Lost in Translation
For the Flow Arts Institute
By Eric “Propfessor” Shibuya

In my own “Humans of Flow Arts” profile, I remarked on how much I enjoyed the translation of one set of moves to another with different props, how a poi move is done with double staves or hoops, and how if you “straighten a hoop” you can do the same move with a staff. As someone who primarily is a juggler, I have enjoyed watching the evolution of club swinging as more poi spinners pick up the “stiff poi.” Certainly, the development and evolution of poi juggling is something I find fascinating. At FLAME 2017, I saw some attempts at a 5 poi cascade by both Chris “Techris” Kelly and Jeremiah “Coach” Jacobs. While the World Juggling Federation and the internet more generally may have one think the 5 club cascade is commonplace, it’s still pretty special, requiring LOTS of hours in the studio. Running 5 with poi is undoubtedly a master-level move.

Translating moves from prop to prop also helps with teaching; it can be an effective shortcut in helping the beginner understand the move. Knowing the hand motions for weave with poi makes that move with clubs easier, and that makes explaining other moves, specifically some of the “mess” patterns, much simpler. For example, the Juggle Wiki site explains Mike’s Mess with the club swinging terminology “cross and follow,” and a description of the move is included in the link. I’ve never used the terminology, though, as teaching the move to poi spinners means you can say “do a 3 beat weave as you throw the clubs–the club throw is always from the arms crossed position and is the hand on the bottom.” I’m not saying this is a silver bullet, that suddenly after this insight the move becomes easier, but the mental barrier of “I don’t know what my hands do!” is removed.

(An aside: The same hand movements are of course used in Mills Mess, but I have not had the same success with this note teaching Mills. I suspect it is because while the hand movements are the same, every throw is different, unlike in Mike’s).

As a teacher by trade, I love the use of these translations in teaching, and as a member of the flow arts community, these translations for me speak to a deeper level of connection in the entire practice of object manipulation and body movement. But, as I’ve taught more workshops, specifically those which bring more “old school” juggling skills into the flow arts community, I’ve discovered some limitations; some things are getting “lost in translation.”

In this specific case, it’s the discovery that poi jugglers have some issues learning club passing that are different from jugglers who go from balls to clubs. By the same token, long time club jugglers have real issues learning to juggle poi (I know this latter point personally–to this day I still can’t juggle poi, and I’ll never forget watching a world champion juggler struggle with poi juggling his first time out as well). I’m speaking broadly here, I’m not suggesting this is insurmountable or that it happens to everyone, but in the last 3+ years of teaching club passing with those who have a greater foundation in poi, there are some general patterns of motion that I have noticed.

1. Poi juggling develops a “whole arm/straight arm” throw. Club passing needs more cowbell, I mean, elbow (and wrist, to some extent). One advantage this gives to poi jugglers moving to clubs is the greater comfort they have in developing flat throws. The explosion of flat throws (regular, wall plane, etc,) in club juggling I suspect can be connected to the infusion of poi jugglers coming over (or, the “Marvin Ong Effect”).
2. Poi juggling develops a high cascade pattern, watching the throws is natural, almost required. Club passers need to see through or over the pattern. (See the next point).

3. Poi jugglers watch their patterns very closely. Beginning club jugglers do this as well, but moving to passing requires greater reliance on peripheral vision.

Going from traditional club juggling to poi juggling, I see the following main struggles:

1. “It’s all in the wrist”–compare the four club fountains by my friend Joe Graff and myself:

Joe: https://www.instagram.com/p/BTZhLftjB1J/
Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih66WvKuQqk&t=69s

I can’t, for the life of me, get those lofty singles, but my 4 club double-spin runs are solidly in the 30+ range. I’ve gotten over 100 catches, though I don’t run it that long anymore. Watching and comparing our arm positions and movements show almost no visible difference, but it’s the turn of the wrist in mine that give my throws that extra spin in what is the same relative height as Joe’s.

2. There is much more of a “bounce” to the juggling motion with poi juggling. The throws are aided by the knees in a way that you don’t see as much in club juggling, except in higher throws.

These are not impossible translations. People have gone from poi juggling to club juggling/passing and vice versa. The point here is that some of those skills learned in one actually hinders development in the other and have to be overcome rather than having the ostensibly “same” skill (juggling) enhanced by either poi or clubs. At this past Spring Wildfire, I asked some folks at the “Prop Philosophy” workshop for their thoughts, and one participant noted some differences between poi and meteor in terms of things like extensions and other moves. It may help to start with the idea of meteor as connected poi (it’s actually how I usually start thinking about the prop), but one also needs to note the differences due to the fact that it is a single prop. (That’s where meteor/staff translations may work better, rather than thinking about them as poi).

What does the translation idea mean for teachers? Recognizing the skills that transfer from one prop to another is a great advantage in speeding up the teaching and learning process, but we also have to note the skills learned that are NOT helpful–the ones that get “lost in translation.”

*My thanks to Scott Thompson for running the Prop Philosophy workshop at Spring Wildfire 2017 and those that participated in the workshop who let me test out some of these musings.