10 Tips to Nail That New Move

Pedro & flag poiAdmit it, you’re stuck. There’s at least one move you’ve been having some serious trouble with. Here are 10 ways to nail that new move.

1. Break it down
Every move in prop manipulation can be broken down into a series of simpler moves. For example, if you’re working on a trick that requires movements with both hands, try one hand at a time until the movements feel ingrained in muscle memory. Then try bringing the two halves together.

2. Watch a tutorial
Since the birth of YouTube there’s been an explosion in the quality and availability of tutorials. Get clear instruction streaming right to your computer screen. If you find that tutorials are a really effective way for you to learn, you might consider looking into online classes.

3. Check out a demo
Perhaps the move you’re working on doesn’t have a tutorial or the ones you found are unclear. It helps to find a video where the move is being executed expertly and comparing the movements to your own. Use a mirror to help Identify what you are doing differently from the video.

4. Slow Mo
Many online video players including the one on Juggling.tv have a slow motion toggle. Slow down the movement to see the intricacies of each element in the trick. A good visial understanding will help you replicate it.

5. Watch Yourself
Both mirrors and video can be useful for helping you connect the way a movement looks and the why it feels. This is especially important in isolation work. My personal favorite while traveling is to use the isight camera on my Mac or when playing outside, the reflection in glass doors and windows. Your shadow on a sunny day makes a great mirror as well.

6. Mime it
If you can’t seem to get the move with your prop in motion, set it aside and walking through the move. Miming the movement without the prop will activate your muscle memory. The motion will feel more intuitive once the prop is reintroduced.

7. Visualize it
The ability to imagine scenarios that have not yet happened is one of the things that make human beings unique. When you imagine an experience, it lights up many of the same areas of your brain that are active when you actually engaged in the activity. Imagine getting a bad paper cut; you cringed a little, and this is because imagining the experience is real to parts of your mind.

Visualization often used in gymnastics. Athletes spend part of their training imagining the routine and how each step feels. Routinely walking though troublesome moves in your mind will allow you to take advantage of this mental hack. You can read more about the power of visualization by visiting this link.

8. Be a puppet
If you have access to someone who knows the move, ask them to “manipulate” your body through the steps of the trick. Moving through the trick’s pattern activates your muscle memory. When on your own with your toys your body will have a much easier time hitting those pre-set targets. Knowing how your body should move makes it’s easier to feel what you are doing incorrectly.

hooping it up9. Sleep on it
As we uncover the secrets of the brain, neuroscientists discover that sleep is crutial to memory and learning. Sleep allows your brain to process the experiences of the day during through “Non-REM sleep”. So while your eyes are closed and you’re resting, parts of your brain that were lit up during your attempt to nail the behind the back weave will be active. As a result you learn while you sleep.

On this note it’s important to get a good night sleep as often as you can just as a part of healthy living. Read more here.

10. Change toys
Most prop manipulators play with multiple toys. Since many moves can be done with more than one prop, if you are stuck on a particular move, why not try with a more familiar prop. For example, you might find that the corkscrew in hooping becomes easier once you walk through the move with poi. Also try a bigger hoop, a shorter set of poi or heavier balls. Switch it up and get a fresh perspective.

We all hit a wall eventually. It’s easy to stick to the moves you know and fall into a lazy pattern when moves that seem impossible dampen your spirits. Stop, breathe and remember to celebrate all the incremental improvements. Good luck.

5 Signs You Might be a Prop Addict

In this lovely community of ours there is a tendency to become a little addicted. Here are a few ways to tell if you or someone you love is a Prop Addict.

  1. You spend what is clearly too much time watching prop manip’ videos on youtube, even know you are replaying one in your head, focus!
  2. When in a dollar store you can’t help yourself from playing with things, when people start to notice you are only further encouraged
  3. When dancing without your toys you notice yourself not so subtly miming your favorite prop moves
  4. Nice days are accepted as complete right offs for playing with toys in the park, often forcing you to complete projects, work tasks or school assignments between the hours of 11pm and 3am
  5. Whenever being introduced to a new prop your first natural thought is “I want one” and your second is “can you light it on fire?”
prop manipulation

Image by Jeff Rodier

Does this sounds like you? Let me know if you can think of any other symptoms.

Why we should all be Prop Manipulators

prop manipulation
Are you looking for an excuses to offer your friends, partner or parents for why you have become suddenly obsessed with skill toys, prop manipulation and/or fire arts?? Yay, me too. Here’s a list of some of the great benefits that come with being a Prop Manipulator.

Enjoyment and Fun

The first obvious thing is that skill toys are really fun. Playing with and manipulation objects keeps you smiling, laughing and feeling playful.

Right now there are over 120 million prescription for anti-depressants floating around. Although many people may truly require these medications, I wonder what would happen if we gave them hoops and poi instead. A little self indulgent play time can go a long way towards individual well being. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/nancy_etcoff_on_happiness_and_why_we_want_it.html

Stay Active and Fit

The second reason to spin, juggle or burn thing is fitness. And not just for physical fitness either, play has been proven to be beneficial to your cognitive fitness as well. Object Manipulation goes beyond normal physical exercise to engage the brain—and both sides of it—in a balancing and coordination act that ranks second to none.


By developing your skills with different props, you are simultaneously increasing your reaction time in general and ability to focus. Many jugglers find that 15 minutes of play time before a university class can mean the difference between snoring through calculus and being that front row keener.

As an experiment try switching out your morning coffee for a quick jam session with your favorite prop. You might notice, like I did, increased alertness, better problem solving and an overall sense of well being throughout the day; and all with out the 3pm caffein crash.


It’s important to have a good stress-management system, especially in our hectic, fast passed modern world. We all “juggle” our way through life, trying to balance career, home life, family, commitments… all without ‘dropping the ball.’ Skill Toys naturally bring you to deep breathing and concentration on the activity at hand—focusing the mind away from racing, stressful thoughts.

Creative Problem-Solving

Like learning anything new, skill toys challenge and expand your mind. However, unlike, say, learning a new language, prop manipulation involves the use of both sides of the brain in conjunction with both sides of the body, making it an extraordinary brain workout that pushes your mind and body beyond its normal limits. Juggling has even been proved to physically increase the size of your brain. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/5615.php

Also Prop Manipulation naturally lends itself to visualization. We see a trick we want to learn, we watch some videos and carefully follow the movements and with out even thinking about it we then picture ourselves doing it, even miming the action. This skill of visualization is what separates us from the rest of our animal brethren and can bring you far greater abilities to problem solve in your everyday life. http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html