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HILLSVILLE — Juggling just isn't for the clowns and the circus. It's for artists, athletes, hobbyists and just about anyone — and the Flanagans can attest to that.
As local Glen Luke Flanagan swirls a handful of bean bags through the air and tosses them behind his back, showing off his juggling skills, he explains how the hobby has become about sharing, showing and coming together.
He never misses a beat as he demonstrates his tricks, manipulation skills and choreography.
Glen Luke, 18, of Hillsville, who was into magic and card tricks growing up in Ohio, got involved in juggling when he was 13 after he came across some books and videos at the library.
Glen Luke learned everything he knows about juggling through books and video tutorials, after practicing hours upon hours.
“I've always been interested in how magic works and bought some magic kits from the dollar store,” he said. “But magic is about trickery and hiding what you know. In juggling, it's very open and people want to show you what they can do and how they can do it.”
The family travels all over attending festivals, performing different acts at nursing homes and community events and are members of the Christian Jugglers Association and the International Jugglers Association.
Glen Luke has won medals and trophies, including one for five ball endurance and a blind-folded juggling contest.
“It became contagious,” said his mom Cynthia Flanagan. “When Glen Luke learned five years ago, we all just took turns helping each other. I don't remember them learning because they picked it up like it was nothing. It has become something we could explore together.”
Glen Luke and his two brothers, two sisters, mom and dad have all became a part of his passion. Glen Luke showed all of his younger brothers and sisters how to juggle in their spare time. If they were standing in line or waiting in a lobby, Cynthia said, they would pull their bean bags out and practice.
Cynthia teared up as she talked about how the hobby brought her family closer, and how wonderful her children are.
Juggling has become such a big part of their lives, they don't know what they would do without it, and each has their own speciality.
Cynthia's daughter Rae Lynn, 16, loves to spin bean bags on a string.
Seth Lee, 9, who started juggling when he was 4, performs tricks with top hats.
John Ross, 14, performs with yo-yos and Brie Anne, 11, is pretty good at twirling hula hoops around her waist, neck, arms and legs.
While she and her husband Glen are still learning, Cynthia's speciality is juggling a handful of colorful scarves.
“It's inspiring to see what you can come up with,” said Glen Luke. “Some are always trying to learn new tricks or push more and more numbers. I like to create something new out of something old, like changing tempos or trying the trick backwards.”
Glen Luke has even picked up balancing acts with tables and chairs. He and his brother John Ross have learned how to juggle clubs back and forth to each other, and John Ross shows that he can balance himself, standing straight up, on Glen Luke's shoulder as he juggles bean bags.
Except for Glen Luke, who now attends Wytheville Community College, the Flanagans are home schooled.
“Being home schooled allowed us to branch out and do what we like without the pressures of other kids,” said Glen Luke. “But juggling takes hard work and practice to get good at it.”
Their most spectacular show yet, Cynthia said, is one they performed on New Year's Eve 2006, with dazzling light-up yo-yos, hoops and other props.
The Flanagans got into showcasing their skills when Cynthia's dad suggested they perform at a nursing home. “That first show became one of our favorites, because it just brings so many memories,” she said. “We really had a good time.”
During their cowboy act, they perform tricks to old songs like “Comin' Round the Mountain.”
“When we do shows at nursing homes, we wanted it to be something that they could get into and would jog their memory,” said Cynthia. “When they're sitting in their wheel chair and can help balance a ball or juggle scarves, it really makes their day.”
When Glen Luke became heavily involved in juggling, Cynthia made a business out of it. She had seen many square bean bags, but what about the rounds ones, she questioned.
That's when she started making her own, in different colors and weight sizes.
“When I met a man through the Christian Jugglers Association, I told him I was making bean bags, and he suggested that I put together a Web site and start selling them,” she said. “Now, I reach people all over the world with my bean bags — Germany, U.K., Ireland.”
Cynthia is one of only three custom bean bag makers in the country. This is also a collaborative effort — her children fill the bags, test out the bean bags, help in the design and color process and even give advice to the jugglers starting out.
In a way, the hobby brought them to the area three years ago, after staying with friends in Virginia.
When Cynthia's father, who lived in New York, passed away, they needed to relocate. So they packed up their camper and started following the mountains, and stayed for a while with a family of jugglers in Nelson County.
Cynthia and her family then decided to visit her aunt in Murphy, N.C., stopping on the way to perform at rest areas and camp sites.
“For some reason, we became focused on Mount Airy, N.C., and we had put in offers for homes, but all fell through,” she said. “When we came through Hillsville that time, we had no idea we were going to end up here.”
Soon, they bought a house in Hillsville after seeing it online.
Now that the family is here, Cynthia said she is hoping to get more of the community involved through a juggling league or classes.
“I would love for it to be a bigger part of the community,” said Cynthia. “It's a good activity to offer to the people.
“Juggling is new to a lot of people,” said Cynthia. “It has became a skill for all ages, and it exercises the mind and body, and is a social activity. It's colorful and active.”
If there is enough interest, the family is hoping to teach a class at Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.
• For more information, visit jugglingforjoy.com, or thebagladyonline.net.