By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
The Green Bay Juggling Club has settled into a new meeting space after a years-long hiatus and a struggle to find a sutiable location for local jugglers to gather and work on new skills.
For Jake Darrow, organizer of the club, the passion for juggling began early in life.
“Two weeks before I turned 11, I went to a circus in Green Bay at the old Brown County Arena and saw jugglers there,” he said. “I got inspired so much that once I got home, I grabbed my dad’s golf balls and I taught myself in about 10 minutes. I couldn’t do any tricks; I could just juggle three balls. I did that for the rest of grade school and then the summer before high school, I started practicing. My freshman year Christmas, my mom got me my first set of juggling clubs, and from then on I practiced probably 30 hours a week. I didn’t have a very busy schedule freshman year, so I would stay after school in the Southwest High School commons and practice probably two hours a day and then also on the weekends and at night.”
Darrow’s passion translated into his adult life as he began to form a club with other local jugglers.
“I tried starting [the club] in 2005,” he said. “I had a YMCA membership and I started trying to advertise a practice or a meeting on a routine basis — trying to find other people that were interested. I ended up meeting up with two brothers, and they both juggled.”
A demonstration at a local event is what Darrow said finally got the club off the ground.
“The three of us started passing clubs, and then we ended up doing a Shopko Healthy Kids Day, just the three of us,” he said. “We were trying to advertise the club and garner membership, and one of our now main members’ mom saw us there, and then the mother of another potential juggler saw us there as well. So that was the beginning of the club in 2006… The three of us, then the five of us, basically started the club.”
For roughly seven years, Darrow said the club was going strong.
“We originally met at the West Side YMCA,” he said. “We met there in 2006 through 2013, and then life kind of got in the way. The club sizzled out… Honestly, we just kind of got burnt out. We were doing it every single week for two hours for seven years or so.”
Just over a year ago, Darrow’s passion for juggling had returned and he began the process of restarting the club.
“We hadn’t met until last year — it’d be 14 months ago now — when I went to go to the International Jugglers Association (IJA), which is an association of professionals and hobbyists and everyone in between that’s interested in juggling and the juggling arts. I went to the national convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I was looking for inspiration. I was looking for that spark, so to speak. When I came back from that, I had a renewed interest in getting the club back together. The main thing was trying to find a space. That was the most difficult part.”
Darrow said that the first few locations the club tried weren’t quite right.
“The YMCA would have had us, but everyone would have had to have been a YMCA member…” he said. “And they did some remodeling inside and turned the space that we originally met into some other use, so they didn’t have the space for us. We went and reached out to every community center and I was able to get into a space at the Weyers-Hilliard Library.”
The library, Darrow said, was helpful in getting the club restarted, but not quite the right space for a juggling club to meet regularly.
“Of course, you think of a library and you think of a juggling club, right?” he joked. “There’s a couple meeting rooms that can be reserved, so we were able to get in there once or twice a month for three hours and it got us going again. It was an okay space, but we couldn’t be too loud or have too much music… We had a short stint at GBASO (Green Bay Action Sports Organization). We met there a couple times.”
GBASO turned out not to be a suitable permanent space for the Green Bay Juggling Club, though, Darrow said, but the club recently found a new home.
“We did find a new space at the Howard Commons Activity Complex,” he said. “We are meeting there the second and fourth Monday of each month from 5-8 p.m. We have the building to ourselves, so it’s just us in there, and so far, so good.”
Since restarting, Darrow said the club has been making strides towards rebuilding its membership.
“We’re at about 15 [members] now,” he said. “At our peak, we had about 30 back in the day… The Green Bay Club does a lot of club passing. First you have to know how to juggle and then you have to learn how to juggle clubs, and then you learn how to pass… And Green Bay is a hub for unicyclists as well.”
Darrow said the Green Bay Juggling Club is for anyone who is interested in juggling, whether they are already proficient or just starting out.
The club’s motto, Darrow said, is “give us an hour and we’ll teach anyone to juggle.”
Over the years, Darrow estimates that 400 people have come through the Green Bay Juggling Club and only two haven’t learned.
“We always teach whoever shows up how to juggle,” he said. “We’re always there as guides and mentors for everyone to learn and get better. Typically, at a meeting, the first half is about teaching and the second half is about solo practice or group practice… It all depends on who shows up. If we don’t have any new people or beginners, then we usually go right into practice. But if we have new people, then we teach them to juggle and try to spread the word and get more membership.”
If you’re interested in learning how to juggle or attending a meeting, visit the Green Bay Juggling Club’s Facebook page.