|Number 23||P.O. Box 711, Tulsa 1, Oklahoma||August 1946|
Several years ago we saw a Mexican juggler in a circus side show "Hat Spinning", that is, keeping a hat revolving in the air by striking its brim with a stick. We liked the novelty of the routine and its effect on the audience but at the time were too absorbed in trying to get three balls to reverse shower to do anything about it. Last year we again saw the feat performed by Al Conner. Again we liked it but time slipped away and we still did nothing about trying it. A month ago we passed a local sporting goods shop and saw in the window a red cloth hat of suitable size and texture, we thought, for the trick. We bought one and played around with it and surprising enough most of the moves we could think of were rather easy to do. In a month's time we could (and you can too) do fairly well several rather interesting moves. Checking through all the literature we have on hand revealed only one brief article on Hat Spinning. This we found in William J. Hilliar's "Modern Magicians' Hand Book". Believing that many young aspiring jugglers would welcome Hat Spinning as an act which would get them entirely away from the standard "toss" routines with standard articles such as balls and clubs, we have compiled our findings in this article. We sincerely hope that you will try it out and not be content with just the moves we show. Perhaps, and we hope you do, you will put it in your show and at some future date we'll see you doing moves that we and hat spinners before us never dreamed possible.
The hat described in the Hilliar book and the one used by the Mexican juggler was made of felt, but the hat used by Conner and the one we found was of the soft cloth variety that has been popular for summer wear the past few years Some of these cloth hats are heavily starched so that they will hold their shape better. This is not the kind for hat spinning. Get the softest one you can find this fortunately is also usually the cheapest cloth hat on the market. After a little beating with the stick such a hat is just as limp as an old rag, and except when it is being spun it looks a good deal like a rag. Under the spinning action, however, it billows out and again resembles a hat. The hat we found was red (a rather bright red which we liked better than the more common brown and gray ones) measured about 12 inches across the brim and with a crown about 5 inches high when fully billowed out. We mention these dimensions, not because they are important for the successful carrying out of the spinning routine, but more as a guide to finding a suitable hat at your local store. The stick we use is a 3/8 inch diameter dowel rod cut to a length of 24 inches and with a pointed end. This pointed end does not influence the spinning part of the routine but is an aid in performing a couple of moves that will be explained later. Also the length of the rod will vary with the individual, some desiring a shorter stick- we doubt whether a longer one would have any advantage.
THE BASIC STICK SPIN: Hold the hat with the forefinger and thumb of the left hand by the brim, crown of hat toward the audience, brim of hat hanging from fingers vertically. The hat is held about waist high. The stick, held firmly in the right hand is placed just a trifle to the left of the center of the lower edge of brim. As the hat is released from left hand, the stick is raised sharply almost straight up, but with a slight semicircular motion. This will cause the hat to spin.
Try this a few times without trying to keep the hat spinning. You will find that if the stick is too close to the center of the hat brim, the hat will collapse and drape around the stick instead of spinning. If the stick is too far from the center the hat will spin but instead of also being kept up in the air it will fall to the floor before you would have time to strike it again with the stick. In other words, the stick must cause the hat to spin and also act with an upward force to keep the hat in the air. With a little practice you will be able to keep the hat spinning at about waist height or a little above at least f or short periods of time. With continued practice you will find it easy to control. You will find that by hitting it closer to center you will slow the spinning rate down as well as cause the hat to be thrown higher in the air. By hitting it further from the center you increase the rate of spin but you will have to hit it faster to keep it in the air. The rate of spin is appreciably increased by causing the stick to follow a semi-circular path about the rim of hat rather than just a sharp upward motion. FIG. 2. This, then is the basic move of hat spinning. Practice it until you have considerable control on the hat, for all other moves are simply variations or additions to the basic one.
When you master control of the spinning hat you will find it easy to change the tempo of the stick striking the hat brim. Thus you will hit the hat rapidly for awhile, then by striking closer to the center cause the hat to fly high above head still spinning, wait for it to descend and again increase speed of spinning by rapid striking further from the center. This change of tempo gives variation to just straight spinning, and we might add, looks much more difficult to the audience. We will assume that you have mastered the basics and are now ready to see what further moves and refinements we have found possible.
STICK PICK-UP: With the hat on the floor crown down, or toward the audience, the point of stick is poked inside the hat. The stick with the hat on it is brought sharply up and to the left with a sweeping motion. The movement is stopped abruptly with a circular move of the stick which causes the hat to spin. FIG. 3. Almost at the same instant the stick is removed from the inside of the hat and strikes the brim of the hat to keep it spinning and thus continue the basic spin. This little move is excellent for the recovery of a dropped hat. The point on the stick helps in this pick-up. If the hat falls with crown up it is only necessary to give it a sharp blow and turn it over in order to start the pick-up.
FOOT PICK-UP This is one of the most startling methods of starting the hat spin. The hat is thrown on toe of shoe (you have to balance on one foot while doing this) or if the hat is on the floor the toe of shoe can be inserted in the hat. The foot and leg raises just like in the move where you cause a top hat to turn over once in getting from foot to head but instead of giving enough upward impetus to the hat to reach the head, the hat is caused to turn over at about waist height at which point it is in the proper position to strike with the stick and cause to spin.
FIG 4. The main trouble to overcome in this move is to gain enough control so that the hat is not in the proper position too close to the body to get the stick into action.
OFF-THE-HEAD START: This is another very effective start for the basic spin. The hat is placed on head in wearing position, but loosely. Or when you practice a little you will find it quite easy to do a turn- over from toe to head. This move is a little more difficult than when done with a stiff hat such as a top hat but is nevertheless easily attainable with a little practice. The stick is now placed under the brim of the hat slightly to the left of the rear of the head, point of stick pointing slightly up and forward. Head is bowed slightly forward. A steady rapid upward. motion (not a sudden jerk) with the stick will cause the hat to roll forward off the head, turn over and be in proper position for the basic spin at about waist height. This one will require a few hours of diligent practice but the effect is well worth the effort.
You can now get a picture of the excellent routines possible. For example- throw the hat on the toe of right foot. Right foot tosses hat with one turn to be caught on left foot (this simply requires a quick change of balance from one foot to another). Left foot again tosses hat up with one turn to be caught again in its original position on right foot. From there it is tossed with one turn to head. Off the-head start is then accomplished and hat is spun with varying tempo and heights briefly. The spinning hat can then be allowed to drop still spinning toward the floor where the right foot with a quick forward jab again enters the hat. The Foot-Pick-Up is then executed, and the spin continues with stick going under leg to strike the hat, behind the back, etc. for variations of the basic spin.
The striking of the hat under the leg and behind the back the most difficult moves so far described. But besides practice about the only hints we can offer are to slow the spinning of the hat down, and just before moving the stick to the under leg position or around the back, give the hat an upward thrust in order to give you time to move the stick into position.
Some other spinning ideas: Place the point of the stick on the brim of hat toward the edge. Crown of hat up. Stick held vertically. Now impart a circular motion to the stick. The hat will assume and spin in a horizontal plane. By moving the stick upward slightly and then rapidly removing the stick the hat will sail down and can be caught on head. Another departure from the basic stick spin is to kick the spinning hat with foot in the same position that the stick would strike it. This slows down the hat spin and so immediately after the kick recover speed again with stick. Instead of a kick with foot, a sharp blow with arm or left hand are effective deviations from the basic stick spin.