By Laura Ingalls
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The hollow thud of dropped tennis balls fills the conference room of Tucson's Jewish Community Center. In one corner, a gray-haired man concentrates on the three balls in the air. He drops one, chases it across the carpet and complains to the other beginning jugglers, "I'm regressing."
A woman practicing across the room asks if he's tried juggling bean bags, which "don't roll away when you drop them." He swaps her for the bags and begins again. "These are a lot better," he says, smiling.
The instructor, Elliot Carl, walks from student to student, helping them perfect new tricks and encouraging frustrated students. The 39-year-old developed the class "Juggling for Relaxation" as a way for adults to reduce stress, improve hand-eye coordination and exercise.
Juggling, bending over to retrieve dropped balls and playing coordination games provide a fun way to exercise and reduce stress, he says. "It helps to be athletic," says Carl, a 6-foot-tall former college and semi-professional basketball player.
Carl has his own source of stress, a two-month-old business distributing a product called Turkey Jerky. He has several steady clients and works 50 to 60 hours per week. Juggling helps him get the business off his mind, he says.
"When I've been depressed, when nothing is going right ... I'll pick up my bean bags or balls and spend 15 minutes juggling. Within that time, I'll feel better."
Some of his students hope juggling will produce the same effect for them.
Bruce Kaplan, 44, says he needed a way to reduce the stress he generates running the publishing company that produces Tucson Motor News. The Thursday-night juggling class seemed to be a novel remedy.
"I was looking for stress management and found it. It's sweat management now," Kaplan says.
Juggling will also come in handy when Kaplan's wife delivers their first baby, he says. Not only will juggling lessen tension, but Kaplan says he looks forward to entertaining his children with it.
The so-called "stars" of the class practice near the center of the room. One of them, Jill Zuckerman, 38, was so excited by the first class that she sewed a set of bean bags, bought a second set shaped like turtles and borrowed another set shaped like vegetables.
Zuckerman enrolled with her boyfriend, Michael Ives, as part of their ongoing search for "mystery dates." Ives, a 47-year-old painter, says he practiced and kept a journal of his progress before the second class because he didn't want to look awkward.
"(Juggling) won't go very well for a couple of days, then you make this quantum leap and are able to do two things you didn't think you could do."
Juggling fits into his daily stress-reduction routine, he says. Sometimes he juggles in his backyard or in front of the canvas he is working on to "take my mind off of it.
"My life is certainly centered
around self-discipline if I'm going to make any money at this. It's much harder than going to an office in my opinion," he says.
During class, Ives and Zuckerman try to juggle together, trying a trick that produces groans of half-admiration and half-disgust from their classmates. Carl jokes from across the room, "Since you two are such shining stars of the class, I expect to see you do that (trick) next week."
His relaxed teaching style includes poking fun at himself most of the time. The native Californian jokes about his green, blue and purple striped surf pants, his "clown pants," then grumbles like his students when he drops a ball while demonstrating a trick.
A student chimes in with, "Way to go, Elliot." Carl responds with a sheepish smile and says he never claimed to be a professional juggler.
"These real jugglers are amazing," he says. "As you get better, you start to appreciate their efforts."
Carl started juggling on a dare from a friend in high school. An acquaintance who was a magician showed him the basic technique, but was only an amateur himself. Then Carl surprised the man by picking up the balls and juggling overhand, an advanced technique.
"The feeling I had was of total laughter. I was cracking up," he says.
Carl moved to Tucson eight months ago, after he was laid off from his job at a Los Angeles marketing firm. He approached the University of Arizona's Extended University with the idea for the class, says Susan Dick, program development specialist for the departments of fine arts, humanities and social and behavioral sciences at the university. The $59 class, which has 13 students, has been "quite popular," she says.
"I think people are maybe interested in having some variety and fun," Dick says. "While our focus is more serious, people are interested in some more-fun things." The six-week class may be offered again in the fall if the university and Carl can arrange it, she said. Carl also taught a children's juggling class in March for SEEK Saturdays, a weekend program offered by the university.
Carl says juggling helped him become more of an extrovert as he started performing for children and organizations in college.
Juggling also helped improve his players' free throws when he coached grad-school basketball in New Zealand. One of Carl's dreams is to convince Lute Olson that juggling will improve his players' performance.
One of Carl's students, Joan Vanderboss, 47, says she was surprised that most of the students were juggling three balls during the first class. Some people showed a natural aptitude for juggling while a few dropped the class after the first session.
The first class can be frustrating for some who concentrate so hard on juggling instantly, Carl says. He teaches students the basic toss with three balls, keeping two balls in the air at all times, during the first class. Adults have a more difficult time learning to juggle because they are often more self-conscious than children. However, the students who stick with juggling gain some wonderful benefits.
"You feel good about yourself. You've accomplished something you never really thought you could do," Carl says.
Vanderboss says she was sure she wouldn't be the best or the worst in the class.
"If anyone would have said 'do you think you'd take a juggling class,' I would have said 'never.'"
Vanderboss, a Tubac rehabilitation teacher for people with visual impairments, enrolled in the class to celebrate her upcoming birthday.
"I have a birthday coming up and I thought it was time to do something fun," she says.
At the end of the second class, Zuckerman handed Carl a juggling teacher's seal of approval Ä three red apples. Carl responded by improvising a juggling routine in which you eat one of the apples.
"I'm sure there are better people, but how many of them have the patience to teach a group of ten or 30? I think it's special to bring out in people what they never though was possible," Carl says.
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