Bouncing a Ball Off the Forehead

Jason Kollum demonstrates bouncing a ball on the forehead.

 

The explanation (below) first appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of JUGGLE magazine. JUGGLE is the official publication of the International Jugglers' Association.

Head Bouncing

 

Many world-class jugglers add an extra dimension of mastery by including this additional challenge into their performances. The extra skill not only enhances the show, learning to bounce a ball on one's head has the added benefit of making one a better numbers juggler.

 

At first glance, learning to bounce a ball on one's head may not seem that useful a skill for a numbers juggler. Why spend time working with just one ball when the goal is to control seven or more objects? Plus, head bounces involve no throwing or catching. However, practicing the proper technique for bouncing a ball on one's head can bring an immediate beneficial effect to a major aspect of proper numbers juggling technique. The aspect that is common to both head bouncing and numbers juggling is to be properly centered beneath the pattern.

 

Jason Kollum was kind enough to demonstrate both the proper and the improper way to bounce a ball on one's head.

Placing Your Forehead in the Proper Position

 

When people talk about head bounces, they actually mean forehead bounces. You bounce a ball off of your forehead, not off of the top of your head. Tilting your head back and letting the ball bounce off of your forehead allows you to see the ball.

 

Tip your head back just far enough so you can see the entire path of the bouncing ball. You want to be able to view the top of the column that the ball describes. Don't tip your head back any further than necessary, particularly if you plan on juggling while bouncing a ball on your forehead. You also need to be able to see the objects you are juggling. A good range of vision allows you to see the top of the arcs of the juggling objects, plus the flight path of the bouncing ball.

 

You can make minor adjustments to your field of vision by rolling your eyes up or down. Experiment with the combination of head tilt and eye adjustment to find a position that is comfortable for both the bouncing and the juggling. By the way, you may want to experiment with different combinations of head tilt and eye roll when juggling numbers of objects, even without the added difficulty of bouncing a ball on your forehead. Some people prefer to keep their heads more level by rolling their eyes up in the sockets.

The First Bounce

 

Place one foot slightly in front of the other and bend your knees just a bit. Tilt your head back. Hold the ball in the upturned palm of your hand. Toss the ball up and back so it peaks just a little bit higher than your head and falls onto your forehead. Straighten your legs as the ball hits your forehead to bounce the ball back up, so it falls back into your hand. That's the basic move. Try it several times to get used the toss, bounce, and catch.

Multiple Forehead Bounces

 

Once you are able to bounce the ball cleanly back to your hand you will want to try two or more forehead bounces in a row. For repeated forehead bounces you should bounce the ball straight up, rather than slightly forward.

 

Most beginners will find that after the first or second bounce the ball flies off at some skewed angle, rather than bouncing straight up and down.

 

To maintain an effective bounce you will need to coordinate two components: 1) bending and straightening your knees at the appropriate times to provide a slight upward thrust to the ball, and 2) continually placing your forehead directly under the falling ball.

 

The timing involved in bending and straightening your knees should come pretty easily for most people. It s a bit like learning to jump rope. You will naturally fall into an effective rhythm.

 

Several factors come into play to keep your forehead directly under the ball. The primary goal is to bounce the ball straight up each time. When the ball flies straight up and down you won t have to make any adjustments to keep your forehead in the proper position. Accuracy in bouncing is the result of proper timing, proper tilt of the head, and proper forehead placement under the ball.

 

The ideal way to position your forehead in the proper position is to keep your entire body aligned under the vertical path described by the falling ball. Imagine continuing the line formed by your spinal column. From the audience s face-on perspective, this line should merge with the vertical line described by the rising and falling ball. (see illustration of proper form)

 

Should the in-flight ball stray from this line, you want to move your feet to place your body back under the new line described by the descending ball. Taking small steps with your feet ensures that your body can remain straight and properly aligned under the ball.

 

Please note that the idea of your spinal column, neck, and head forming one vertical line that extends upward into the vertical line described by the bouncing ball only works from the audience s face-on point of view. Seen from the side this would appear as two parallel vertical lines. The distance between these two parallel lines is the anatomical difference between your spinal column and your tilted-back forehead.

 

Another, less elegant way to place your forehead under the ball is to keep your feet stationary and bend at the waist or neck. This method should be avoided, however, as it not only creates an unsymmetrical image for the audience, it reinforces a sloppy head-bouncing technique. (see illustration of poor form) Bend at the waist or neck and subsequent corrections usually become more and more difficult.

Combining Head Bounces with Juggling

 

Begin with the head bounce. After you have established a controlled bounce, add the juggling. Most jugglers concentrate on watching the bouncing ball. They view the top of the juggling pattern with peripheral vision.

Transferring the Proper Head Bounce Technique to Numbers Juggling

 

A huge payoff of learning to bounce a ball on your head comes when you juggle large numbers of objects. The technique of making small adjustments with your feet, while keeping your straight body aligned underneath the ball is directly applicable to numbers jugglers. You want to make small steps to keep your body underneath the midline of the juggling pattern.

 

Imagine compacting the flight path of a standard juggling pattern along the vertical axis of symmetry. A single, vertical line could represent the entire locus of points along the flight path of the balls. Mathematicians may think of degenerating the pattern into a single vertical line segment. Perhaps the easiest way for most people to visualize this is to find the crossing point of the pattern, and imagine a vertical line that passes through the crossing point.

 

Just as with head bounces, the juggler wants her or his spinal column, neck, and head to line up in the same vertical line that is represented by the objects in the juggling pattern. Keep your body directly underneath this pattern by making small steps with your feet, rather than bending at the waist or moving your arms away from home position. (see illustration for an example of not juggling underneath the pattern)

 

You don't have to juggle a crossing pattern to take advantage of this training technique. The midlines of Columns, Fountains, and Reverse-Fountains can also be determined.

 

Again, I should point out that this single vertical line appears when viewed directly from the front. Two parallel vertical lines would be seen when viewed from the side. The distance between these lines would represent the space between the juggler's spinal column and her hands, placed in home position.

Alternative to Bouncing a Ball on Your Head

 

Not everyone is interested in bouncing balls off of their foreheads. You can also reinforce the skill of juggling directly underneath the pattern by learning to balance objects on your chin, nose, or forehead.

 

Conceptually, bouncing a ball on your forehead and balancing an object on your face represent the same technique of being underneath the pattern. As the object begins to fall you want to move your feet to place your entire body underneath the object. Except for very small corrections, don't get lazy and just bend at the waist or neck. (see illustrations, both good form and bad form)

       
 

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