Stanford’s juggling club Down with Gravity brings the circus to White Plaza
Like most Friday afternoons, White Plaza is fairly empty aside from the occasional student bemoaning an upcoming problem set that looms darkly over his weekend and another cheerful stroller who appears inordinately pleased that the end of the week has arrived.
But come 3 p.m., a new diversion has appeared on the lawn outside of the bookstore: a small group of guys quietly juggling plastic balls.
Within the half hour, another two jugglers have arrived, and a crate of props emerges from somewhere in Old Union. The equipment varies from balls to clubs, cigar boxes and hacky sacks.
Soon, the small patch of grass between the Claw and the passing bicycles has become a lively juggling ring. The number of performers swells, children stop by to learn and laugh and a few students take a moment in passing to watch clubs flying through the air in impossibly controlled patterns.
Despite its spontaneous feel, the gathering marks the weekly meeting of Stanford’s juggling club, Down with Gravity.
“I’ve been juggling for about nine years,” said Michael Pearce ’13. “And I’ve been a member of this club for eight.”
Pearce, who shares the world record for greatest number of clubs juggled at one time, has been coming up to Stanford from San Jose every Friday afternoon since middle school to throw things around with the group.
“The first time I showed up here I was 12 years old, and they just completely welcomed me in,” Pearce said.
At this moment, a young boy asking for instructions on how to juggle pieces of colored cloth interrupts him mid-train of thought. He instantly turns to assist the inquiring child.
“Practice throwing it from the hand holding two pieces of cloth first,” Pearce explains, kneeling down on the grass to demonstrate.
The boy nods solemnly and furrows his brow in intense focus. A few minutes later he’s got it, and a little girl comes up asking him to teach her too.
Further away, four jugglers are practicing passing clubs, throwing out words like “feast” and “havana” to denote different formations.
After what sounds like some complicated engineering, one of the jugglers, Jeremy Keeshin’12, calls out:
And suddenly, juggling clubs are thrown in every direction, with each juggler flinging and catching much faster than the eye can follow.
Passersby stop and pick up props. Some have never juggled before, while others explain that they’ve juggled “a little bit” and proceed to effortlessly throw and catch four, five and six balls.
The members of the club are happy to help both. Max “Cougar” Oswald ’12 shows a curious kid how to juggle cigar boxes. Keeshin’s group invites a new addition into their formation.
“It’s great to have a community where I can mess around and pick up tricks,” Pearce said, commenting on the group’s openness.
Down with Gravity was founded in 2001 by Miguel Chaves ‘05, and has maintained its inclusive nature, as well as its Friday afternoon gatherings on White Plaza, ever since.
“We’d meet right here on Friday afternoons at 3 p.m. until it was too dark to juggle,” said Jacob Bien B.S., M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ‘12 who first joined the club as a freshman in 2002.
Bien, who met the original members of Down with Gravity at his Admit Weekend in 2002, has been affiliated with the group for almost 10 years.
“There’s a core group of guys in the group,” said Charlie Dunn’11, the current club president, “but the Friday meeting is open to everyone.”
In addition to Friday gatherings, the “core group” is responsible for performances. Down with Gravity performed last Thursday at the half-time show of the men’s basketball game and is planning on doing the same at this Thursday’s game. They are hoping to do a bigger show during spring quarter, which would be a first for the club.
The group also runs workshops in the surrounding area for children. Next Friday, they will be teaching their tricks to children at the Northstar Academy in Redwood City.
“Almost everyone is in math, CS or physics,” remarked Keeshin, noting a trend in club involvement.
Other than sharing an affinity for numbers and throwing props into the air, however, the boys are remarkably different in execution–each has his own style and preference in juggling props. A few actually abandon juggling altogether and hop onto a unicycle. On other Fridays, slack-rope walkers join the circus.
As the afternoon winds down, the balls are thrown higher and the clubs seem to multiply.
Those who have been practicing for a while are starting to see results, and the boys are getting more creative with their formations. Red and blue balls rest on the green grass, left behind by those who gave up or moved on to fancier pieces.
Jugglers cycle in and out, trading in pencils for hacky sacks and frowns for smiles. They show off their updated repertoire and join others in passing clubs.
“[Down with Gravity] is whatever the people in the club want to make of it,” Dunn said.
The laughs and the flying colors make it easy to see the appeal of juggling — a simple, playful type of fun that is so often forgotten between lectures and readings and midterms.
“Sometimes it’s just fun throwing things back and forth,” Keeshin said. “And sometimes you can do more interesting patterns.”
“It’s a great way to wind down from all the p-sets,” added another club member, Sam Hochheimer’13.
The outdoor location, the inclusivity and the casual atmosphere all add up to one simple aim, articulated by Dunn.
“The main goal is to have a good time on Friday afternoon,” he said, throwing three balls into the air.