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They go for the Jugglerflippo-laughs

Catherine Buday/Gatehouse News Service

The MetroWest Daily News

The rows of chairs in the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School auditorium are empty. But veteran juggler Larry Rettig is still performing llike he's playing to a crowd.

With the enthusiasm of a three-year-old discovering fingerpaint, Rettig takes three softball-sized juggling balls and begins demonstrating his art. He throws one ball back and forth and juggles the other two in one hand, creating an impression that two of the balls are following each other in a magnetic field. He keeps four balls bubbling up into the air like a water fountain. And Rettig himself bubbles over with tales of the great jugglers he has known.

"The big boys can do up to nine balls," said Rettig.

Watching Rettig are students in his adult education class, "Cardio"-Juggling & Stress Reduction with a "Twist"

Sue Hopkins, from Worcester, is graduating to her third ball after two lessons. She concentrates as she keeps trying to keep the balls in the air, dropping them often. As she juggles, Rettig talks about how he sometimes juggles machetes and torches.

"I'm not doing that," Hopkins said firmly.

Juggling is not just for circus people any more. Rettig said plumbers, lawyers, teachers, and even a surgeon have taken his class, which has been part of the Assabet After Dark adult education program for five years.

"The types of people who sign up for my class are the fun-loving kind," he said. "Their ages start at 16, and last semester I had a gentleman 82 years old who was juggling up to four balls." A typical class includes 15 students, he said.

Juggling also attracts highly intelligent people skilled at math, science, and physics, and M.I.T. is nationally known for having one of the most prestigious juggling clubs in the country, Rettig said.

He says it's a good workout for the body as well as the mind.

"You can burn 800 calories in one tenth the time that it would take you at any gym with any program," he said, adding that only experienced jugglers who keep moving reach that point.

His current students agree. "It's a great workout," said Hopkins. "It's a great stress reliever after a tough day."

Rettig said it takes thousands of hours to learn to juggle many balls, and that the sport can never be mastered because jugglers only want to keep adding an additional ball or "club", which resembles a bowling pin.

"No matter how good you are, you can always get better, which is why ALL jugglers refer to themselves as "addicted," he said. "In other sports - water skiing, baseball, bowling, you name it - progress is experienced every week, or every two weeks, or every month. With juggling, progress is experienced every two minutes."

Juggling also brings some therapeutic benefits. Rettig said he once worked part-time at a hospital and introduced it to patients, and it cheered them up. He has also performed 15 shows for the Autism Resource Centers around Massachusetts.

Many students who've taken his course find a lifelong passion. Some of them have launched the Assabet Juggling Club (see on Facebook), which meets twice a month at the Parish Church at 40 Church St. in Northboro, every other Tuesday evening..

When he's not teaching juggling, Rettig performs as Flippo the Jugglin' Clown at many local events. He also entertains as Flippo the Juggling Magician at Moe's Southwest Grill Restaurant in Worcester and Shrewsbury every Thursday evening and at Buffalo Wild Wings Grill in Fitchburg every Wednesday evening. He also teaches the Clowning Arts at the Worcester Night Life Program.

And he puts another of his talents to use after each jugling class, where when he sits down with his students to teach them Balloon Sculpturing. He can create a Parrot on a Perch in about 40 seconds, and even a novice can create a rabbit resting on its hind legs.

Student Julie Sealy, of Shrewsbury, says she enjoys the balloons the most. "It makes people happy," she said.

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