HarborFrost Juggler Keith Leaf: Playing with Fire in Sag Harbor

Fire juggler Keith Leaf giving us an exclusive HarborFrost preview
Fire juggler Keith Leaf giving Dan's Papers an exclusive HarborFrost preview, Photo: David Taylor

“Keith Leaf grew up in the circus, but he ran away with a normal family in New York. This, unfortunately, was before he learned any circus skills.” Upon reading Leaf’s bio on his website, this shocking line quickly jumps out at the reader, raising many questions about Leaf’s unique upbringing, but like much of his HarborFrost fire juggling show, it’s all in jest. The East Hamptonite’s first experience with the circus came when he was age seven and a juggler at the Third Avenue Street Fair tossed knives and balls around young Leaf, mesmerizing him with the tossing patterns and inspiring his burning desire to learn the skill.

On a trip to New Zealand years later, Leaf met some fire performers that inspired him to purchase his first fire juggling device. He soon realized that juggling gave him a strange sense of peace. “I stopped meditating and reading books, and juggling became my meditation,” he explains. “I had to juggle three to eight hours a day—it was compulsive! If I didn’t do it, I’d be unhappy.”

Keith Leaf juggling at John Steinbeck Waterfront Park
Keith Leaf juggling at John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, the location of HarborFrost 2020, Photo: David Taylor

While attending Cabrillo College in California, Leaf founded the Juggling Club and served as its president for four years. Graduating with a degree in Philosophy/Religion, his circus education comes from the Coney Island Sideshow Workshop and MotionFest in Baltimore. During his days of working day jobs at Hamptons restaurants including La Superica, Sen and the Corner Bar, he was given the opportunity to perform his first street show at Mallory Square in Key West, and he has since performed at prestigious venues across the country, including the grand Metropolitan Opera House. In addition to being a traveling performer, he has also served as a senior artist and circus education specialist at the National Circus Project for 16 years, where he teaches children how to juggle, walk on stilts and perform other show-stopping skills.

Leaf’s juggling shows have developed and expanded over time, now including a dynamic fire show, light-up show, partner show and comedy juggling that showcase his masterful control of knives, plungers, fire staffs, torches, flaming lassos, meteor ropes, Chinese yo-yos, tennis rackets, clubs, poi balls and more. “I’m not a technical juggler,” he clarifies. “There are people who juggle a whole bunch of things for a whole bunch of time—I’m more of a comedy juggler, but I’m skilled for a comedy juggler.”

Keith Leaf posing on his rolla bolla
Keith Leaf posing on his rolla bolla, Photo: David Taylor

A longtime HarborFrost and HarborFest crowd-pleaser, Leaf began as an ambient juggler and stilt walker before graduating to one of the hottest events on the schedule. For HarborFrost 2020, he’ll first engage kids by letting them try their hand at basic plate spinning. Then his acclaimed fire juggling show begins, where flaming rackets, torches and staffs will fly as Leaf balances on a rolla bolla and cracks zinger after zinger. He may even light his pants on fire (on purpose, relax), and if guests are really lucky, he’ll save an extra special trick for the Fiery Sensations fire dancing show that follows.

“Sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m amusing,” he says. “Things that are funny make you laugh, and things that are amusing make you smile, but both bring joy into this world. So what I do is create something out of nothing. I stand in front of people, and I talk, tell jokes, put on music, juggle and I create an atmosphere of joy and happiness. This is very rewarding for me and for my audience.”

See Keith Leaf’s amazing comedy fire show at HarborFrost 2020 on Saturday, February 29 at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. For more info about HarborFrost, visit sagharborchamber.com, and for more about Leaf, visit keithleaf.com.

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