Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 2

The Lean Years

Already by the mid-fifties, the IJA was slumping.

There was such an air of youth at this convention that voting franchise was given to child members, regardless of age, as long as they "were mature enough to understand the business meeting."

Today the IJA has more members than there probably were jugglers worldwide in 1947, and its influence can no longer be ignored.

"It's a wonder the IJA survived as long as it did." You hear that from more than one veteran member reflecting on some of the less memorable years. It's hard to picture, but between the first, exciting years of organizing and the current, feverish years of explosive growth, the organization often foundered. It held together through the dedication of a very few men and women.

Several factors kept the IJA near the brink. From the start, the potential membership base was small - there just weren't that many jugglers out there, professional or amateur. And the professionals continued to have a general aversion to the organization. It must also be remembered that the core of the IJA, its strength at that time, was the high percentage of older, former vaudevillians. As they left the stage, they left a void both in terms of numbers and of influence.

Already by the mid-fifties, the IJA was slumping. There was only $100 in the treasury, the "Newsletter" was cut to two or three pages, and bills were reportedly going unpaid. Editors and officers struggled to keep things going.

Probably the greatest factor was turmoil from personality conflicts. These were not arguments so much over principles, but arguments of the petty kind: "I could put on a better convention than he put on," or, "If you want to show your movies, use your own projector."

It's a problem inherent in any organization run by volunteers in which there is no single SOB to blame.

Leaders often felt disenfranchised. While any off-the-street member who did the smallest job was being recognized for contributions, the people at the top with their necks out on larger issues were being cut down for their best efforts.

The damage done to the IJA in its middle years, by neglect, shouldn't be underestimated. Despite current success in sheer volume of members, ground may have been lost in terms of the breadth of the art. The scope of "juggling" was purposely left vague by the founders, and included virtually any visual novelty art other than magic. Two of our early presidents were renowned baton twirlers, for example. Other members were lariatists, contortionists, pantomimists, balancers, acrobats, clowns and unicyclists. Virtually every one of these arts has since sought niches independent of the IJA.

But that's all spilled milk under the bridge. Today the IJA has more members than there probably were jugglers worldwide in 1947, and its influence can no longer be ignored. The same old fellows who have trouble believing the IJA survived at all are astonished at how far it has gone, "far, far beyond our fondest dreams."

The Phoenix Rises in San Mateo

By the late '60s, the IJA was in serious trouble. Membership had declined by over 100 in the last years, down to 150. A showing of 25 at the conventions was considered good. Dues were only $4.00. With very little money coming in, the treasury was down to $4-500. The faces of the membership had not changed significantly since the founding 20 years previously. Even the young contingent were "maturing." The "Newsletter" had become sporadic, offices went begging and the vitality of the organization was gone despite the strong bond of juggling that continued to keep individual members close to one another.

The low point was reached at the Fallsburg, N.Y., convention in 1967. Only about 10 people attended - not even enough to elect officers. The Constitution was amended to allow the election of absent members.

The turnout was a brown stain on the IJA's reputation - hotels don't like to give discounts and make arrangement for a group that doesn't show. In fact, only two members, Stu Raynolds and Larry Weeks, stayed at the convention site. Weeks resigned as convention chairman with a 4-1/2 page "Woes of a Convention Chairman" complaint against the members. Raynolds's words in another "Newsletter" were understated and somber:

Your present officers are convinced that interest in juggling still persists, and hope that there is still interest in IJA. To this end, next year's convention is being planned for June or July in Binghamton or Syracuse, N.Y. Much mutual interest of jugglers in magic and magicians in juggling was expressed at the last convention. We believe that our immediate future needs will best be met by holding our convention in conjunction with a magic convention.

In other words, the IJA was fast descending the tubes, and beginning to creep back into association with the magic organizations. The Binghamton convention was to be the "go, no-go" signal from the membership. The officers sent out 150 post cards to the members. Only 40 were returned. Of those, only nine people planned to attend. Not enough for a quorum, not even enough to fill the offices. George Barvin, veteran of many conventions and now president, saw the writing on the wall and decided to cut the IJA's losses. The 1968 convention was cancelled.

But, there was something in the air. For 20 years, the core of the IJA had been concentrated in a geographic strip about three feet wide on a line running from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Jamestown, N.Y. - the heart of the vaudeville circuits. Now, way out west where odd things happen, the '60s were in bloom.

Roger Dollarhide, one of the younger veterans, had moved to California from Washington to be near a growing pocket of juggling enthusiasm. There he found jugglers "as thick as splinters on a county fair stage."

In 1967, he and others organized the "First Annual Western IJA Convention," which, for all its potential of splitting the IJA down the Mississippi River, was dedicated, as Dollarhide put it, "to reuniting the IJA, not dividing it."

A second western convention was planned for 1968. While attending a juggling picnic at the home of Stu Raynolds back East in Delaware on Aug. 4, Dollarhide proposed that the west coast convention - which he had purposely termed "convention" to distinguish it from less formal juggling picnics - be sanctioned as the 1968 alternate-sited national convention.

For those who relish such things, the parliamentary legalities were satisfied as well as possible. Although a sanctioning vote was passed by the members who attended the Delaware picnic, the real sanction came from the convention committee later through its constitutional authority.

Thus it was that on Aug. 25, 1968, 21 unbroken years of IJA conventions continued, this time in San Mateo, Calif., at the home of Bud and Gerry Raymond. Forty people showed up - a real stunner for those years. It was "a smashing success," with baked beans courtesy of the Stack and Raymond wives, chicken courtesy of Chicken Delight, movies and warm California evenings.

There was such an air of youth at this convention that voting franchise was given to child members, regardless of age, as long as they "were mature enough to understand the business meeting."

Roger convened the meeting "as emissary of the executive committee as authorized at the meeting in Wilmington, Del.," and the IJA was back in business.

In his first message to the members as the new president, Dollarhide expressed the desire that the IJA get growing again, and that the IJA "make juggling a more popular form of recreation for people of all ages."

"I say let's go out there and find those people. Let the IJA be known, and many will find us!"

Right. 3,000 young people were about to fall out of the sky.

The Phoenix Rises in Youngstown

Almost immediately, the IJA changed. Stu Raynolds gave the "Newsletter" a new direction . He pledged that the "Newsletter" would no longer be used "to continue old feuds or instigate new ones," but to bring the IJA back together.

The publication improved steadily under Roger Dollarhide, Ken Benge, Hovey Burgess and Dave Walden - adding more pictures, better graphics, and more practical tips. Dollarhide instituted the family plan membership, inaugurated the championships and publicly affirmed that the purpose of the IJA was to popularize juggling rather than safeguard its secrets. He qualifies as the IJA's first "modern" president.

The IJA was refurbished just in time to catch the wave of the athletic generation. All the elements of the '60s - the body trip and the mind trip - were all looking for something new, and juggling caught on exponentially. Attendance rose to 175 at the Youngstown, Ohio, convention in 1975.

Organizers Dick Franco and Joe Sullivan forsook the poor lighting and low ceilings that predominated earlier conventions for a YMCA gym. The convention also garnered a front-page spread in "The Wall Street Journal."

It was the first of the modern conventions, and, as Franco said, "proved what the potential was for the IJA." Indeed, two years later at the University of Delaware convention, the first to be held on a campus, attendance doubled. In 1977 at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., attendance grew to 450. By 1982, well over 600 people were turning out for the IJA annual conventions.

Membership increased correspondingly and strong local clubs and regional events sprouted. The only thing that was growing as fast as the IJA was the defense budget. It was breathtaking.

Differences of Opinion

The overflow at the Delaware convention shocked the IJA into gearing for growth. As if mobilizing for war, rapid changes solidified the new image. Conventions had to be planned two years in advance, the "Newsletter" was copyrighted and microfiched, the IJA emblem was trademarked for royalty purposes and the IJA became a Delaware corporation.

This latter move was for the purpose of achieving tax-exempt status to pave the way for gifts and grants. But it pointed out how big and formal the old bird had become, and some members started to squawk. They squawked a lot at Gene Jones. His tenure from 1980 to 1983 was a complicated chapter in the IJA's history.

Jones, one of the relatively few professional jugglers to hold office, took over an organization bursting at the seams and applied his business acumen to its future. His was an investment philosophy of spending money to make money, and he pushed the IJA into a more formal, modern, professional direction. Today, the change seems to have been inevitable, but there was and remains resistance.

On the one hand were those who remembered the old conventions of 20 and 30 people. It was hard to reconcile the informal intimacy of the old IJA with the new directions it was taking. Allied with these older veterans were those who believed the IJA should remain small and loose, not out of tradition and memories, but because the ethic of smallness was the right path. To them, things big, expensive and structured were bad karma.

Other members saw bigger as better. Tougher planning meant better results, and more money meant better plans and more fun.

These two sides of the same coin were arguing each other's reflection - 1) Juggling is such a pure delight, it will spread by its own force of rightness. 2) Juggling is such a pure delight, let's package it and deliver it to the home of every child in the world.

While the controversy over principles was as great as the controversy over personalities 20 years before, juggling and the IJA were far too big to be damaged. Instead, the dissension broadened the scope of juggling and the forces settled into a truce. Bigness was inevitable. That was cruel irony for those who sought to stifle it. The very people who wanted a sleeping bag and rice ambience in the IJA swelled the organization into bigness. And those who sought a National Football League dignity got only half a loaf - there are just too many outlaw jugglers around.

In the end, we find ourselves pretty happily situated between late night Club Renegade scenes and nationally covered Las Vegas-style championships. The IJA may have become big-time, but you'd have to have a pretty jaundiced eye to call it "establishment."

The Lean Years / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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