Club unifies diverse group of jugglers

UM professor David Landowne juggles fire on the rock Thursday night. Alex Broadwell//The Miami Hurricane
UM professor David Landowne juggles fire on the rock Thursday night. Alex Broadwell//The Miami Hurricane

It’s hard to smile when flaming torches are whizzing past your face.

But for David Landowne, a physiology and biophysics professor at the University of Miami, that is not a daunting task. A member of the Coconut Grove Juggling Exchange, which practices at UM, Landowne can juggle almost anything- including fire.

“It’s easy once you get the rhythm of juggling with clubs,” he said. “It just takes a little more adrenaline and concentration.”

Landowne began juggling in the 1980s when a play he was directing needed to be spruced up. In order to save the play, which included a long and tiresome speech by the lead character, Landowne and the actor decided to add a juggling segment as the character spoke. Landowne said the audience fell in love with the performance and he fell in love with juggling.

“I get excited just watching people and watching things being thrown in the air,” Landowne said.

The juggling exchange practices Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m. in the UC breezeway and is comprised of about 50 people in total, with around 10 to 20 people attending meetings at any given time. Students, alumni, faculty, staff and even people with no UM affiliation are in the club, which is a part of the International Jugglers’ Association.

To Landowne and the other jugglers, it’s not so much about performance, but about learning from each other and teaching passersby who at first may flinch when they see the flying balls and clubs. Landowne said he can teach anyone to juggle in 10 minutes.

“He’s really encouraging and knows how to break it down,” said sophomore Sneha Lalla, a biology major that hula hoops with the juggling exchange. “He was the first person to teach me how to juggle.”

According to Landowne, juggling is easier than walking and takes just a few simple steps to practice.

“It’s all about relaxing enough to get the rhythm down, and then about being able to control the excitement once you have the balls in the air,” he said.

His favorite part of juggling with the club is learning new tricks from the members who are always teaching each other and coming up with new ideas.

“He’s a lot of fun to juggle with,” said 31-year-old Robert Thomsen, who has been juggling with the exchange for less than a year. “He’s always up for trying something new and he rarely says no.”

Landowne, who can juggle four balls or three clubs at a time, said he is best at passing the balls or clubs with other jugglers, but this year he is learning to hula hoop.

“I can do things I thought I couldn’t do,” Landowne said. “What was impossible becomes possible.”

Alexandra Leon may be contacted at