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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Scott Weingart always has to keep his hands busy. When forced to sit still, Weingart often twirls his mustache with his fingers or spins a pen in his hand. So it was natural when he picked up juggling.

Weingart, a history of science junior, is one of a very few who are skilled contact jugglers, making him a rare commodity for local audiences.

His specialty, though, isn't the bowling pin, clown-type of juggling.

He performs what is called "contact juggling," in which the objects being juggled never leave contact with the body, unlike "toss juggling," where objects are thrown into the air.

He also performs tossing acts with a variety of props, like balls, clubs, rings and fire torches, though his forte is contact juggling,

The self-professed Anglophile, a term describing an English culture enthusiast, often likes to think and do things differently.

"If I'm interested in something, I research the history of it," he said. "I think the history of contact juggling is really cool because there are so few contact jugglers that you can kind of trace back your lineage of it."

Weingart, 21, learned the art from a short line of contact jugglers.

He picked up the skill back in 2002 when he saw a man at the Florida Renaissance Festival in Deerfield Beach spinning a few orange-sized acrylic balls.

Weingart, a 10th-grader at the time, was intrigued by magic tricks, and contact juggling looked magical to him.

He learned the basics from the Renaissance performer and, at first, practiced what little he knew using lacrosse balls.

The novice also practiced palm spinning - moving multiple balls around in a single hand - under the table during his high school classes.

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Until coming to Gainesville, Weingart had no trainer aside from the fair entertainer he would spend a few weeks with every year while working at the fair.

"When I came to UF," he said, "there happened to be, for some strange reason, two contact jugglers."

Matt Hiemenz and Jason Ehrenman were the founders of the UF juggling club, Objects in Motion. The two gained their skills from the original UF contact jugglers, a couple known by their performer names, Shyft and Sky.

When Weingart learned of the juggling organization, he repeatedly e-mailed the officers to make sure he didn't miss the first meeting, Hiemenz recalled. The political science and economics alumnus said that Weingart had enthusiasm and a penchant for learning that he'd never seen before.

"I don't think I've ever seen Scott get frustrated about something and stop," he said.

Hiemenz said his former student has surpassed him, adding that the modest Weingart would probably disagree. Though he was only a freshman at the time, and Hiemenz and Ehrenman were seniors, Weingart picked up a wealth of skills from the two contact jugglers and became the head of the club.

As the new president, he combined his love of history with his circus-like hobby. Weingart would send out a tidbit about the history of contact juggling in each group e-mail, he said.

He upped the number of gatherings and arranged for members to practice with performers from the Rainbow Tiger Circus of Gainesville, said Vice President Heather Denk, who specializes in fire spinning.

When a contact juggler position opened at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, Weingart took on the role as medieval entertainer "Edmund the Magnificent."

The pompous persona gets a lot of jokes, such as "Are you playing with your balls again?"

His festival character usually retorts with lewd shouts, but not Weingart. He's too polite and prudent.

He has occupied the position at the fair for the past two years and hopes to return next year.

Weingart also entertains at out-of-town events. Last summer he performed at a book release party held for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," Denk said.

He even cut his mass of wavy brown hair short so he could play the role. Though many might label him as just a juggler, he doesn't consider himself one, he said. It's only a hobby, but one that he plans to keep for the rest of his life.

"You can juggle no matter what you're doing or where you are," Weingart said.

He's even juggled while walking down the 236 steps at the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park. That's the goal of contact juggling, he said - to be able to do anything else while juggling.

"I've contact juggled whilst making a ham sandwich," Weingart said, grinning and mimicking the hand motions.

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