Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 4

A Decade of Juggling for the Masses

Klutz Enterprises and The Juggling Institute Mark Ten Years of Bringing Juggling to the People

Entrepreneurial Cassidy Finds Favor With Klutzes

by Russ Kaufman, Staff Writer

[John Cassidy photo]

1987 marked the 10th anniversary of the first publishing of "Juggling for the Complete Klutz." The humorous small book, less than 70 pages long, was a bestseller overnight. In the past ten years it has profoundly changed the life of the author, John Cassidy, and brought wide public recognition to juggling.

The book evolved almost by accident. Driving to Stanford University for his second year of college, Cassidy learned juggling from a hitchhiker he picked up.

After graduation with a degree in English, Cassidy packed his bags and headed for a job with CARE in Bangladesh. He got some rubber balls as a going-away present and found plenty of time to practice overseas. His students learned auto mechanics and juggling in addition to more traditional subjects.

Back in the states, Cassidy taught remedial reading class in Mountain View, Calif. As a way to curb truancy, he handed out a five-page lesson on juggling to his students. It got their attention, curbed truancy dramatically, and served as the first draft to the world's most popular "how to juggle" book.

Besides teaching, Cassidy and friends were rafting guides. As they taught clients to juggle, they realized there was an untapped potential of people out there who wanted to learn the art.

Four people collaborated on the first edition of "Juggling for the Complete Klutz" - Cassidy, B.C. Rimbeaux (a fellow guide and college pal), Darrell Hack (bookkeeper), and Diane Waller (illustrator).

Complete with three basic beanbags, the book has been reprinted 20 times and sold over 1-million copies. It made the New York Times best-seller list in 1977, and continues to sell well at the rate of about 4,000 copies per month!

[Klutz book photo]

It assures readers that learning how to juggle is actually a painless process that almost anyone can learn. As the back cover says, "If you can scramble an egg, find reverse in a Volkswagen or stumble onto the light switch in the bathroom at night... you can learn how to juggle."

There are four steps in the Klutz demystification of juggling:

  1. The Drop. Throw all three into the air and let them hit the ground without trying to catch them. Practice the drop until the novelty wears off.
  2. The Toss. Toss one bag in easy arcs as high as your eyes and wide as y.our body from hand to hand.
  3. The Exchange. This is the big step.
  4. The Jug. Take a deep breath and pick up all three bags. Starting with the two-bag hand, give one of the bags a good toss. As it's moving toward your other hand, do an exchange, and then another as the second bag goes in the air.

After the how-to-juggle lesson, there are sections on special problems and advanced juggling techniques.

Entrepreneur Cassidy keeps very busy in Klutz Enterprise. No longer working out of his house, Cassidy has an office and seven employees. He markets his wares in a 15-page catalogue called "The Flying Apparatus Catalogue." It has juggling equipment and other fun fliers such as bubble makers, kites and pogo sticks. Prices range from $2 for a juggling bag to $495 for a deluxe Roulandt recumbent bicycle.

He sells several other how-to books based on the juggling book's successful formula, including one on boomerangs (complete with boomerang), Aerobie flying ring (complete with ring), footbag (with sack), making knots (with color-coded nylon cord), jump rope (with jump rope), harmonica (with harmonica) and guitar (sorry, no guitar included).

"Juggling for the Complete Klutz" was the springboard to success for Cassidy. He continues to search for new items for his catalogue and contemplates new topics all the time. Recently his wife contributed with her book of holler-along songs for kids. It's a safe bet that Klutz Enterprise is well-established and will continue to provide entertaining and unusual items in the future.

Finnigan Launches Institute For School-Based Instruction

[kid juggling scarves photo]

While Cassidy spent the decade teaching individuals to juggle in the privacy of their own homes, the Juggling Institute has concentrated on teaching them in a traditional learning environment -- schools.

The Juggling Institute is the broadest-based school instructional program in the USA, with about a dozen certified instructors teaching juggling from California to Florida -- and now even in France. The institute may have taught as many as a million children to juggle in the past decade. But instructors aim for a higher goal. The institute's motto is, "Juggling is our cover, we really teach success!"

Dave Finnigan, the population-planner-turned-juggler, envisioned the Juggling Institute in 1977 as a logical extension of his new prop manufacturing business, Jugglebug. He floated the idea to a room full of interested people at the IJA's Eugene convention. Mike Vondruska, the first person who followed Finnigan's dream, is now its guiding light himself.

Vondruska's Illinois Juggling Institute employs himself and two other people full-time. Last year he presented 110 school shows and picked up many personal appearances through the contacts he gained in the institute. "You can't make it by just teaching," he said. However, between the school shows, private parties and equipment sales, the Illinois Juggling Institute grossed $100,000 last year.

The relatively low number of people who have stuck with the program and large number who have been interested but not signed on the dotted line testifies to the fact that it takes specific skills to be successful.

Finnigan said, "It doesn't take great juggling skill, but you have to have an innate love of teaching, a lot of patience and good business sense."

Vondruska elaborated, "A lot of people think it looks good, but to make it a business you have to treat it like a business. That's where people bog down."

In addition, he warned that the business is no place for grouches. He said, "You have to be people-oriented, you have to be Mr. Nice Guy. Your ability to handle a room full of kids with control is also a very high priority with the administration. But the program works. Eight out of ten administrators will tell us this is the best program they've had."

Finnigan no longer presents programs in schools, preferring the gracious title of "professor emeritus" of the Juggling Institute. However, he is happy to lead the institute effort in setting up booths and giving demonstrations at major conventions of physical education teachers throughout the country. Finnigan cites these appearances as the Institute's main contribution to the field. Physical education instructors who previously did not consider juggling as a skill their students could learn now have gotten used to seeing it in the context of more traditional phys ed offerings. Finnigan said - "I'm hoping we can convince all the phys ed teachers to teach juggling themselves and work ourselves out of a job!"

People seeking certification as a Juggling Institute instructor pay a $400 one-time fee and spend a week with Vondruska learning the business by helping him produce school shows. Outside of that instruction, individuals have no further formal link with the Juggling Institute and are free to conduct business in their home area as they please.

Tom Sparough of Cincinnati, Ohio, called the Juggling Institute a network rather than a franchise. As did many, he started out in a small way and watched his business grow to the point that he went full-time with it a year ago. "The bookings just kept increasing," he said. Sparough charges $200 for a 45-minute school assembly show and 45-minute workshop for up to 80 children. However, instructors sets their own fees. Vondruska charges $250 for a half-day workshop and $325 for a full day. Most Juggling Institute work occurs in elementary and junior high schools.

Finnigan holds dear the dream of 100 Juggling Institute certified instructors across the United States. "If you've got a metropolitan area of a million or 800 schools within a couple hour's drive, you can make it," he said. "I hope it will grow faster once people realize this is a way they can make their hobby into their living."

Current full-time Juggling Institute certified instructors are: Detmar Straub in Chico, Calif. ; Larry and Barbara Kluger in Oakland. Calif. : Jahnathon Whitfield in Los Angeles, Vondruska and Sparough.

Sparough is happy he got involved. "My wife says I'm happier now, and I have time for other projects. I'm back in school getting a master's degree in psychology."

A Decade of Juggling for the Masses / Index, Vol. 39, No. 4 / jis@juggling.org
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.