Moment in the Sun: Teaching the art of juggling

Math and computer science instructor Sharon Harvey wears several hats at Normandale Community College of Bloomington, including advisor to the campus juggling club. (Sun staff photo by Mike Hanks)
Math and computer science instructor Sharon Harvey wears several hats at Normandale Community College of Bloomington, including advisor to the campus juggling club. (Sun staff photo by Mike Hanks)

For some, juggling the demands in and out of the classroom at Normandale Community College of Bloomington just isn’t enough.

Math, science, journalism and performing arts are among the many subjects taught in classrooms of the college. And each semester a few students pursue an extra-curricular education – they learn how to juggle.

Normandale has had a juggling club since 1989. It was founded by math and computer science instructor Sharon Harvey. The Bloomington resident doesn’t dazzle with a repertoire of juggling tricks, but she knows how to juggle the basics, and can teach more than that.
“I can teach anything,” she said.

And she means it. Despite not having a background in gymnastics, she coached a gymnastics team while teaching math in Elk River years ago. “I don’t have to do it to teach it,” she said.

Harvey can juggle three balls, rings or clubs, yet will teach the techniques to juggle five balls, despite not being able to do it herself.

“I’m the type of person that does a lot of different things, and I’m not really good at anything,” she said. “I’d rather not focus on one thing.”

With interests ranging from motorcycles to musical interests, Harvey doesn’t have the time to specialize in any one thing. Her biggest commitment is to her faith, and to that end she also serves as an advisor to an on-campus  Christian fellowship club.

While she has diverse interests, juggling wasn’t one of them as a child. She learned the skill as a college student.

“When I was at the U of M my boyfriend was the vice president of the juggling club. He forced me to learn,” she said.

Ironically it wasn’t his juggling skills that attracted her to him. “I didn’t even know he juggled for a while,” she noted.

It took Harvey a long time to master the skill, she said. “I was the kind of kid that got A’s in math and science, and C’s in phy ed,” she said.

Despite promotion of the club around the Normandale campus, some students never hear about it, but eventually many students see it. When the weather is warm the club will take its weekly practice session outdoors, which provides greater visibility for the club. The club is occasionally hired to perform at community events, she noted.

Some students join the club for a week and learn the basic concept of juggling, while others stick around for an entire semester or more. Class and work schedules prevent many students from learning the skill, she explained.

Students first learn to juggle balls and if they stick with it long enough Harvey will teach them how to juggle rings and clubs. For those who master the clubs, Harvey will teach them how to juggle flaming torches. And yes, you will get burned, but it’s harmless, she said.

She discourages students from juggling machetes, however. Even a blunt machete without a tip is dangerous when it lands on a foot. “You will drop it,” she said.

Sally Hed of Minneapolis attended Normandale in the 1980s. She started as a 16-year-old high school student who took classes at the college part time.

“I first met her as the advisor to the juggling club, and then took her computer science class,” Hed recalled. “Sharon is very patient and has a great sense of humor, so rather than saying a cross word, she’ll give you a disapproving, yet silly look to let you know you’re off track.”

Hed has remained friends with Harvey since her days at Normandale. “As a teacher, she patiently lets the students try it themselves, and with juggling, you have to toss those balls over and over and over and over again.”

Learning to juggle may require repetition, but it’s like riding a bike, according to Harvey.
“Once you learn, you know it,” she said. “You’ll know it forever.”

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