Hula hoops, unicycles and flying bowling pins congested Rob Gym this weekend during the 31st annual Isla Vista Juggling Festival – raising money for a local rape prevention and resource program.
The longest running single-location juggling show in the country, the I.V. Juggling Festival celebrates the life of local juggler Patty Laney, a co-founder of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, who was last seen on her way to mime class before being raped and murdered in January 1977. According to event coordinator Rebecca Zendejas, about 200 jugglers – of which roughly 20 were local talent – flocked to the festival from throughout California and even across state lines to enjoy the festival with attendees.
Laney’s juggling partners originally started the festival in the later part of 1977, after a number of them were asked to participate in a tribute juggling performance in memory of their friend. Over three decades later, the show has evolved into a local juggling spectacle that raises money to benefit the Rape Crisis Center, which provides services and resources for victims of sexual assault.
While the event has a somber subtext, Juggling Festival co-producer Monica Buck said most of the jugglers who attend every year were initially drawn to the celebration for the love of the sport.
“A lot of people don’t know Patty, they just come to juggle,” Buck said. “Every year, we take some time to educate people [about Laney and the Center] at the show. It’s an all-volunteer show and a tribute to Patty.”
Nester Romero, an amateur juggler from San Jose who attended this year’s event, admitted he had some uncertainty regarding the Juggling Festival’s background before he attended the celebration for the first time.
“I think it had something to do with women’s defense,” Romero said. “I know it’s a good cause and I support that.”
Zendejas said the Festival was always a celebration of life, and that participants and spectators enjoy their experiences at the event year after year.
“It’s about a community coming together,” Zendejas said. “It’s casual, low-cost, and non-competitive. They come to see old friends and have a good time.”
Bryan Langholz, an experienced juggler who performed at this weekend’s festival, said that juggling, like any other sport, takes a lot of practice.
“It takes a while to get used to the throw,” Langholz said. “You’ve got to break down every move and then you own it.”
Langholz, gesturing behind him to his son, also said that juggling can be enjoyed by people of all ages. He explained that the boy was playing with a complicated juggling instrument called a diavolo – a device resembling two sticks connected by a string, with a pendulum-shaped object rolling freely along the string.
“Here’s one gratifying thing,” Langholz said. “My son did a performance at a talent show with his diavolo and got a standing ovation. He’s doing something he really enjoys.”