Hamilton is in that part of western Montana which drools over the flat platform of Wyoming and oozes into Idaho. With 2,600 people, it is the major city of the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Missoula, the brightest star in the Big Sky country, lies 45 miles north.
It was in this place at the onset of winter that I decided, out of sheer juggler's loneliness, that the city needed a juggling club.
My first step was to type up a bulletin proclaiming, "Members of the IJA believe just about anyone can pick up the basics of three ball juggling within an hour." If interested, they were to call me.
I placed these bulletins at a gift shop in town, with a local Justice of the Peace whom I discovered was a juggler, and on the windshield of a Datsun pickup with a "Juggling Is Catching" bumper-sticker.
No one responded. But that was okay. This was merely the first small wave. I took several weeks to organize and to practice so I would have the necessary confidence when the time came to teach juggling to others.
I searched high and low for a room suitable for classes. It had to have few, if any, windows, no breakables, be uncluttered with furniture, and -- most importantly -- be rent-free. I finally found the perfect place, an absolutely empty rumpus room at the local bowling alley. Then came a gigantic leap of faith: the newspaper and radio public service ads. My secret was public, I was going to teach juggling lessons.
The first night I had three people. My neighbors from across the street, who were probably feeling a little sorry for me, and a young junior high school fellow. After a couple of weeks the media blitz hit. Two reporters showed up -- one from the local paper and one from the Bitterroot section of Missoula's paper. We talked about juggling, about why I was doing this, and they got some photos. Most importantly, these two reporters became part of the group! After their stories appeared, more interested people came to the meetings.
The program itself revolved around nine levels of accomplishment I plucked out of the air. After testing for each level, the juggler receives a certificate of ability. The first certificate is 102 catches of a three ball cascade with no stops or drops. The subsequent certificate levels must be memorized and executed flawlessly.
After several months I put a news release in the paper announcing the names of people who had received certificates. From the ads, releases and word of mouth, Hamilton became conscious of a growing juggling club in its midst. Seven months after we began (and named ourselves "The Merriment Jugglers") we received an invitation to perform at a local talent show. Three of us got together as "The No Darn Good Jugglers" and did some dead-pan comedy juggling featuring "a convoluted history of juggling."
Other invitations followed. The thing was catching on! At one of our performances on a high school stage, one of my misses struck a footlight dead on with a deafening crash. For days afterward, in the shoe department where I was working, people identified me as "the juggler who broke the light." Sometimes fame isn't fleeting enough!
As warm weather returned we moved our meetings to Legion Park. There, in a more public setting, we met more jugglers and taught more beginners. The Merriment Jugglers were a year old last October, with 23 members of record.
I have since moved to Sheridan, Wyoming and started a juggling club here through the YMCA. But back in Hamilton, they're still sharing the joy of juggling.