street. Then, she started practicing more with other jugglers and, last summer, started me into it too.

“I’ve known how to juggle three balls since I was a kid,” he said. “But these clubs…they’re something else,” he added, with a sigh.