Jen Slaw, like most kids, realized that she liked throwing things around at an early age. However, unlike most kids, she never grew out of it.
A Philadelphia native, Slaw now resides in Howard Beach, Queens, and has been juggling for most of her life. She recently performed in front of a packed audience at the Syosset Public Library, wowing kids and grown-ups alike with her seemingly effortless, fluid and humorous routine as she skillfully juggled balls, pins and all other manner of usual and unusual objects.
The art of graceful object manipulation has not only become Slaw’s career, but transformed her into a bona-fide celebrity of sorts. She has appeared on news programs, television commercials and even as a guest performer for the Late Show with David Letterman. That’s certainly quite an impressive climb from her humble beginnings as a juggling hopeful 25 years ago.
“I learned how to juggle in the sixth grade, and the teacher who taught me put together a troupe and we would perform together at affairs and festivals,” Slaw said. “It was just a hobby for a while, but I continued to do it throughout high school and actually paid my way through college by doing juggling gigs on the side.”
Slaw eventually earned degrees in art and engineering, and entered the New York City workforce as a structural engineer. However, after slugging it out in the corporate world for several years, she slowly transitioned into a career in the juggling arts…a move she said has made her life far more satisfying.
“I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel like I was getting to exercise my creativity or feeling more connected to people,” she said. “So, I gradually changed over into a full-time performer and juggling teacher. I teach children and adults, and I even do workshops for corporations where we look at juggling as a metaphor for team-building, creativity, and different ways of thinking.”
“There’s not many of us out there,” she said. “But I think it works in my favor, as it gets me attention because it’s different. I bring a different flair to it, since I have a dance background as well, so I try to incorporate some movement into my juggling and make it a little more graceful, a different aesthetic than if it was a man.”
Slaw said that every show she does is different and what she does on-stage is really dependant on the audience. For today’s gig, where she’s performing in front of families, she said that fun and interactivity are key; she juggles a variety of different props and gets members of the audience to come on-stage and get involved as best as they can.
Being a fairly in-demand personality, Slaw finds her calendar typically fairly full; but when it comes down to her preferred audience, while she said she loves all age groups, strutting her acrobatic stuff for the young—or the young at heart—is what she truly adores.
“I love that sort of innocence and that wide-eyed wonder,” she said. “But it’s also fun to perform for adults who may have forgotten what it’s like to play like kids do, so it’s fun to teach them juggling and bring that back to them.”
Local residents Janet Flemming and her daughters were among the members of the audience a the Syosset Library. She said that she originally just came to the show for her kids, but ended up getting caught up in the fun herself.
“Jen is a wonderful performer, and she makes juggling look so easy, even when she’s handling five balls while hula-hooping,” she said. “I was just disappointed that she didn’t call on me to come up and participate…I really have an urge to learn how to juggle now!”
As for those looking to break into the juggling scene themselves, Slaw offers her own personal take on the main attributes needed to master the art of gracefully throwing stuff around and catching it before it hits the floor.
“It takes a lot of practice, persistence, and patience…the three ‘P’s,’ as I like to say,” she said. “In my classes, I talk a lot about breaking it down…things that work in juggling can also apply to life, so don’t start with three balls, just start with one; like in life, if you have a lot to do, just focus on one thing at a time. Also, as in life, ask for help if you need it. In my shows I often try to get people from the audience to juggle with me to teach them how to work together. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes…just pick up the balls and try again.”
To find out more about Jen Slaw, visit her website at www.jenniferslaw.com.
To see Jen Slaw in action, visit her YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/jenslawjuggler.