Waltzing Lessons : A 3-Count Workshop

By Kulu Orr

The previous and first instalment of this series covered most of the the basics of 3-Count passing, then took a couple of steps down Syncopation Road. This article will take a few more steps down this road.

Part 2 – Syncopations For The Living Room

Unless you have cathedral ceilings in your living room or a private gym at your disposal, you’ll likely be limited to Double throws until spring arrives or until you find (or found) a juggling club near you. The first three parts of the series are therefore dedicated in sympathy to all you vertically challenged jugglers out there. You already learned how to throw an Early Double and a Self Double in part 1, and this part will take a look at a few more low flying ideas.

We’ll also start down the hectic and fun path of forced responses, leading up to an exploration of the Hurry, in the next issue. The Hurry is a super-cool concept, and yet many passers, including experienced ones, are unfamiliar neither with it nor with the possibilities it opens up, all the way to the mind-bending random passing.

But first let’s see how we can keep the syncopation party going. One step at a time. No hurry.

Adding Interest (and compound interest)

Up to now we discussed only two relatively simple syncopations, but even with just these under our belt (or better yet, above it), there is still quite a bit to explore before advancing further. Both syncopations, for starters, involve a pause beat, represented by this odd little insignia in causal diagram : Pause.gif (144 bytes) .

Pauses are a fabulous commodity for the club passer. A pause may be employed for a quick pirouette or an even quicker phone call (“SELL!”); for wildly waving a club in your partner’s direction to test her reflexes; for thumb twirling or flourishing a club held in the pausing hand (with or without a pre-arranged reverse grip catch), and for any other solo show-off move that you can complete in 1 beat or less. You can do your pause-show-off-thang as a one off, or you may execute continuous thangs from alternate hands so long as you keep throwing the syncopation

The figures below are causal diagrams depicting continuous Early Doubles (fig. 1) and continuous Self Doubles (fig. 2). Each diagram starts with one regular round of the 3-Count base pattern, to help you see how to get into it. 

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Fig. 1: Continuous Early Doubles

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Fig. 2: Continuous Self Doubles

If you find yourself staring confounded at these diagrams, feeling a suddenly dizziness as incomprehensible arrows and letters and arrows (and letters) appear to be randomly strewn across the page, take a couple of minutes to treat yourself to a quick refresher course on causal diagrams, as can be found in the “An Essential Graphic Tool” section of Part 1.

If you can flourish well with both hands, for example, you can try to run Continuous Self Doubles while catching every self double in reverse grip and flourishing it. You have enough time to do so, thanks to the extra Pause beat that the flourishing hand enjoys before its next throw. If your annoying passing partner makes too much fun of your flailing about all over the place, as you struggle to recover from your miserable attempts at catching your selves in reverse grip, then here’s a nice idea:

Throw continuous Early Doubles, making all the passes as backcrosses (who’s flailing all over the place now, struggling to catch, hmm?). Build into it gradually, throwing only an Early Double as a backcross only now and again, from either hand. You might find this trick easier to pull off if you stand closer to your partner. It’s quite impressive when it clicks, and feels very satisfying both to the receiver as well as to the thrower. Naturally, don’t try this unless you’re proficient with throwing continuous double spin backcrosses to yourself when juggling solo. Otherwise you’ll find yourself fairly quickly juggling only solo anyway, for lack of passing partners willing to put up with your learning curve at their expense.

In addition to confusing the onlooking jugglers in your local club (always a desirable effect), even relatively simple syncopations give you better intuition for the underlying 3-Count rhythm. This will enable you to later on ad-lib and even completely obscure the base pattern with a syncopated tossed salad (or if using torches, tossed salad flambée). Here’s another great and lesser known 3-Count syncopation.

441 (“But what do all the numbers mean!?”)

The numbers in the cryptic name of this syncopation are siteswaps.
Wait, no, where are you going? I promise this won’t hurt much!
Lore has it that Geeks constitute a major part of the juggling community. As I venture further into Nerd territory, I sense the readership diminishing by the sentence. So listen up geeks! Nerds may get a bad rep, but trust me – there’s a lot of fun to be had by taking the best from both worlds. I promise to do my best to keep it simple and friendly, hopefully avoiding the triggering of any math class PTSD.

Simply put, the “4”s in the “441” indicate doubles, thrown and caught by the same hand, just like the throws made when juggling four objects in a fountain (hence “4”). The “1” in the name signifies a “hand across” or a “zip”: The club is “zipped” from hand to hand without spending even a single count in the air. A famous example for a siteswap pattern involving only 1’s is “The Nervous Cop”, a one-club non-juggling pattern for a policeman and a single baton fed continuously from one hand to the other.

441 is a nice solo pattern with any juggling prop. As stated before, you (and particularly your partner) will be much better off if a trick is mastered solo, rather than practicing it by bombarding your partner with the collateral club damage of your failed attempts. So here’s how to practice 441 with a three club solo cascade: Throw a 4 (same hand double) straight up from one hand, then immediately on the next beat throw a 4 straight up from the other hand; on the following beat, as the first 4 throw is coming down, make room for it by zipping the club held in that hand across to the other hand. If you managed that and somehow also succeeded in resuming the cascade then congratulations, you have just completed one round of 441.

Solid timing is of the essence here. You should be able to throw single rounds of 441 from your solo three club cascade and return back to it without disrupting the rhythm of your juggling. In other words, the sound of clubs slapping into your palms should retain a steady, unchanging pace whether you throw 441’s or not (occasionally interspersed with the sound of a club hitting the floor, followed by a tandem string of curses by you and your downstairs neighbour).

Make sure you can lead into the trick with either hand, throwing the first 4 either with your left or right without difficulty. When you can reliably throw single 441 rounds from both hands, try it continuously, with the club that is handed-across being immediately thrown up as the first double of the next round of the trick. Once you have that down cold, you can start doing variations: Feeding the hand-across behind the back, under the leg or over your head; throwing the doubles up with lateral (side) spin or as shoulder throws; etc. Each of these you will later be able to apply while passing, for extra flaunt points.

After your 441 Is solid as a solo pattern, try it as a passing syncopation. Mastering the Self Double and Early Double (discussed in the previous article) will be a good basis, because 441 starts out with a combination of these two syncopations: Launch off with a Self Double immediately after the pass, continue on the next count with an Early Double, and finish it off with the hand-across on the third count. Once that feels solid enough, you can start sprinkling into the passed 441 some of the tricks and variations you practiced solo.

Fig. 3 below depicts the sequence of throws for a single round of 441 thrown out of a 3-Count base pattern: (L to R single Pass), R to R Double Self, L to L Double Pass, R to L Handacross.

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Fig. 3: 441

 The hand-across in the diagram might seem odd at first, pointing backwards in time as it does (from right to left). However, recall that the standard Single throw (siteswap 3) spans one count to the right in the diagram, and a pause (siteswap 2) is an arrow pointing back to its starting point, thus spanning zero counts. A hand-across (site swap 1) spanning 1 beat to the left is perfectly consistent with this series, so stop complaining and keep juggling.

One thing to look out for here is separating the self-double and the passed-double in your mind, so that neither you nor your partner end up with an unplanned club crash landing into you. Typically your Early Double will tend to be too short, empathising with the Self Double immediately preceding it (who could have guessed juggling clubs could be so empathetic). Correcting this tendency is particularly challenging when running the syncopation continuously, as in Fig. 4 below.

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Fig. 4: Continuous 441

441 is a versatile and inexplicably neglected passing syncopation. It was discussed here in the context of a 3-Count, but it may just as well be incorporated into practically every 6 club passing rhythms. If I’m not around to rebuke you for asymmetric passing, you can give it a try in 4-Count or 2-Count. Afterwards, though, you’ll have to atone for your right-handed transgressions by attempting it in Pass-Pass-Self.

Late Double

Early Doubles are passed one count early, but an extra count of air time enables them to land at the right place at the right time. The idea of a Late Double is the opposite: A club is passed so that it lands one count late and in the wrong hand (not the hand expecting a pass in that round). Who ever said two wrongs don’t make a right?

Well, I don’t know who she was, but she had as point. At least, these two wrongs almost but not quite make a right. In order for the pattern to be maintained after you throw a Late Double, your partner needs to somewhat alter her side of it as well. As Fig. 5 below shows, the receiving juggler has to omit the first self of her two, because had it been thrown, it would have landed at the same place and time as the incoming Late Double. Her cue for omitting this self is the absence of an incoming pass on the Pass count, a pass which normally compels the receiving hand to rid itself of the club it is holding by throwing a self. The sequence of throws for this syncopation, as depicted in the diagram, is thus as follows:
Passer (top row):            R to L single Pass, L Self, R Self, L to L double Pass, R Self, L Self, …
Receiver (bottom row): R to L single Pass, L Self, R Self, L to R Single Pass, Pause, L Self, …

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Fig. 5: Late Double

The receiver of a late double throws not two Selves between two consecutive passes, but only one. The other Self is replaced by a Pause count which you can put to the good use of just standing there looking bewildered (or looking good, depending on how adorable you are. In my case, definitely looking bewildered). The thrower of the Late Double does not suffer (nor enjoy) any alteration of her pattern, other than passing a diagonal double instead of a straight single on the normal pass count. 

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Fig. 6: Continuous Late Doubles

That required Pause count might come as quite a confusing surprise to an unsuspecting receiver of a Late Double, so the receiver should make sure to keep the base count running in jer head and be alert not to throw that first self automatically but only if a pass is incoming. Throwing this syncopation continuously, as in Fig. 6 above, results in quite a strange and stuttered rhythm at the receiver’s end, more like Bossanova than a Waltz

Forced Responses

Throwing a Late Double is a somewhat impolite syncopation, as it disrupts your partner’s rhythm. However, if your partner is doing a plain vanilla 3-Count base pattern, she just has to be alert enough to replace her first self with a pause and all will be well. In other situations, however, your partner will be forced to take more aggressive evasive action in order to avert a passing calamity.

Fig. 7 below, for example, has one juggler throwing a Late Double just as her unaware partner launches a Self Double on the following count. The black ellipse marks the forecasted disaster area should no action be taken, where a throw supposedly originates from an empty left hand, and one count later an incoming club arrives at an already occupied right hand. If the receiver does not alter her plans for the evening (or at least for the next few counts) she’ll end up without a club in her passing hand when it’s time to pass, and a probable drop one count later. She’ll have to make a Forced Response if the pattern is to remain airborne.

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Fig. 7: Disaster?

One such possible response will be handing a club across to the passing hand. Fig. 8 below, for example, depicts the club held in the right being handed across to the left, restoring the pattern’s integrity and brightening the air traffic controller’s day.

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Fig. 8: Forced Hand-Across Saves The Day

If you like the resulting sequence but dislike surprises, you can have a prearranged signal (“Timber!” could do) upon which you both know that instead of the next pass one of you will throw a Late Double, and the other will play a Self Double followed by a hand-across, after which you may both resume the 3-Count base pattern or choose to have another timber felled.

Another possible forced response solution, delineated in figure 9 below, is for the receiver of a Late Double to pass an Early Double. This will leave her non-passing hand empty for one count, which should come in handy in case of an urgent need of a nose picking (much easier without holding a club).

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Fig. 9: Forced Early Double Saves Yet Another Day

If you like the of mental rush stemming from suddenly having to alter your game plan, practice passing and receiving the odd, unplanned Late Double while doing other syncopations. It will hone your control, and it’s guaranteed to keep you on your toes (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense).

The key to getting these (and other possible) forced responses right, without getting confused, is to be attuned to the 1-2-3 beat of the base pattern. This beat should be ingrained, running in your mind regardless of the crazy syncopations you’re currently throwing and/or catching. If a club is not arriving as expected you have only  a split-count to ponder the appropriate reaction, decide if a forced response is needed and implement your chosen course of action. But all that is worthless, even if executed perfectly, unless upon completion of the move you know exactly when and where your partner is expecting your next pass to arrive.

In the next instalment we’ll take the forced response concept one step further, with the relatively unusual passing technique of the Hurry. Hurries enable you to extend your passing skills without needing more height, so the good news here is damage to even more stuff around your house before winter is out.