Page 17                                             Summer 1987



The Lean Years

"It's a wonder the IJA survived as long as it did, " You hear that from more than one veteran member ling on some of the less memorable years.  It's hard to picture, but between the exciting years of organizing and the current,  feverish years of explosive growth,  the organization often foundered. It held together through the dedication of a very few men and women.


Several factors kept the IJA near the brink.  From the start, the potential membership base was small - there just weren't that many jugglers out there, professional or amateur. And the professionals continued to have a general aversion to the organization. It must also be remembered the core of the IJA, its strength at that , was the high percentage of older, former vaudevillians. As they left the stage,  they left a void both in terms of numbers and of influence.


Already by the mid-fifties, the IJA was slumping. There was only $100 in the treasury. The "Newsletter" was cut to two or three pages, and bills were reportedly going unpaid. Editors and officers struggled to keep things going.


Probably the greatest factor was turmoil from personality conflicts. These were not arguments so much over principles, but arguments of the petty kind.


Leaders often felt disenfranchised.  While any off-the-street member who did smallest job was being recognized for contributions, the people at the top with their necks out on larger issues were being cut down for their best efforts.


The damage done to the IJA by neglect in its middle years shouldn't be under­estimated. Despite current success in sheer volume of members, ground may have been lost in terms of the breadth of the art.


The scope of "juggling" was purposely left vague by the founders, and included virtually any visual novelty art other than than magic. Two of our early presidents were renowned baton twirlers, for example.


Other members were lariatists, contortionists, pantomimists, balancers, acrobats, clowns and unicyclists. Virtually every one of these arts has since sought niches independent of the IJA.


Today the IJA has more members than there probably were jugglers worldwide in 1947, and its influence can no longer be ignored. The same old fellows who have trouble believing the IJA survived at all are astonished at how far it has gone, "far, far beyond our fondest dreams. "


The Phoenix Rises in San Mateo


By the late '60s, the IJA was in serious trouble. Membership had declined by over 100 in the last years, down to 150. A showing of 25 at the conventions was considered good. Dues were only $4.00. With very little money coming in, the treasury was down to $400 - $500. The faces of the membership had not changed significantly since the founding 20 years previously. Even the young contingent was "maturing." The "Newsletter" had become sporadic, offices went begging and the vitality of the organization was gone despite the strong bond of juggling that continued to keep individual members close to one another.


The low point was reached at the Fallsburg, N.Y., convention in 1967. Only about 10 people attended - not even enough to elect officers. The Constitution was amended to allow the election of absent members.


The turnout was a brown stain on the IJA's reputation - hotels don't like to give discounts and make arrangement for a group that doesn't show. In fact, only two members, Stu Raynolds and Larry Weeks, stayed at the convention site. Weeks resigned as convention chairman with a 4 1/2-page "Woes of a Convention Chairman" complaint against the members. Raynolds's words in another 'Newsletter" were understated and somber:


Your present officers are convinced that interest in juggling still persists, and hope that there is still interest in IJA. To this end, next year's convention is being planned for June or July in Binghamton or Syracuse, N.Y.  Much mutual interest of jugglers in magic and magicians in juggling was expressed at the last convention. We believe that our immediate future needs will best be met by holding our convention in conjunction with a magic convention.


In other words, the IJA was beginning to lose its independent identity and creeping back into association with magic organizations. The Binghamton convention was to be the "go, no-go" signal from the membership. The officers sent out 150 post cards to the members. Only 40 were returned. Of those, only nine people planned to attend. Not enough for a quorum, not even enough to fill the offices. George Barvin, veteran of many conventions and now president, saw the writing on the wall and decided to cut the IJA's losses. The 1968 convention was cancelled.


But, there was something in the air. For 20 years, the core of the IJA had been concentrated in a geographic strip about three feet wide on a line running from Pittsburgh, Pa. to Jamestown, N. Y.  -  the heart of the vaudeville circuits. Now, way out west where odd things happen, the '60s were in bloom.


Roger Dollarhide, one of the younger veterans, had moved to California from Washington to be near a growing pocket of juggling enthusiasm. There he found jugglers "as thick as splinters on a county fair stage."

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