Jacob Henning is an international finance and marketing major hailing from Virginia Beach, Virginia. When not in class, Henning has spent thousands of hours during his college career practicing juggling and other circus arts with performance troupe Enlightened Flow Entertainment and the Coconut Grove Juggling Exchange. Outside of juggling, Henning revived the St. Jude’s Up ‘Til Dawn service organization at UM. After graduation, he plans to continue performing, start his own LLC and work towards owning a performance company. In the future, Henning also plans to take a leadership role in his family’s steel-manufacturing business.
The Miami Hurricane: How did you get started with juggling and circus arts? Had you previously been involved with similar activities or had any family members involved with stuff like this?
Henning: I actually had a friend who used to live across the street from me in Virginia Beach. She moved down here to Florida first. When I came down to visit her a few times, she had been hanging out with people who juggled and did fire performances and stuff. This was when I was 16. Then, on one of the first nights of orientation here, I went out with her to a gallery in Miami, the Moksha [Family Arts Collective]. That was really the first time that I was struck by that art form, that I was really intrigued by it and thought, wow, this is something I’d like to check out more. So then I bought a pair of poi, a ball or weight attached to a small handle with a rope or chain tether, and started practicing with them, and then from there, it evolved into juggling and prop manipulation.
TMH: About how many current UM students are actively involved in the Coconut Grove Juggling Exchange and Juggling Club? Why the UC Breezeway?
H: The Coconut Grove Juggling Exchange is just a group of jugglers in the Coral Gables and Coconut Grove area and they meet here on campus every Thursday. They’ve been meeting here for 40 years, or something like that – a long time. They have jams in parks in Coconut Grove. One of the gentlemen is actually a retired professor from UM. I heard about this group during Orientation, someone mentioned that there was a juggling group on campus. After I became more interested in looking at flow arts, I asked around and discovered when they met.
TMH: I know maybe 10 people from UM who are into juggling. It’s a much more underground art form. It’s not prominent, it’s not like a classical kind of art form. It’s not a typical field of art that you would see at a normal collegiate institution.
H: The Coconut Grove Juggling Exchange don’t do P.R., but they facilitate interest by example. There’s been three or four times when we’ve just been hanging out and juggling, and people have come up to us and said, “Oh that’s really cool, I wish I could juggle.” And we say, “Well hey, we can teach you how to juggle.” It’ll literally take us like, 10 minutes. Two or three of them actually did end up managing to learn.
TMH: Can you talk about the value of practice, practice, practice? How have you seen yourself improve in juggling?
H: I think that especially with juggling, it teaches yourself how to pick yourself back up both literally and figuratively. When you start practicing something that you have no experience with and have no knowledge of, you run into a lot of challenges and brick walls, and you’ll fail a lot. Two of the most important things that it’s taught me are patience and perseverance. Just trying to remain focused and calm when things aren’t going your way, and just continuing to try to do your best and accomplish your goals. I’ve found that if you just keep doing that, then things work out for the best.
TMH: What kept you going?
H: It was really the community, because once I started to get out there and network some more with people who were into it, share ideas with different people, learn from different people, and just make new friends, I found that it got to the point where every weekend, I was hanging out with my friends. And we’re all performers, so we’re just all talking about this stuff, practicing this stuff and sharing our new moves. So it was really the community.
TMH: Why do you envision that this is something you will continue to be involved in in the next few years?
H: I really want to see this program survive and prosper. I believe it has a tremendous amount of value to provide to a community like ours at the University of Miami, and to St. Jude as well. I feel like this program is a part of me, because I was instrumental to its creation, and so I feel a deep connection to it.
TMH: You’ve talked a lot about this community of performers. How do you think the scene in Miami is different than other places? Do you think it’s easier for you to get involved down here than it would be if you went to school somewhere else?
H: The short answer is I think it is easier down here on the whole, because there’s more kind of this exotic atmosphere. People down here look for fire performers to come to their parties and shows and stuff like that, because it’s Miami and everything has to be extravagant and spectacular. For that reason, it is more prominent down here, but that’s a double-edged sword where people don’t do their due diligence in training and researching safety techniques. There have been a couple of incidents recently where people have seriously injured themselves doing fire performance because they didn’t follow the proper safety protocols. These performances are kind of a more prominent thing down here, but at the same time, you don’t always get the right people or the best-trained people. It’s caused a bit of a schism in the community.
TMH: At this point, you’ve done more than 50 fire performance sets. When you first started doing fire tricks, did you feel a little nervous or anxious?
H: I can still remember the first time I performed with fire props, I had been training for about eight months. Right up until the point that I lit them on fire, I had butterflies in my stomach. But as soon as the fire is lit, you kind of go into that focused state – some people call it a “flow state” since it’s called “flow arts” – where your conscious thought processes subdue a little bit. Obviously, they were flying around me and I was still all adrenalized and shaky, but I didn’t really notice a conscious fear.
TMH: What are some major safety concerns when it comes to doing these performances?
H: I think the most prominent problem right now has to do with the type of fuel people use, especially if they’re doing fire breathing, which is the most dangerous kind of fire performance. There’s a whole range of fuels that you can use, from gasoline to paraffin wax, but people don’t really research the chemical properties of these things and what happens when they combust and the dangers inherent in that. With the fire breather who recently had an accident [in Delray Beach], they were fire breathing with white gasoline, which is extremely dangerous because it has a higher flash point and it combusts more easily than paraffin wax, which is what people usually use when they fire breathe. That would be the biggest thing, researching the type of fuel. The next biggest thing is making sure you have “safeties,” a couple people who have fire towels and know proper smothering techniques, people who know how to control the crowd. Smothering technique is another big thing.
TMH: Any previous accidents?
H: There’s been some minor first, second-degree burns, nothing terrible. There was one time where my pants caught on fire for like a brief second, but I had a friend who was safetying for me, so he told me to stop and help put the fire out. I’ve never had a serious incident, because the people I usually go and perform with are all seasoned veterans, they’ve been doing this for almost a decade.
TMH: Where’s the most interesting place you’ve ever performed?
H: Back in March, during Ultra weekend, on a little island in Miami Bay called Pachanga. They had a little party out there. We got free performer’s tickets to the party, and they shuttle you out to the island, and you camp out on the island, where there were DJs and light sets.
TMH: Your postgraduate plans are very concrete but also very unique from probably that of the average UM student. What do your peers say when they hear about your postgraduate plans?
H: Most of them are like “Hey man, that’s really cool.” They’re like that’s really cool. But yeah, a lot of the questions you get as a senior are like “Hey, you found a job yet?”
TMH: Could you explain how you plan on balancing both your performance ventures and your steel-manufacturing career?
H: I plan on performing with Enlightened Flow Entertainment, a performing arts troupe. I know a couple other people who are associated with Enlightened Flow but also have their own sole proprietorship companies. There’s one guy, Julian Campolo, who is actually also a UM alum – I think he graduated back in the 80s. And he’s had multiple fire companies over the years, he’s well known around here.
So first I want to move up to Fort Lauderdale and try to establish an LLC for myself called Jahkinetix. I plan on staying around South Florida to perform with Enlightened Flow for about two years; I’ll also be traveling and exploring during that time. Back in February, I went to a seminar held by an organization called Platts, which does educational platforming for the steel market. I was learning the ins and outs of what’s going on in steel manufacturing. So while I’m travelling, I want to regularly attend these Platts events, and then kind of develop a better knowledge of the steel-manufacturing industry. I’m really interested in it and all. So I plan on doing this for five years total, two years in Miami and three years somewhere else. By 30, I want to take on an active role in my dad’s company. I want to find something I can do for them that is, not necessarily revolutionary, but brings something to them that will enhance the company and make my mark on it, so to speak.
TMH: This year, you became the president of the revived Up ‘Til Dawn student service org. Have you done previous work with community service?
H: My high school had a community service requirement, so I have done previous work with community service. I did some volunteer work for Operation Smile and did some volunteer work with food services at a local homeless shelter in Virginia Beach.
TMH: What made you passionate about and involved with St. Jude’s? Have you done similar leadership during your time at UM, or was this something new?
H: This was something new for me. I originally became interested in working with St. Jude’s last April when I was looking for internship opportunities. I received an email from Toppel Career Center one day with an opportunity for an internship at St. Jude, which caught my eye because my best friend was treated at St. Jude as a child, and so I had some knowledge of the organization and a deep appreciation for their work. When I went in for an information session about the internship, I learned about St. Jude’s national collegiate fundraising program, Up ‘Til Dawn, and how it used to be a part of our collegiate community at UM. The St. Jude employee hosting the info session, Carolina Lizarralde, explained how she had taken part in the Up ‘Til Dawn program when she was at UM, and how much she loved it, and I decided it would be a good endeavor to try and rebuild Up ‘Til Dawn at UM. I also worked at St. Jude’s regional office in Miami over the summer as an intern, during which time I assembled the Executive Board for the organization. All of this was very new to me. I had definitely never imagined myself as the president of a student organization, and I found many aspects of the job daunting and challenging, but I really think it was one of the best experiences of my life.