Straw Hat Juggling is a new acrobatic act based on skills of hand coordination that have been practiced in China since prehistoric times. Among a number of cultural artifacts unearthed in Daxi, Sichuan Province in the 1980’s are several red pottery balls dating back to the Neolithic Age(8,000-3,500 BC).
Archeologists believe them to be examples of the “Bell Ball”mentioned in numerous ancient texts as an acrobatic juggling prop. The balls are pierced with several holes and make a high whistling sound when juggled back and forth, matching historical descriptions of the “Bell Ball.”The discovery of these ancient artifacts indicates that hand coordination skills were practiced in China as long ago as the Ne-olithic Age.
By the time of the Spring and Autumn(760-476 BC) and Warring States(475-221 BC) periods, juggling was quite popular. Ancient texts mention a number of highly skilled practitioners of the time, includ-ing Lanzi,a sword juggler who lived in the State of Song. It is recorded that when Lanzi performed for Duke Yuanjun (reigned 531-516 BC) of Song, juggling seven swords while balancing on stilts taller than he was, the duke was so impressed that he bestowed him with numerous gifts. It can be seen from this story that the art of juggling had reached a high degree 2,500 years ago.
“Bell Ball,”an ancient Chinese acrobatic prop
Today, juggling is a mainstay of the acrobatic art. Various objects of daily life may be used as props, in-cluding pots, bowls, spoons, plates, wine bottles, and cleavers. The Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe’s juggling act, in which ten badminton paddles are kept flying through the air, won a gold medal at the World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow in Paris. Xinjiang-style juggling, which utilizes traditional sabayijia hand drums as props, combines acrobatics with singing and dancing to the rhythms of traditional Uygur folk music, further enriching the field.
Straw Hat Juggling, presented by the Shandong and Zunyi Acrobatic Troupes, gives traditional juggling an infusion of new energy with its portrayal of a group of young farmers working in the fields, juggling their straw hats while doing flips and somersaults. The joy of physical labor, the vitality of youth, andthe honest and simple emotions of the farmers find apt expression in both the crazy quilt patterns the six straw hats describe in the sky and the humor of the actors’ performance. With its combination of stunts and subject matter, replacement of old-fashioned single-person juggling with flawless group co-operation, and demonstration of superior skill and demanding technique, Straw Hat Juggling has won widespread acclaim.