Most people at Western University walk to campus. There’s the occasional biker, maybe even a skateboarder. And then there’s Benedict Chang — Western’s very own unicyclist.
Benedict is a circus-performing jack of all trades. He balances unicycling and juggling, while also studying as a fourth-year neuroscience PhD candidate.
After completing his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Queen’s University, Benedict wanted to combine his PhD studies with his hobbies.
“In a sense, you could say I do study juggling. I study how the brain calculates motion and how we can intercept moving objects with our hands. So everything from sports to juggling,” Benedict says. “I figured if I could combine work and play, I’d be motivated at work every day.”
Juggling became a hobby of Benedict’s back in 2010 while at Queen’s. He saw the university’s juggling club performing once, and it piqued his interest.
Although he’s met people who perform for their main source of income, for Benedict, it’s just an intense hobby. Benedict busked when he lived in Kingston. But now, in London, he performs at parties, having recently performed at Western University's The Brain and Mind Institute’s Christmas party.
From learning to juggle three balls at a time to juggling flaming clubs, Benedict says he’s addicted to the hobby.
“When I got to juggling three [balls] super proficiently, I’m like, ‘OK. Well, maybe I should just learn three clubs and then I’ll be happy,’ and then I learned three clubs, and I’m like, ‘I should learn four clubs.’ ”
Another aspect that keeps Benedict coming back to juggling is the close-knit community of performers. While magicians like to keep their tricks a secret, Benedict says jugglers are happy to share their tricks.
“We know that, if we show you our best trick, it’s going to take you 10 years to learn it,” he says. “It’s a really great community where we love teaching new people how to juggle. We love teaching jugglers other tricks, and everyone has their very own specific style.”
For any students interested in learning some tricks, Benedict practices with Western’s juggling club on Sundays in the University Community Centre, and they're always happy to teach newcomers. As Benedict emphasizes, people can learn to juggle three balls in under an hour.
Like any performer, hearing the audience go wild during a routine gives Benedict a rush.
“I really like performing with fire because it gets everyone excited,” he says. “It’s pretty rewarding.”
Throughout the years, Benedict’s learned the importance of performing charismatically and not simply doing tricks. During one of his first performances, he noticed that a far more technically simple trick, chops, produced a far greater reaction from the audience than a more technically complex trick, Romeo’s revenge. So when he performs in front of non-jugglers, he focuses on flashy tricks and when he performs in front of jugglers, he performs technically-complex tricks.
“Over the years, you get a sense of what the audience really likes.”
Next year, Benedict plans to start working in a field related to his PhD studies, but he’ll still continue to learn new tricks. Currently, he has his sights set on learning seven new tricks, including juggling five clubs at a time and juggling seven balls at a time.
He's also hoping to add a new partner to his upcoming routines: his puppy. In September, he got Arno, a blue heeler-border collie mix who's currently preoccupied with house-training but will hopefully one day learn some neat tricks.