Why a notation for juggling patterns?

Basically five reasons:
  • for communicating juggling patterns, including
  • writing notes to oneself describing a pattern for future reference,
  • for finding new ones,
  • for seeing how patterns are related to each other, especially
  • for seeing how to break juggling tricks into pieces so as to not have to learn them all at once.
  • Communicating juggling patterns

    5623 Several years ago (1984), the magazine Juggler's World ran a series of six photographs of a juggler in various stages of a complicated pattern, with the disclaimer "Here's our answer to people who ask why we don't try to teach more tricks via the magazine." This was the era before siteswap, when a full page of photographs and accompanying text were what was considered necessary to describe a pattern now idly tossed around under the moniker "5623".

    One fascinating phenomenon about juggling, as with so many other pursuits, is that even just to see what's going on in a complicated instance generally requires skill in the art. (Whence the heartbreaking "Wow! Is that really five balls?" to which those who attempt seven must inure themselves.) It is typical at juggling conventions to see people wandering around with video cameras, not only to record the beautiful and breathtaking goings-on, but also to be able to have those feats they would like to attempt themselves available for frame-by-frame analysis. Even learning the pattern at the convention is often not enough to be able to remember it a month later.

    But it is in attempting to communicate without easy benefit of pictures - on, in particular, Usenet's rec.juggling - that siteswap really comes in handy. Of course, the real point is that siteswap is extremely compact.

    The other point is that with a juggling animator such as this one, it doesn't require a human expert to reproduce the pattern from the numbers.


    Finding new patterns

    It is straightforward to write programs to list "all" valid siteswaps (up to a given length and height, say). It takes more work to use the notation to suggest transitions between tricks -- but nothing compared to that involved in trial and error!

    Suffice it to say that many simple but exceedingly worthwhile patterns (that it seems no juggler had seen before) are directly suggested by the notation.


    Learning things in pieces & seeing how patterns are related

    These two are intertwined, in that to learn a difficult pattern (like the 5-cascade) it can help to be able to do related, but easier, patterns.

    Also, it's nice having your hands know many patterns with a given throw, so that if you drop a ball, you can automatically fall from one into another. For instance, when I drop in 5 now, I always fall into 5551.

    5 5551

    Lastly, learning siteswaps is simply another juggling skill to have under one's belt. Even very technically skilled jugglers may initially be useless when it comes to patterns that involve more than one or two kinds of throw; anecdotal evidence suggests that siteswaps limber up the mind, so that learning a few of them makes it easy to learn others, and to learn new patterns in general. And who wouldn't want that?

    Why siteswap in particular?

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