40 Years of Not Dropping the Ball

Jason Lin/TBL Photography

Kin Ho

Balls behind their back, pins between their legs and rings up and over, all on a unicycle: a juggler’s paradise.

Earlier this Mother’s Day weekend, these items set the stage for the 40th Annual Isla Vista Juggler’s Festival, where jugglers ranging from novice to professional came together to celebrate the life of Patty Laney, a former University of California, Santa Barbara student and avid juggler who lost her life as a victim of rape in 1977.

With a night show and donations geared towards helping the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, jugglers from all over the west gathered to share their skills and dazzle the crowd, and all for a good cause.

“I think this event’s great,” said Roy Paterson, a juggling enthusiast who had come for his second year. “It’s a great thing they’re doing here…great facility, great crowd, and great atmosphere, and it’s really nice of the university to let us use it for this festival.”

With over 400 participants coming through or just looking on, the event has grown significantly since its founding. “It’s almost doubled in size since last year,” said Paterson, with many new friendly faces and some old ones returning for the joy of the event.

Lively swing music played in the background accompanied by the chatter of eager enthusiasts; the festival was quite a sight.

The open workshops and performances, spread through May 6 to May 8, drew an eclectic crowd of both participants and onlookers who merely watched the performers and their jaw-dropping practices.

Juggling wasn’t the only act here. Acrobatics and balancing acts were being practiced as well at UCSB’s Multi-Activity as performers balanced poles and other paraphernalia with extreme concentration, much to the enjoyment of onlookers.

Started by Patty’s friends after her death as a memorial of sorts, this event, having taken place for 40 years now, has become the longest running regional juggling festival worldwide.

Juggler Ryan Williams describes the overarching structure of the event as having stayed constant in its program, yet its flair and electricity throughout the years have only managed to escalate to new heights.

While the Isla Vista juggling community has remained stable and consistent, its presence has been relatively small. However, this event allows for the growth and expansion of such fervor. “It’s a great way to promote a good cause, and also a way for juggler’s like myself to network and meet other people,” said Williams, in hopes to spread what can only be defined as an art form.

From people juggling on their own to people tossing around pins as a group, the familial aspect of this event was undeniable. Everyone seemed to know each other, and with a combined passion for the art, both Williams and Paterson predict that this event will only continue to grow as the years go by.