Atlanta Jugglers Association hosts 45th annual Groundhog Day Festival
By Hannah E. Jones
This weekend, the Atlanta Jugglers Association is hosting its 45th annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival with a full line-up of juggling workshops, competitions and a variety show.
From Friday, Feb. 3 to Sunday, Feb. 5., the Yaarab Shrine Center will be filled with balls, clubs, rings — anything that can be juggled. The festival is intended for participants and viewers alike, with opportunities to learn a new trick or simply enjoy the show.
The festival is held in tandem with Groundhog Day, and the Association has embraced the animal as its mascot. The trophies that will be given out at the event are specially designed, depicting a groundhog balancing a top hat on his head while holding three clubs and three balls.
“It’s a quirky sport, so a quirky holiday fits us very well,” Publicity Director and Webmaster Joyce Howard said.
Howard has been involved with the Association for over 40 years and has helped organize the festival for the last 15. Howard learned how to juggle in college and the unique hobby became a shared family activity with her ex-husband and three sons. If you can hold it, she’s probably juggled it — including machetes and lit torches.
The weekend’s lineup includes at least 20 workshops — catering to beginners and experienced jugglers alike — for folks to learn various techniques or tips for putting together a routine. The festival will also feature a variety of games, like three-ball Simon Says and blind juggling.
On Saturday, the Association will host its competition for the PHIL Trophy, which is kicked off by the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable Band, a marching band with up to 60 people. In this competition, each participant has four minutes and everything goes. The judges are intentionally selected based on their lack of technical knowledge — making the participants’ main goal to dazzle the audience. This year’s trophies are Most Groovy, Most Dazzling and Most Sensational.
Additionally, the Association is hosting The Cabaret, a two-hour variety show with juggling, comedy, unicycling, magic, yoyoing, hooping and more. Visitors are welcome to perform.
The Atlanta Jugglers Association is a volunteer-run nonprofit that focuses on teaching and learning the art of juggling. The organization was established in 1978 by Rodger French and Toni Shifalo, two clowns who performed throughout the Southeast as “Lenny and La Banana.”
For Howard and the team, the annual festival is a fun way to celebrate the unique sport and its equally quirky community.
“It’s an unusual art and sport. The people are peace-loving, kind and sharing. It’s different from some sports. For instance, we have lots of magician friends, but magicians don’t want to share their tricks,” she said with a chuckle. “We’re happy to share.”
Howard also emphasized that while juggling may look difficult, most people can pick up the skill. There’s a low barrier to entry as there’s no specific equipment needed, and, she added, it’s a great way to improve hand-eye-coordination.
“Anyone can learn to juggle,” Howard said. “All ages can do this — we do activities with little three, four and five-year-olds. I can also teach someone that’s 70 or 80 years old.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the upcoming three-day juggling extravaganza, click here.
Check out some photos by Kelly Jordan of the 2023 Jugglers Festival!
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