Down with Gravity: A day with Stanford’s juggling club

Founded by Miguel Chavez ’05 in 2001, Stanford’s juggling club has been a magnet for jugglers of all ages in the South Bay Area ever since.

Oct. 10, 2022, 6:52 p.m.

As I approach White Plaza to attend a meeting of Down with Gravity, Stanford’s juggling club, I see only an undergraduate and a middle-aged man alternating between talking and juggling on its small lawn. The turnout will grow, assures Claire Morton ’24, the club’s president. “Jugglers are perpetually late.”

As I ready my transcription app, it becomes clear that Morton’s counterpart is not a juggling club regular, as I’d assumed. He is receiving a beginner lesson in juggling, involving small bean bags. “Throw, throw, catch, catch,” she demonstrates.

Morton stops to give such lessons many times throughout the meeting, which is equal parts performance, practice and workshop. Anyone who stops by to watch is quickly handed some bean bags and invited to join in on the fun; this includes me, and I continue the rest of the interview with bean bags in hand.

“If people are ever like, ‘I don’t think that I could learn how to juggle,’ I just say, please come to a meeting. We will teach you how to juggle for free, and it will be great,” Morton said.

Morton began juggling in her junior year of high school. After a year online, Morton was searching for some community on campus and stumbled upon the group’s website.

“I kind of just stumbled upon juggling club, but it’s genuinely a very nice community of people,” she said. “They all want you to learn new tricks and have a good time.”

The first regular to join us is Michael Pearce Ph.D. ’20, a cheerful 31-year-old government employee carrying a briefcase. “Regular” is an understatement, though; Pearce attended his first meeting almost twenty years ago. 

“I joined this club in about 2003 as a middle schooler, and I just kind of kept coming,” Pearce told me. Pearce later attended Down with Gravity as an undergraduate; now, he attends as an alumnus. 

The decades of experience is evident; as we talk, Michael tosses a plunger behind his back, flipping it a few times over his shoulder before catching it again. Over the course of our two-hour conversation, he never misses this throw. 

As the group’s resident history major, Pearce quickly steps into the role of Down with Gravity historian. 

Down with Gravity was founded by Miguel Chavez ’05 in 2001 and soon became a meeting spot for jugglers of all ages in the South Bay. “It’s always been a mixed bag of interesting people,” Pearce said. Turnouts range from seven to 20 regulars. 

The club has produced its fair share of prodigies. Down with Gravity’s “claim to fame in the juggling world,” according to Pearce, is former member Alex Barron ’17 M.S. ’17, who filmed a record-breaking 14 ball flash outside of Stanford’s Lyman Graduate Residences. (A successful “flash” involves “throwing each [ball] up and catching them in sequence,” Pearce informed me.)

As the night continues, a few other members set up shop across the lawn at a juggling-safe distance, repeatedly practicing new tricks. Ph.D. student Mathew McGuthry is practicing a one handed juggle of two clubs, occasionally taking a break to balance one on his forehead. I ask him why he wants to master the skill: “I just think it looks really cool,” he said with a laugh.

McGuthry’s casual, easygoing attitude is shared by the club’s members. 

“Of course the people who are the best in the world at juggling are friendly. Because ultimately what you’re doing is juggling, which is a funny thing to be so good at,” Morton said. 

I ask Morton what makes a good juggler, and she laughs. “I think the most important quality of a juggler is perseverance, because you drop way more things than you can catch.” 

Pearce and Morton theorize that people who are interested in music or math may take a particular interest in juggling. “It has a lot of the same appeals as music or dancing. You’ve got this rhythmic activity that can be really mathematical if you want it to be,” Morton said. He pointed to juggling notation, a system that describes juggling patterns, which is based on musical notation. 

Everyone is welcomed to the club with an impressive enthusiasm. Around nightfall, a gaggle of freshmen walk past, giggling and egging each other on to go juggle. As usual, Morton invites them to join, but the frosh shy away. “Tell your friends!” Morton says as they walk away.

Stanford’s juggling club is a space truly free of pretense or prerequisites. It really is simply a group of people hanging out and juggling on a Friday at 5:30 p.m.

“We’re just trying to be like a group of people having fun, and anyone else that wants to have fun with our group is welcomed,” Morton said.

Cameron Duran '24 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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