Never thriving, always helpful

17-year-old Edina High School junior Riley Wiklund juggles five balls in the Matthews Park gymnasium.

Photo by Kari Goodnough

Minnesota jugglers make clubbing an art form at Matthews Park

The Minnesota Neverthriving will be part of the MONDO Juggling and Unicycle Festival April 11–13 at Concordia University in St. Paul. For more information about the event or the Minnesota Neverthriving, contact Robin Westacott at 612-721-3079 or visit www.neverthriving.org www.neverthriving.org.

Camaraderie. Innovation. Meditation. These reasons and more draw the jugglers of the Minnesota Neverthriving to the Seward neighborhood on Monday nights to hone their craft and share their passion.

Simply put, juggling is an art form involving alternately tossing and catching objects thrown into the air. These objects, or “props,” can be beanbags, rings, clubs, balls, boxes, fiery torches, raw eggs, tennis balls, running chain saws and then some — anything one can throw and catch.

For the last 25 years, jugglers have come from all over the Twin Cities to practice under the 17-foot-high-ceiling of the Matthews Park gymnasium, where there is plenty of headroom to accommodate the most dynamic tosses.

In 1980, several local jugglers connected at a Fargo convention, and the Neverthriving was born.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “never-thriving” as “a thriftless pack,” and a Google search of the word yields several references to jugglers claiming the collective noun, a “neverthriving of jugglers,” one dating it to the Middle Ages. Seward resident and juggler Dan Westacott explained that the group also drew its name from the collective noun reference. This class of nouns also lists things like a poverty of pipers. It makes you wonder if juggling, like a lot of performance art forms, is a viable career choice.

“It’s hard to make a living as a juggler,” said Penny Tesarek, a decades-long Neverthriving regular who drives in from Golden Valley. “If you’re in Vegas, you can do it. If you’re working cruise ships, you can do it.”

An entity in theory, the group has no formal structure, no dues and no officers. “We just have the space available, and whoever shows up, that’s who we are,” said Jerry Martin, an International Juggling Association (IJA) board member.

As the Matthews space is a courtesy to the group, jugglers gladly donate their time to educate anyone interested in juggling. The group participates in the biannual Seward King’s Fair and the annual Seward neighborhood Halloween parade. New recruits are always welcome to observe juggling or learn how to juggle at any Matthews practice.
“Jugglers are helpful,” said Westacott, whose wife Robin is also a Neverthriving regular. “We need to make more jugglers.”

Their apparent lack of potential riches thwarts not the hardy jugglers tossing clubs and rings and beanbags and big plastic balls higher, higher and yet higher at the March 10 gathering. The sound of plastic clubs banging to the floor is steady, as more than a dozen jugglers practice and share techniques and tricks. A circle of juggling comrades begin tossing three clubs each — juggling props that look like they belong at the business end of a bowling alley — back and forth, across and all around in a rhythmic one-two-three pattern. Clubs that fall to the floor are retrieved, and the tossing begins afresh.

“Circus stuff brings you to a meditative state,” said Westacott. “If you’re really focused on doing what you can just barely do, you have to put your cares away. And that can be very relaxing.”

Elsewhere around the gym, other jugglers are working solo or in groups of two, three, and more. Yellow, purple, green, red, pink, silver, and black clubs arc and sail in every direction.

In one corner of the gym, Riley Wiklund, a 17-year-old Edina High School junior, tosses seven rings high into the air. Wiklund has osteochondroma (bone tumors). He suffers from chronic pain and spends a fair amount of time in a wheelchair, but the spunky teenager never lets his illness interfere with his art — in fact, juggling is essential to his well-being. He intentionally surrounds himself with innovative peers and particularly enjoys passing clubs with other jugglers. He is always on the lookout for something new to incorporate into his bag of tricks.

Wiklund is quite the showman, and his physical grace contradicts his illness. He pirouettes to catch props behind his back; he balances a ball on his toe, flips it in the air, and catches it smack on his eye.

“As long as I’m moving, I feel better,” said Wiklund. “But if I move too much or too long, I go down hard.”

IJA board member Martin is across the gym watching the action. He has a ball balanced on the top of each hand while simultaneously holding another ball, the trick being to flip the whole shebang upward and reverse their positions on the catch.

Martin started juggling at the age of 2 when his mother indulged her toddler in some oddly purposeful tossing experiments involving squishy cups. His artistry has evolved to a preference for the artistic style of juggling, which includes music and movement.

“It’s meant to be pretty,” Martin said, waving his arms in a fluid pattern to demonstrate.
Kristopher Setness, a 20-year juggling veteran, said the biggest hurdle for new jugglers is not being embarrassed to drop the clubs and not being afraid to “make a fool of (yourself) in front of other people.”

Like Wiklund, Setness enjoys the social atmosphere engendered by passing clubs. He learned juggling as a kid when his grandmother got him a juggling book but says he “got serious” as a college student.

Then Setness smiles, and says: “Nobody is ever a serious juggler.”

last revised: April 7, 2008