by Art Levy
Updated 5 yearss ago
When Anthony Commarota was 3, his stepfather showed him how to juggle — and “I just kind of picked it up quick,” he says.
By the time he was 8, Commarota had become one of the best jugglers in the world, appearing on the ABC variety show “That’s Incredible.” In front of a studio audience, he juggled a succession of balls, clubs and rings for more than 2 minutes without missing. His finale, juggling five rings while twirling another ring on his foot and balancing a ladder and a ball on his head, was flawless.
A few years later, wearing a pair of baby blue shorts that accentuated his skinny legs and knobby knees, Commarota juggled on the “Tonight Show.” Guest host Joan Rivers called him “terrific” and “adorable” and told him he was a “lovely boy.”
When she asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, Commarota did not hesitate.
“A juggler,” he told her.
And he became one — not just making a good living, but becoming arguably the greatest juggler in the world. Performing under the name Anthony Gatto, he came to hold 12 juggling records, including juggling nine balls for 54 seconds and juggling 12 rings for 12 catches. In 2000, he won a prestigious Golden Clown trophy at the International Circus Festival of MonteCarlo. No other juggler has won that award. In 2007, he joined Cirque du Soleil and juggled in the Kooza show in Las Vegas and the La Nouba show in Orlando.
Throughout much of his career, however, Commarota hid a big secret. On stage, he smiled amid the bright lights and bouncy music. Inside was another truth: He just didn’t like juggling for a living.
“As good as I was, I don’t feel like that was my world,” says Commarota, now 42 and living in Orlando. “All along, I did the best I could — 100% — and I was a top-level artist, but it was never really that fulfilling for me. All the awards and accolades didn’t really mean that much.” He tried quitting in his early 20s.
He started a landscaping company but didn’t know much about running a business. When money got tight and it looked like the business would fail, he went back to juggling — not because he missed it, but because it was the best way for him to secure his finances.
Commarota quit juggling the second time at 40. In addition to lacking passion for performing, he had another reason. With a wife and two kids, life as a professional juggler didn’t allow him to be the kind of husband and father he wanted to be.
“I didn’t want to see myself going down that path of missing my kids’ entire lives while I’m sitting in a dressing room getting ready for a show,” he says. “So, I started to think about things and I looked around and thought about what it was that I was interested in.”
That turned out to be concrete.
Commarota created Big Top Concrete Resurfacing in 2012. The business is growing. People think it’s funny or weird that the world’s greatest juggler is a concrete guy now, but he says the two fields aren’t all that different. On stage, he considered himself an artist, always thinking up new tricks to challenge himself, and he says that’s what he does now. If a customer wants a plain concrete floor or counter, he can create that, but he can also make concrete look like wood planks, adobe tile, sand, water, slate.
Whatever you want, he can do.
“I’m constantly thinking, constantly creating,” he says. “That’s what I like about it.”
He doesn’t miss juggling at all. The past two years, in fact, he remembers only juggling once — because his children had friends over and he was desperate to keep them occupied. He impressed the kids by juggling seven balls, but even that wasn’t much fun. “It’s not inside me,” he says.
“Some people can’t ever escape the stage. They love it, and good for them. But I feel lucky because I get to do something different from the one thing I grew up doing since I was 3 years old. I get to learn something new and do something entirely different, and I love it.”