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Injury happens to almost all circus artists at some point in our training or career — and it’s important we learn to care for our spirits, not just our bodies, when injury strikes. Limitations can be a recipe for discouragement, frustration, isolation, and depression. But limitations can also be a source of inspiration and discovery. Below are a few stories of the latter sort, from some determinedly adaptable acrobats I know through my coaching at NECCA. To share and celebrate experiences like this, there’s the #adaptableacrobat tag — so keep reading for some thoughts on ways we can support and encourage each other during all the challenges we circus artists face in our training.
Adaptable Acrobats Who Inspire Me
Jordan Polan-Clarke made a hilarious, innovative solo mini-tramp act while recovering from cartilage tears in her wrists during NECCA’s Intensive program. She says mini-tramp “was the one acrobatic thing I could do that never hurt. I could be free from all the pain … because I never needed my wrists.” Her final act was full of nontraditional tricks she’s never seen anyone else do, and she majored in mini-tramp again in her second year at NECCA; she discovered that “some of the most annoying limitations can give you the most interesting results.”
Carolyn Logan made a playful, crowd-pleasing duo trapeze act during her NECCA Intensive year without using one hand, while a broken thumb healed. Instead, she held a remote control throughout the act (sometimes you have to make sure nobody changes the channel on you!). Working around a back injury on static trapeze during her second year at NECCA, she learned to do momentum skills using only static strength — one of the things that wows me every time I watch her act. Carolyn is a brilliant adapter: “I made a list of all the things I really needed to improve on that didn’t involve my injury (hand placement/movement, storyline, PT, flexibility, slowing down, straight legs/toe point, taking a rest day, remembering to play).”
Read More »The Joy of Being an Adaptable Acrobat
“I just don’t know why my handstands are SO bad,” an accomplished aerialist told me recently. “I know what to do, I have pretty good body awareness, but I just can’t stay balanced.” Handstand progress is usually s-l-o-w, but sometimes beginners are missing a crucial piece of info that, once put into place, allows them jump ahead in their balance ability right away. Seeing a student have that lightbulb moment and hold a handstand longer than ever, after just a single class or lesson, is one of my favorite experiences as a handbalancing coach! As I mentally sifted through the possible culprits for this aerialist’s inconsistent balance, I realized I had a catalog I could share that might help people who I can’t diagnose in person. So, roughly in the order that I’d address them in a student, here are eight roadblocks to holding a handstand into eternity.
Fear of falling over. If you’re afraid of kicking up too hard to your handstand because you think you might fall over and hurt yourself, you’ll rarely kick up enough to achieve balance. But if you feel safe both underbalancing (not getting completely inverted) and overbalancing (going too far, past vertical), then you can slowly work toward consistently kicking up exactly the right amount, in between those two.
The solution: With an instructor, learn to twist/cartwheel out comfortably and safely.
- Hands too far apart. Almost everybody untrained who does handstands for the pure joy of them puts their hands too far apart. When you want to hold your handstand for longer than a split second, most people will have more success if their hands are directly under their shoulders so that their arms are vertical and their weight can go straight down through their bones into the floor. This distance might be far narrower than you imagine (I like about 12 inches between the tips of my middle fingers).
The solution: Film yourself or ask a friend what they see; bring your hands narrower until your arms are parallel to each other. Then memorize the image of your hands on the floor the right distance apart, or note how many floorboards or tiles apart they are.
(A Story of Injury and Victory, Told with the Help of My Instagram Training Journal)
“Etude of Left Hand” by Megan Gendell amazes with delicate balances and intense techniques managed without using her left hand. –phindie
Last month marked my third year joining inspiring Philly circus company Tangle in their spring show; this time, I performed a solo static trapeze piece in RetroAct. I was in a short arm cast for the month of March (no broken bones; its purpose was to heal instability in my right wrist — the reviewer quoted above accidentally listed it as the left wrist), but this limitation may have inspired me more than any particular ability has in the past. The creation and rehearsal process excited and exhilarated me as I trained hands-free skills I’d never considered before and learned to navigate transitions one-handed.
Read More »Recent trapeze performance in Tangle’s show RetroAct!
Sometimes your handstand training buddy stands you up. Sometimes you’re the only one at your gym or studio who’s excited about standing on your hands. No matter the reason, training handstands by yourself can feel lonely, impossible, or both — but there are ways to do it successfully and keep the joy alive!
Years ago, on a trip to San Francisco, the Chinese acrobatics master Lu Yi told me that the first thing one must train in handstands is strength (next, balance; then, simple tricks; then, harder tricks; finally, creativity). While I don’t agree that creativity has to come last, it does seem that one basic way to train handstands on your own is to build strength by holding them for as long as you possibly can — a good goal for beginners and advanced practitioners alike (Lu Yi wants me to be able to balance a handstand for five minutes — “to be professional,” he says — so I should definitely be strong enough to stay in a handstand for that long without having to balance myself). It sure is nice to train endurance holds with someone spotting your handstand, but if you’re on your own, it’s time to get comfy in a handstand at the wall.
I’ll take almost any excuse to make a trip to Brattleboro, VT, so I’m delighted to be teaching workshops and private lessons at another edition of NECCA’s Circus Workshop Weekend, April 15-17. My workshop offerings are listed and linked to below; email Elsie Smith to book a private lesson with me (static trapeze, duo trapeze, handstands/handbalancing, or act development!).
This workshop weekend also includes a performance of Love and Gravity by the Acrobatic Conundrum. So many great events in one small town!
Saturday, April 16
We’ll explore a wide variety of ways to get into a handstand (such as pressing, kicking, pushing, jumping, and creative combinations of these) and out of a handstand (including kinds of rolling, pressing, dropping, etc.), to shake up your handstand practice as well as to give you tools to integrate handstands into ground choreography. Register here!
Elbows straight, shoulders open, ribs in, tail tucked … there are so many little things to keep thinking about to create a straight, aligned handstand! That’s why I’m in love with this illustration that visualizes and consolidates the efforts of a straight handstand; each arrow represents an action or energy line that leads to proper alignment. I first encountered an illustration of the body with arrows like this when I was a young dancer at a BalletMet summer program, to illustrate ballet posture. The same arrows work beautifully for handstands. Still overwhelmed? Below are seven ways to break this illustration down and focus on just one aspect of the directives at a time. (Click on each photo to see it bigger!)
Often the front of our body is the easiest to pay attention to; it’s what we see in the mirror, what we see in others’ bodies when we talk with one another. And because the energy lines along the front of the body inherently connect to the ones along the back, thinking only of the front of the body will also affect the back, will affect the entire body’s alignment. Every handstand cue we’re used to hearing can be seen in the arrows along the body’s front: straighten elbows, open shoulders, pull ribs in, open hips, straighten legs, point toes.Read More »7 New Ways to Visualize Handstand Alignment