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In the Jim Henson film Labyrinth, released in 1986, the Goblin King, played by David Bowie is shown to juggle crystal balls, rolling them over his hands in amazing and adept ways. Bowie did not actually do this juggling, called contact juggling. The genius behind this feat of coordination was a juggler named Michael Moschen, who has emerged as one of the greatest practitioners of contact juggling.
In contact juggling, instead of throwing and catching balls or other objects, the primary juggling occurs by rolling the balls over the hands, or the upper body. Balls can be rolled over the face, the shoulders, neck or arms. One of Moschen’s most amazing tricks is his ability to suspend a ball from his index finger, which appears to defy the laws of gravity.
Contact juggling gained particular notice after Labyrinth was released. Virtually every prime time news show at the time did a piece on Moschen’s amazing abilities, which differed so much from more recognized forms of juggling. Though Moschen is often credited with the invention of contact juggling, this form of ball rolling, particularly on the back of the hands, dates back to Chinese acrobats who performed the art form at least 200 years ago.
Another form of contact juggling, which most people immediately recognize, is the work performed by the Harlem Globetrotters. Spinning balls on the tips of fingers is another aspect of contact juggling that has delighted audiences for years. The Harlem Globetrotters also employ ball rolling across the arms, and over the neck and shoulders.
Michael Moschen does not frequently employ contact juggling now, but his other routines are astounding feats of precision, as well as being visually arresting. Tyas Frantz is very popular in the contact juggling world, and regularly performs in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Moschen’s work inspired many to learn the art of contact juggling, and there are now videos, books and seminars that can help those wishing to learn. It does require extraordinary coordination, and seems to be more easily learned by children than adults.