Juggling balls are anything that is not ring
shaped or club
shaped that people use in an attempt to carry multiple objects as inefficiently as possible. The fact that they are the only bit of gear that a juggler
needs, means that there are about ten bazillion different varieties, and people who will swear on a stack of balls
that their choice is the best.
Beginners generally have no ability to choose a good ball to learn to juggle with, which means that they end up trying to learn with tennis balls. This is bad, because juggling tennis balls sucks. They are too light, have no squoosh, and they try to bounce out of your hand. If you don't want to purchase your own set of juggling balls, then fill a sock with grain, fill the tennis balls half full of rice, or stitch your own beanbags. Just don't try to juggle tennis balls. It is unsatisfying for everybody.
As a way of bringing some order to the hodgepodge of ball styles available, several categories have been devised so that jugglers will have a common language to discuss these matters in.
- These are the ones you want if you are just learning. They are also the ones you want if you are a hobby juggler. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find people who don't find these the easiest ball to juggle. Unfortunately, they wear out after about 6 months to a year of heavy juggling, unless they are one of the snooty kinds - more on the snooty kinds in a minute.
- Stage Balls
- These are (probably) the ones that the guy up on stage is using. They are extremely visible, but a little more difficult to juggle than beanbags.
- Bounce Balls
- Some people prefer these balls above all others, because they provide flexibility when you drop, and the absurdly expensive silicone variety of these is pleasant to juggle beyond all others.
- Yes, there are some that refuse to be filed in these catgories. They include the clear acrylic contact juggling balls, huge ball bearings, street hockey balls partially filled with sand (a common choice for professionals), and many things that people think would be good to juggle but turn out not to be.
If you are looking to purchase a set and you do not know what you are looking for, then you almost definitely want a set of vinyl beanbags with a diameter of 2.5 or 2.75 inches. The standard specs for these balls are 6.9 cm (2.7 in.) and 125 g (4.4 oz). They will last you a long time unless you get really into juggling, in which case they will last you a little more than 6 months. These are the ones with a nice squoosh, and they feel right.
If you want to show off to people, then you might find yourself wanting a set of stage balls. These are more spendy and harder to juggle, but they look really good. The other nice thing about stage balls is the fact that they'll never wear out from use, unlike the beanbags. A nice compromise between stage balls and beanbags is the Beard DX Ball - a smallish stage ball filled with millet. I would love to say that these have the advantages of both and the disadvantages of none, but really they are just a compromise. I like my set a lot, however, and they haven't worn out in 5 years of extraordinarily heavy use.
All of the advice above, however, assumes that you don't want to learn bounce juggling. For bouncing balls there is a well-established hierarchy of goodness: tennis balls suck, super hi-bounce balls mostly suck, lacrosse balls are pretty good, oddballs are better, and silicone balls are best of all. Unfortunately for the aspiring bounce juggler, each step of that progression costs more than the previous, with the price of silicone balls being an outrageous, I-shit-you-not $30 (or more) per ball.
If you've worn out your second set of beanbags and are getting pretty sick of having to buy a new set every year, then you'll have to go extremely specialized. A cranky old man named Michael Ferguson makes what many people describe as the best and most durable beanbag available. Find out prices by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also good are bags made by Juggler's Prop Shop, which is really this one lady whose first name is Ruby. They are occasionally available from Serious Juggling. Call them to find out if any are in stock. Thus, the two best kinds available are sometimes referred to as "fergie bags" and "ruby bags". But you shouldn't have to care about this hooey - you should just buy some nice vinyl ones and go to town.
All of the balls described are available many places, but if you can't find a bricks and mortar store selling them, then I recommend either Serious Juggling (West Coast, USA), Dube (East Coast, USA), or Butterfingers (UK). All of these vendors have websites at the obvious domains.