On campus club juggles play with classes
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 21:10
Most school days, Walter Heth walks out of class — sporting a traveler’s tool belt and raccoon tail — hops on his unicycle and pedals over to the Speaker’s Lawn for a few hours of juggling with the on campus performing arts club, Beach Balls.
Like Heth, who is president of the club, Beach Balls is far from traditional.
Despite full class loads, the group gathers on the Speaker’s Lawn to play and practice with toys and props almost every day Monday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m.
Heth said students are welcome to stop by, whether they have 10 minutes or two hours to kill. He said no experience is necessary, and the club members love to teach.
“A lot of people are embarrassed to give it a try,” Heth said. “They think they will get made fun of or something terrible will happen if they mess up, but they really just don’t know the people. It isn’t like that.”
Most of Beach Balls’ members are also learning themselves, with some who picked up their skills in less than 30 minutes.
Heth first started juggling when he was 12 years old. Now at 22, he has had experience in gymnastics, acrobalancing, fire spinning, fire breathing and tightrope walking.
“We have this joke, ‘If I can just learn this one move, I’ll stop,’ because once you do get it down, you always want more,” he said. “It’s human nature to want something, to be good at something. Now I always want to learn something new. It makes me happy. I think that’s why juggling has been so popular.”
This is Heth’s first semester as club president, but he said he has seen about an 80 percent increase in members. He said it’s hard to keep track of the growing group, because they do not keep a list of members’ emails or phone numbers.
“If people have fun, they’ll come back,” Heth said.
With Beach Balls, members can also practice a wide range of the flow arts, which combine fitness and meditation with play.
The concept behind Flow Art is learning “to move in harmony with an inanimate object so that it becomes an animated extension of your body,” according to the Flow Temple website.
Jennifer Flores, a new Beach Balls member and junior sociology major, was introduced to the flow community when she discovered how much she loved hula-hooping.
“I’ve never found something so challenging, so rewarding,” Flores said. “It gives me confidence. It teaches patience. It shows you how you learn. It really showed me how to be okay with not knowing what I was doing.”
Flores said flow art is a way to relieve stress and just be present in the moment. Although she was intimidated when she started, the acceptance and encouragement she found in the flow art community gave her a real sense of belonging that quickly fed her passion.
“There is a toy for everyone: poi, hoop, clubs, staff, torches. Whatever your style is, there is something out there,” Flores said.
Heth said the same sense of community inspired him to take an active role in expanding the club’s membership.
“When I started at Long Beach State, I got those emails about suicides on college campuses,” Heth said. “I was lucky; I never had that problem of depression. I found a community that was super welcoming to me, and I felt like I fit right in.”
Heth said he hopes the club can be a place where new students feel welcome and comfortable.
“I thought, if I could make this club bigger, I could give all these freshmen somewhere to belong,” he said. “If I could open it past juggling, it could become, like, a school hangout spot.”