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Faces of the UI: Juggling a lot more than classes

BY KATHLEEN SERINO | FEBRUARY 27, 2009 7:30 AM

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Since he let go of his Elvis Presley obsession and guitar hobby, Luther Bangert has become a major juggling enthusiast — juggling everything from flaming torches to bowling balls.

Bangert, who picked up juggling three years ago, described his personality as addictive.
And juggling isn’t the only passion the Donnellson, Iowa, native is known for.

The 6-4 UI senior can often be spotted riding around campus on his unicycle sporting a shapely mustache, a standard uniform of colorful garb — custom-made by Indian tailors — and a pair of dilapidated cowboy boots.

“I see him riding that thing everywhere,” Rian Elshclager said, noting that she once saw him riding the unicycle up the steep hill on College Street.

Last summer, Bangert and his friends organized Cirque Stupendo, a circus-type production complete with live music, art, and various talent acts, such as breathing fire, acrobatics, and juggling.

Visiting UI philosophy Assistant Professor Kenneth Williford brought his family to Cirque Stupendo, where his kids had as much fun as he did — “which is pretty rare,” he said.

Williford, who has taught Bangert in three courses, said they have a mutual appreciation for musician John Prine and strange-looking hats.

“You notice him,” Williford said. “It’s cool to have [Bangert] around.”

After Cirque Stupendo, the 23-year-old philosophy major left the UI to study and trek around India.

But first, he made a pit stop in Karlsruhe, Germany, to attend the European Juggling Convention.
At the conference, Bangert, who often practices juggling for more than two hours each day, enrolled in workshops on how to contort his body while juggling and three-ball juggling, which he says is his favorite.

But he can juggle up to six with balls his girlfriend Meera Gessner fashioned out of tube tops and lentils.

“I think he’s brilliant,” said Cortnie Widen, a co-owner of White Rabbit, 109 S. Linn St.
Widen has known Bangert and his relatives for six years.

After the German convention, the vegetarian Bangert headed for Karnataka, India, where the only American food he missed was peanut butter, he said.

Bangert has difficulty relating his experiences abroad, particularly because of the language barrier.
But it was easy for him to make friends, because he was equipped with treasures he said the locals had never seen.

“If I went into town and juggled, I could instantly talk to 50 people,” he said and laughed.

Sitting in his cluttered living room with tattered sofas and a coffee table covered in empty bottles, cigarette butts, and bright red juggling balls, Bangert recalled riding his unicycle into town in India.

“Because I was a tall foreigner, it blew their minds,” he said of the “bewildered” locals. “There was a motorcycle procession behind me.”

But the motorcade didn’t last long. As Bangert unicycled in rapid circles for the crowd, one of his pedal legs snapped in half.

The rest of his journey was, “absolutely mind-boggling,” he said. He rented a scooter to travel into the Himalayas alone for eight days and intensively studied sitar, a string instrument, as well.

Since his return from India, Bangert has reclaimed his position as president of Juggalos — the UI’s juggling club. The Juggalos members perform at numerous sideshows and concerts.

Bangert is also in his third year of working part-time as a counselor for Systems Unlimited, a nonprofit human-service organization assisting Iowans with physical or intellectual disabilities.

“It’s not an easy job, but it suits me well,” he said.

Systems Unlimited employee and UI alumnus Jake Yezek said Bangert would often juggle up to six or seven balls at work — sometimes performing for one of the young clients who Yezek said “got a kick out of it.”

Bangert, who will graduate in December with a degree in philosophy, plans to perform in a March installment of Alley Cabaret at the Englert Theatre with friend and fellow Juggalo member Justin Parsons.


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