Magazine article The New Yorker

Foot Juggler

Magazine article The New Yorker

Foot Juggler

Article excerpt

Foot Juggler

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Step right up, and see the fabulous feats—and fantabulous feet!—of the human marvel of circus instruction, Hovey Burgess, who for a hundred semesters has served as the teacher of spectacular (well, rudimentary) acrobatics to the students in the three-year Graduate Acting program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. A hundred semesters! Since 1966, the students have been required to take the course, and Burgess has been the one, and only one, to teach it.

Behold a stooped, slightly paunchy gent of seventy-seven, bare of foot and pate, strong of forearm, in gray track pants, gray T-shirt, and white beard, limping slowly down a hallway toward Room 532, his longtime studio on the fifth floor of the Tisch Building, on Broadway, in the Village. His charges await. Eight—not seven or nine but eight!—enchanting young thespians, of all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and skill sets, demonstrating Alexander Technique posture in chairs along a wall. They have been learning rola bola and club juggling, tightrope and trapeze, ostensibly to become “complete performers”—initiates into the stagecrafts of yesteryear. The master enters, and the cries go up: “Hovey!” “Hovey’s here!”

Burgess stood in the middle of the studio on a blue mat, beneath a web of wires and brackets. “This will be my last class,” he said. “When I’m done teaching today, I’m going to be a foot juggler. I will travel the world and become world-famous for foot juggling.” He showed them a recent photo of a man in a polar-bear suit, foot-juggling at Coney Island.

“Is that you, Hovey?”

It was. Burgess gave a short, illustrated lecture about an Aztec foot juggler whom Cortés brought from Mexico to Spain in 1528, and then he introduced his implements: the cradle and the log. The log, in this case, was a five-foot length of schedule-40 PVC pipe, with some D.I.Y. adornments. As to the cradle, also known as a trinka, he described one he’d had made by an artisan in Paris, and the astounding contortions to get it aboard the flight home.

“But this is not it,” he said, gesturing with a naked toe toward a wood platform on the floor. This trinka had been hastily assembled the day before by a master carpenter. It allowed a juggler to lie on his back, with hips propped up, while manipulating the log overhead with his feet. …

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