Pamphlets passed around by students and strangers are not the only “flyers” you can see on Turlington Plaza.
A trio of red and blue marbled balls cycle through the air every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. Slender fingers pluck the egg-sized juggling balls back out of the air as they fall toward the ground and send them flying again.
Ethan Irvin, a 19-year-old UF mathematics sophomore, spends his afternoons juggling in front of an empty table on Turlington. But instead of standing alone, dozens of students observe his skills in the crowded plaza every day. Some have also come to him for juggling lessons.
“It’s not only a cool trick. It’s a good way to relax at any moment,” he said. “I use it to destress before class.”
Irvin used to juggle last year outside of Little Hall and Library West, but he went to Turlington this semester to put his free show on for a larger audience.
Liza Adler, a 20-year old UF advertising sophomore, said she was fascinated by his performance and couldn’t stop watching.
“It’s kind of hypnotic,” she said. “I can’t help but watch him for a bit on my way to class.”
Irvin said he taught himself how to juggle during his senior year of high school. He was inspired to learn the skill by a clown named Fritzy the One Man Circus, whom Irvin said he met when he volunteered at Christmas Lane, a month-long Christmas light festival at the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds.
“He was on a 12-foot-tall unicycle juggling pins,” he said. “It was the first juggling trick I saw anyone do.”
Back then, he said he knew he couldn’t replicate the clown’s tactics of eating fire and doing unicycle tricks, so he picked up juggling instead.
“He said he learned to juggle when he was young,” Irvin said. “If he could do it, I knew I could do it.”
Irvin, however, isn’t restricted to juggling balls — he has used pins, rings, sandwich subs, bananas, apples, footballs and basketballs since learning the basics. He sticks to balls and fruit when juggling on Turlington, though.
Sometimes Irvin hears jeers and gets negative feedback whenever he drops a ball, but he is happy to know people are interested in his hobby.
“Several physics professors have asked me to come to their class to juggle to show their students it’s a thing that people actually do,” he said.
Like Fritzy inspired Irvin to juggle, Irvin is returning the legacy to UF students by inspiring them to learn the practice. He’s now teaching almost 10 people how to juggle.
Abram Nedou, a 19-year-old physics sophomore, started taking free lessons with Irvin after seeing him juggle.
“Everyone at Turlington was with their clubs, fraternities or groups calling people over, but Ethan was just juggling,” Nedou said. “He did a lot of cool tricks I didn’t know were possible.”
Nedou became interested in learning juggling so he could pick up a party trick, he said. He has gone from struggling with one ball to juggling three with ease since the lessons started five weeks ago.
Irvin’s juggling did not just attract novice jugglers. Twenty-year-old Devin Pryor, a UF aerospace engineering sophomore, had been juggling for three years before he noticed Ethan on Turlington.
Pryor said he began juggling during his senior year of high school when Hurricane Irma knocked an avocado tree onto his home’s power lines. He was left without power for a week and the tree’s avocados had littered the yard.
“I was using the avocados to juggle. It was the easiest thing I had at the time,” he said.
Pryor said he used to be a member of Objects in Motion, a juggling club that was disbanded last year due to the graduation of most of its members. He said he is glad he found someone else to juggle with.
“It’s a great break from class, and there are tricks that are meant to be done by more than one person,” he said.
The group calls itself the “UF Juggling Guys” and meets every Tuesday at 5 p.m. on the Plaza of the Americas. Juggling balls and equipment are supplied by Irvin, and he said anyone is welcome to watch or join.
Irvin said he hopes to grow the group into a student organization, which must consist of at least 15 members, three officers and a faculty adviser. He’s waiting to see if he can get enough students interested by continuing the juggling performances that got him to where he is now.
“It’s inspiring to see the amazing tricks people can do with just a little practice,” he said. “If someone wants to give it a try, I am more than willing to get them performing tricks on their own.”