Festival to bring hundreds of jugglers to Cedar Rapids this month

Liz Zabel/The Gazette

David Lammers of Cedar Rapids juggles next to the Cedar River near Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids in June. Lammers, also a member of the Five Seasons Ski Team, is preparing for the International Juggling Association Festival coming to Cedar Rapids on July 10 to 16. The festival will mostly take place at the U.S. Cellular Center but with events at the Paramount Theatre, Coe College and other venues.
Liz Zabel/The Gazette David Lammers of Cedar Rapids juggles next to the Cedar River near Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids in June. Lammers, also a member of the Five Seasons Ski Team, is preparing for the International Juggling Association Festival coming to Cedar Rapids on July 10 to 16. The festival will mostly take place at the U.S. Cellular Center but with events at the Paramount Theatre, Coe College and other venues.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Hundreds of jugglers from around the world will be in Cedar Rapids this month for the 70th annual International Jugglers Association Festival.

More than 600 jugglers — from hobbyists to professionals — will be juggling their days and nights away at the festival, which runs July 10 to 16.

Most of the action will take place inside the U.S. Cellular Center, where jugglers will gather to practice, compete, attend workshops and socialize.

Additional events will take place throughout the city, with the Paramount Theatre and Coe College as the two primary venues. Iowans get half-price tickets for the shows if they show an Iowa ID.

“This is a week where jugglers rarely sleep. It’ll be 2 or 3 a.m., and they’re still going to be juggling,” said Cheryl Sayers, owner of Sport Juggling Co., a home-based, handmade juggling ball company in Cedar Rapids.

“I’ve been to every IJA festival since 2005, and Cedar Rapids has the best facilities I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Having jugglers in the Paramount is going to be amazing.”

Sayers’ son, Doug Sayers, a Cedar Rapids native now living in Las Vegas, won the festival’s stage competition in 2009.

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It’s taken years to bring the festival to Cedar Rapids. Previous host cities have included Las Vegas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York — and Davenport, Iowa, in 2005, the only other Iowa city chosen as a host city since the association was formed in 1947 and began holding conventions in 1948.

“They wanted to have a hotel located near the performance theater and to be able to walk to restaurants and bars downtown,” said Mary Lee Malmberg, director of sports tourism at GO Cedar Rapids, formerly the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We really couldn’t pursue it” in the years after the 2008 flood, she said. “But we continued to follow up on it.”

After the flood, the U.S. Cellular Convention Center and adjacent DoubleTree by Hilton hotel were renovated. The downtown and NewBo entertainment options kept growing. And the timing “was finally right,” Malmberg said.

GO Cedar Rapids expects the jugglers and their families will spend more than $350,000 at local businesses during the week — a “win-win” for everyone, Malmberg said.

“It’s the kind of family-friendly event that fits well with our city and a unique opportunity for local residents to see talented jugglers up close and personal,” she said.

Dan Holzman, festival director for the international association, praises the city’s performance venues, restaurants and welcoming atmosphere.

“The facilities in Cedar Rapids were an excellent fit for us,” he said.

“It’s the kind of city where performance art is appreciated,” agrees David Lammers, a local juggler and member of the Five Seasons Ski Team, which will be “water skuggling” — juggling while water skiing on the Cedar River — on July 12 and 14.

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Lammers said the festival has never come close enough for him to be able to go. Now it’s in his backyard.

“There’s literally going to be hundreds of jugglers from around the world here,” he said. “These people don’t meet often because they’re scattered all over. People come for the community — to work together, learn from each other, to jam and collaborate.”

The jugglers will be at the Downtown Farmers Market on July 15, and they’ll be roaming the downtown with glowing props the Friday night before.

The week culminates with the “Cascade of Stars” show, with world-class jugglers from around the world performing at 8 p.m. July 15 at the Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE. This year’s stars include Paul Ponce, Jay Gilligan, Erik Aber, Kevin Axtell, Alexis Levillon, Bob and Trish Evans and Russian Gena Shvartsman Cristiani.

“They’re sort of juggling royalty,” said Holzman, the festival director. “They’re just amazing headliners that, to me, really epitomize the top of the art form.”

Holzman said he hopes Cedar Rapids will “remember this festival for years to come.”

“It will definitely be a unique thing that won’t be repeated,” he said. “We very rarely come back to a town.”

IF YOU GO

What: International Juggling Association Festival

When: July 10-16

Where: Throughout Cedar Rapids, primarily at the U.S. Cellular Center, Paramount Theatre and Coe College

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Cost: Varies by event; tickets are half price to Iowa residents with a valid ID

Info: For a schedule, details, prices, go to juggle.org/festival

COMPETITIONS

Stage championships: In three categories — individuals, teams and juniors — with medals and prize money for acts that are entertaining and marketable to a broad audience

Numbers championships: Challenges jugglers to juggle as many props as possible for a certain amount of time

Joggling world championships: Jogging and juggling at the same time

Individual prop competition: Jugglers perform routines using specific props

XJuggling: Competition of “cutting-edge” tricks

Additional games: Includes blind juggling, mixed prop endurance, best and worst tricks, huggling and erratic passing, to name a few

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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