Learning the Five Ball Cascade
The five ball cascade is a hard trick. Depending on your skill
and how much time you are willing to devote to it and, it could
take years to learn it well. However, you will see
progress long before that and there is, to me at least, a magical
feeling to it quite unlike three or four ball juggling. When the
pattern works, it doesn't really feel difficult. Just...
You may be lucky enough to have some five ball jugglers living
nearby. I wasn't. Things that inspired me included:
- The helpful and encouraging entry on the five ball cascade
Dancey's Encyclopædia of Ball Juggling. I
may not agree with all it says, but it's still the best book
I've ever read about ball juggling.
- Seeing Haggis McLeod juggling five (and six, and seven...)
balls on a TV in a display window. He made it look so
- The JIS
help section on Juggling
- Bruce "Boppo" Tiemann's excellent Numbers
Notes. (There used to be a newer version, but I don't know
where it is now.)
- Attending the Nordic Juggling Convention.
There are also several juggling animation
programs which might help give you a feeling for what the
pattern looks like. As an example, I've used
Boyce's Java Juggling Animator, to create an
animated GIF of a 5 ball cascade. (For a
long time I thought I was just viewing it on a too slow computer,
but now I think it really is in slow motion. That's probably my
I used to have a link to the JuggleAnim home page, but that
page is gone now. If anyone knows where it moved to, feel free to
tell me. In the mean time, you can still find a version - not
necessarily the latest - of it at the JIS Java Juggling
Please remember that only you can decide what's good
for you so feel free to ignore anything you hear or read about
five balls. Including this. Just because some piece of advice
doesn't work for you it doesn't mean you will be unable to learn
five balls. It wasn't until recently that I made much progress
with patterns like 5 0 5 0 5 or
5 5 2, and some would say these are among the
first things you should learn.
A few personal observations, some of which are - or should be -
quite obvious. Bear with me. (Any funny numbers you see below are
- Learn the four ball fountain first. Seriously. While it's a
completely different pattern, it is a useful
stepping-stone, as well as a nice pattern in its own
respect. You will also find that it takes a lot
more physical effort to keep four or five balls in the air
than three. Particularly until you gain control of the
pattern. I think learning to juggle four helps a lot here.
- One problem is how to hold three balls in one hand, and in
which order to release them. There are no right or wrong
ways here. Experiment until you find something that works
for you. Here is a crude ASCII
drawing of how I do it.
- The five ball cascade may need a lot of height,
particularly in the beginning. Practice outside if you
can, far away from restrictive ceilings.
- Try to squeeze in at least a few minutes of five ball
practice every day. I found this helpful because I could see
myself improve, without spending enough time on it to get
- The worst problem for me, once I could sort of flash five
balls, was that of timing. Unless you get that approximately
right, it is very hard to continue past the first five
throws. What helped me most was juggling a slow asynchronous
three ball shower (5 1). Try juggling five at that
height and tempo, and it should be about
- Remember that the pattern is only as fast as you
make it. It's tempting to empty your hands as fast as you
can, but the balls will come down just as quickly...
- Pay special attention to the first five throws. Even when
you think the pattern is starting to work you may find that
you are making the same error every time. For me it was that
my second throw from the right was always too low. Spend
some time flashing five balls without making that particular
error. Never mind if the other throws go awry - you can fix
those later - as long as you manage to break this particular
- If the pattern doesn't work, try different heights. It's
much easier to correct errors in a tall slow pattern, but of
course the individual throws are easier in a low fast
one. Don't worry if you can't see your hands. If the throws
are right the catches should be automatic anyway. Pay
attention to the upper half of the pattern instead.
- If it still doesn't work, try changing other aspects of the
pattern, e.g. width, crossing point, etc. If it still just
plain refuses to work, do something else. To me, doing
something I know I can, or something I know I most
definitely can't, are much more relaxing than failing at
something I think I should be able to do.
- Once the pattern starts to work, try to relax and don't
forget to breathe. Think of the pattern as a whole, rather
than as individual objects; look at its shape and try to
maintain it. I used to try and visualize the pattern before
falling asleep at night. Maybe it helped, who knows?
- If possible, attend a juggling convention. Chances are you
will see a lot of five ball jugglers there, and even if you
don't it's still a lot of fun!
Don't give up. It is worth it.
Back to the juggling page. (Here
there be Swedish...)
Last modified: Thu Feb 17 2005