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Friday, August 8, 2014

Street Juggling

If MISTI Chile were a university this would be my thesis: The Anthropology of Street Juggling.

There are some marked differences between jugglers in the US and Chile. 

Jugglers in the US tend to be mathy people and lots of them are old with long beards or generally misanthropic appearances.  In Chile, most of the jugglers are young and have a healthy amount of tattoos and dreads.  They are youth in revolt -- skater punks who don't skate, but juggle.  Juggler punks.

American Jugglers (Left), Chilean Jugglers (Right)

Chilean jugglers not only look different, but have a completely different juggling style from peeps in the US.   There are the traffic light jugglers, the performers who run in front of cars and juggle for a few pesos during red lights. Many of them are incredibly talented, like this guy.  I think Houston could benefit from some traffic light entertainment, but people in the US are less willing to give money from their cars. In fact, street jugglers would probably get run over by some F-150s in Texas.

Juggling is much more competitive in Chile, at least in my experience. Frequent competitions take place among jugglers.  Who can juggle X trick the longest? Who can knock everyone else off their unicycles while staying on? 

All these questions and more were answered at the  juggling "encuentro" that we attended in a local park this past weekend.  Over 500 people flocked to Parque Nuñoa for a monthly meet up put on by Organic Juggling.  It was a fun afternoon participating and bearing witness to competitions like club combat, 7 ball endurance, and unicycle combat.  I like how people just meet up in parks and juggle in Chile. I think that it is the contributing factor for why such a popular "street culture" has formed.  Anyone can just drop by the park and learn and laugh with local jugglers. 

Unfortunately, I left a ball at the encuentro.  The guy who ran the encuentro contacted me, and I went to the Sunday meet-up by the art museum to retrieve it.  Little did I know what mayhem would follow. 

Being a good juggler doesn't change the fact that I'm a gringo.  Standing in a concrete ring, clearly the only gringo around,  I was pitted against some of the best Chilean jugglers in a variety of competitions.  A bunch of hoodlums shouted things in spanish that I didn't register.  This was the world cup of juggling, US versus Chile, from the looks of it. People formed a circle around us to watch. Whenever I won a competition,  the hoodlums would shout "white power!!!", and correspondingly  "black power!!!" every time I lost.  And ultimately I did lose, winning only a couple of ball trick contests.  Chile prevailed, and I said my goodbyes, impressed by the talent and rowdiness of the juggler punks. 

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