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Juggling Fitness in The New York Times
Posted March 14, 2014
Juggling, an Unexpected Workout
By Daniel Kriegermarch
Published in The New York Times: March 13, 2014

I recently added juggling to the list of physical feats I can perform, along with standing on my head and hula-hooping. I had never fully appreciated how hard — and how much of a workout — it could be until attending a beginner’s workshop on a wintry Saturday afternoon at a studio in Chelsea. Nevertheless, the instructor, Heather Wolf, was confident that by the end of the session everyone would be able to perform this ancient circus art.

Juggling provides a workout for your brain and body, Ms. Wolf said at the start of the 60-minute class. She cited a range of benefits, including improved concentration and coordination and stress relief. She also said we could burn up to 280 calories per hour.

Ms. Wolf, 44, a fitness trainer, started this weekly class last year after moving to New York from Florida. She learned juggling nearly two decades ago while traveling with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (as a bass player with the band) then discovered the joy of teaching it. In 2007, she founded JuggleFit, which offers workshops and products.

The three other students and I were given three floaty scarves — blue, red and green — for learning the movement patterns in slow motion. We began with one scarf, tossing it toward the top corner of an imaginary door in front of us and catching it with the other hand. Then two scarves, throwing the second when the first reached the opposite corner, followed by a third. “Corner, corner, corner, and then stop,” she said while demonstrating the throws.

Next, we tried to keep it going as she circulated and gave tips, like looking straight ahead and using peripheral vision. I quickly achieved a “three-scarf cascade,” the basic juggling pattern, developing the muscle memory for juggling balls.

Then we were each handed a set of three multicolored juggling balls, vinyl beanbags the size of small oranges. We started tossing one ball, just above head level, from one hand to the other. Then, as with the scarves, we threw a second ball when the first reached the “corner” of its diagonal trajectory. As we practiced lobbing the two balls back and forth, Ms. Wolf offered praise, encouragement and pointers. “You’re grabbing it,” she told me, correctly guessing my baseball background. “Let it fall into your hands.”

And finally, the three-ball cascade. We started out with just three tosses, executed with feet planted, knees bent, core engaged and eyes focused straight ahead, aiming for those imaginary corners. Within minutes, I managed to catch four throws consecutively and soon after hit seven and then 10, my crowning achievement of the day. But I was already forming bad habits.

“It’s better to let the ball drop than to chase the ball,” Ms. Wolf told me as I scurried around the room.

And with all the arm movement — described by Ms. Wolf as “walking for the arms” — not to mention constant squats to pick up fallen balls, I was breaking a sweat in the exertion equivalent of a brisk walk.

Jennifer Chicon, 26, a high school counselor who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, said she hadn’t expected juggling to be as physically taxing as it was. She’d also doubted she could learn it.

“I don’t really do coordination very well,” she said with a laugh before class. But afterward, newly able to juggle two balls, she was pleased with her progress. Equipped with her scarves and balls, she said she planned to practice till she could pull off the three-ball cascade and some tricks.

“I want to impress my friends and family and say, ‘Look, I learned how to do this,’ ” she said, which happens to be just what I’ve been doing ever since getting hooked on it.

JuggleFit offers a $15 beginner’s class at 2 p.m. on Saturdays in Chelsea; 347-217-4579, jugglefit.com.

Read the original article and see other photos here.

Photo: Jennifer Chicon at a JuggleFit class. Credit Melanie Fidler for The New York Times
Note from the JuggleNYC Editors: Posted as received.