THERE aren’t many places where on a cold April day in Northern England you learn juggling, body-popping, origami and swing from a trapeze. But that’s what the British Juggling Convention is offering. Emily Flanagan reports.

I FELT I wasn’t quite awake enough for my first assignment of the day when I tramped across a muddy field, trying to button up my jacket against the bitter cold and a man dressed in a reindeer onesie stepped into my path and asked me if I wanted to try unicycling.

It was the British Juggling Convention, which this year was being held at the Ryedale Exhibition and Leisure Centre, based at Pickering’s showground.

The five day event attracts professional street performers and “hobbyist jugglers” from across the world.

Unfortunately, when I arrived I discovered flamboyant bohemia doesn’t show its face at 10am.

Many of the colourful performers had been up late in the big top fire-eating, hanging from a trapeze or dazzling in burlesque costumes the previous night.

So at 10am on a very cold morning, many were still in their tents. Apart from the man dressed in a reindeer onesie, who was by now leading a fleet of unicyclists up and down a concrete concourse.

Inside the exhibition centre was slowly filling up with a few jugglers practising their art.

Some of the dozens of workshops timetabled for the festival were chalked up on a blackboard on one wall; there were sessions in specific juggling skills, including a very well attended workshop on how to kick up a juggling club from the floor - a good crowd-pleaser to add to any routine.

Upstairs in the exhibition centre, the British Balloon Modelling Convention was being run concurrently to the juggling one.

Balloon modellers Russell Wells and Bill Wade were showing people the colourful art. At last year’s convention they made a 30ft dragon, but this year they were mostly “balloon jamming”; improvising alongside like-minded artists.

There were also workshops in beginners’ trapeze skills, body-popping, parasol twirling, origami and whip-cracking. There was also an area set aside outside for the fire-eaters outside.

Luckily I was here to learn the tamer art of juggling. I had a workshop with James Francis, 29, an insurance actuary from London, who runs a juggling school in London.

He juggles clubs, knives, fire and anything else that takes his fancy.

“Juggling fire and knives isn’t any harder - it just looks more impressive to an audience,” he explained.

“Knives spin a little differently in the air, but they’re not any more difficult. Plus they’re usually juggling knives which are weighted for juggling and generally they’re blunt.”

Luckily my workshop didn’t progress that far, as I quickly discovered I had no natural aptitude for juggling.

He explained how to start with, you throw the first ball in a looping arch across your body. When the first ball reaches the apex of the loop, you throw your second ball from your other hand in another arch. And catch them.

After a couple of minutes of flailing around with orange balls zinging through the air around me, James suggested we try juggling with two balls instead of three.

As I continued to demonstrate an extreme lack of hand eye co-ordination, he managed to simplify it even further.

“It goes “throw, throw, catch, catch,” he explained.

This made all the difference and for a few seconds I experienced something approaching juggling.

Juggling is harder than it looks - and I already thought it looked hard. I'd describe my efforts as a mitigated disaster and I don't think I'll  be taking up juggling for a living any time soon.

• On Saturday (April 13) the convention will stage Caught in the Act at Scarborough Spa Theatre. Tickets can be bought from: