Chatter and the occasional thump of a plastic club hitting the floor filled the annex of Northrop Auditorium as members of the University of Minnesota Juggling Club practiced their craft.
The casual atmosphere will carry into the club’s Flip Fest this weekend. The three-day affair involves open juggling in Coffman Union’s Great Hall — where anyone may watch or join in — and a show on Saturday. Like typical juggling festivals, Flip Fest allows jugglers to connect, teach and learn with each other, but it also has a unique focus on teaching newcomers.
“The juggling community is a great place,” said Meagan Nouis, the founder of Flip Fest. “I wanted others to have the chance to see it and be a part of it.”
Nouis graduated in 2013 with a degree in communication studies and a minor in new media studies. When she was president of the juggling club, she initiated the first Flip Fest last year. She and fellow Juggling Club 2013 alum Stefan Brancel returned this year to help current members organize the event.
Brancel, who majored in neuroscience and psychology, credited the benevolent nature of the art as a key reason why he returned to help as an alumnus.
“The main thing that really sets apart a juggling festival from anything else is the accessibility of everyone there,” Brancel said. “There’s this unspoken credence in the juggling community that anybody can walk up to anybody else and ask, ‘Hey, how do you do this?’”
Including Flip Fest, Minneapolis has two juggling festivals per year. Brancel and Nouis, who have traveled the globe to attend festivals, said that having both events sets the area apart from the country.
The MONDO festival originated with University of Minnesota graduates in 1990. It became one of the largest regional festivals in the country, with an estimated attendance of 500 to 700 people.
The juggling community extends beyond geographic boundaries. Nouis said that while studying abroad, she’d go to juggling festivals and often bump into prior acquaintances. After spontaneously driving to Kansas for a festival with Brancel, the two easily found people willing to host them.
“Juggling increases brain matter and hand-eye coordination and those kinds of things,” Nouis said. “But my favorite benefit would be like the actual relationships you develop [with] people across the world.”
The amiable ambiance often draws new members to the University’s club. Peter Wagner and Yang Yang Sim said they joined after encountering jugglers practicing on the mall.
“We get people that stop by pretty often who are just like, ‘Hey, I can juggle three balls, I wanna give it a shot,’ especially during passing periods,” said Chris Lovdal, fourth-year math major and president of the club. “Sometimes you get a person who jumps out of a tour group.”
Sim, a sophomore and vice president of the club, said that though attendance fluctuates, roughly 10 to 15 members meet twice a week to hang out and juggle.
Sim will perform at Saturday’s Flip Fest show alongside several other esteemed jugglers, many of whom came from out of state. Brancel said that they wanted to show attendees “more than just what the juggling club can do.”
Sim specializes with diablos, which he practices roughly 10 hours each week, he said.
“I just enjoy doing it. I wouldn’t say necessarily there’s motivation, I just like it,” he said. “I guess it’s part of my identity as well.”
Wagner, a senior physics major, learned to juggle three balls as a kid, but set aside the hobby until college. The club reignited his interest as a first-year student.
“Within my first semester, I probably juggled more than I ever juggled before,” he said. “It was addicting, and it was a good thing to keep me entertained and challenged during the boring first semester of school.”
Wagner’s testimony backs up Brancel’s statement.
“The vast majority of people think that juggling is difficult and beyond what they are capable of. … That is fundamentally not true,” Brancel said, who also teaches with Lovdal at Jugheads, a youth juggling company in Edina.
Nouis said the learning never stops, which often keeps people hooked.
“I don’t think people realize that you want to keep juggling because it’s really addicting. When you can count how many catches you get, you can tell that you’ve broken a new record and so that’s really exciting. And then there’s just so many tricks to learn,” she said.
During open juggling at Flip Fest, visitors can watch or join in, regardless of their experience level. The organizers created a station for making free homemade juggling balls so that participants can practice on their own afterwards. Nouis said her favorite part of the festival last year was giving away roughly 400 balls to about 150 visitors.
“We want to show other people that juggling is a community,” Nouis said. “When I tell [people] I juggle, they’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know that was a thing,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, it is, and it’s actually everywhere if you look for it.’”
What: Flip Fest
Where: Friday: Matthews Recreation Center, 2318 29th Ave. S., Minneapolis; Saturday and Sunday: The Great Hall, Coffman Memorial Union, 300 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis
When: 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. – 1 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Free for students