Dropping is probably the most frustrating aspect of practicing juggling for a beginner. It seems like you spend more time picking balls up off the floor than you do keeping them in the air. As you improve you’ll find that you don’t mind dropping so much but until you get to that point a few drops can stop you from wanting to practice juggling. But there are some simple things you can do to stop yourself getting frustrated and to keep your juggling practice interesting, entertaining and enjoyable for you. Continue reading
This is the first in a series of “How To” blog posts intended to help you develop your skills outside of our classes. These posts are intended to support our students in practising their skills between classes. Although they are not written for non-students (“civilians”?) they may be helpful; but there is no substitute for proper teaching – even with a relatively safe discipline like juggling, and especially with any higher-risk activity like acrobatics.
A quick search on Google for “how to handstand” returns about 8,160,000 results. So why am I writing a how to practice handstands at home post? And why is it the first in this series? Because a lot of the stuff on the internet gives poor technique, assumes a certain level of competence or assumes a certain age of the participant. I wanted to write something that was intended to help our students and their parents – not the entire internet – and presented good technique. I’ve mostly used videos by GymnasticsWOD who present very good technique. Thanks, Carl. And aside from it being an important skill (it’s an essential building block of cartwheels, round offs, handsprings, back flips and more) it’s first because I decided to write this one first.
So with all of that said, let’s get started…
How to Practice Handstands
Here’s what various handstands look like.
You can see in the first handstand position the legs and arms are bent, the head is stuck out, the back is arched, and the legs are apart with feet flexed. This is bad.
The second part shows a classic old-school handstand shape. The legs are together and tight, toes are pointing, arms are locked out straight but the head is still sticking out and the back is still arched. The shoulders, neck and back are being over-worked. This is better than before but still not good. Unfortunately it’s often the best people can manage with poor shoulder flexibility as the back has to compensate for a poor shoulder angle by arching.
The third shape is what we’re looking for. This is a good handstand. The whole body is in line. feet over knees, knees over hips, hips over shoulders, shoulders over elbows, elbows over hands. Notice how the shoulder angle is now opened to 180° and the back is no longer arched. This is efficient and effective, and is what we are aiming for: straight and tight.
There are basically three factors that impact your ability to handstand.
- Your strength
- Your flexibility
- Your body awareness
Developing each of these three aspects will enable you to be confident performing a handstand.
Six Exercises to Practice Handstands at Home
Here are six exercises that you can do to practice your handstands at home. Doing the following exercises – with good technique – will improve your handstands. But if you do them with poor technique you either won’t improve, or won’t improve as fast as you could. It’s almost always better to practice for a shorter time with better technique than it is to sacrifice good technique just to hold on for a few seconds more. If you find yourself unable to maintain good position: stop, rest for a few seconds and start again properly.
1. Dish Holds & Rocks
Strengthening your core will massively improve your handstands. Practice holding dish position for ever increasing times. Start at 20 – 30 seconds and build from there in 10-15 second intervals. Obviously, if you’re strong start with a longer hold.
Remember: in dish you want to keep your back flat against the ground. Have someone try to slide their hand under your lower back to check if you’re in a good position.
If you can hold dish, try to rock without losing your body shape. The body tension this develops is critical for maintaining your position in handstand while focusing on balancing at the same time.
Note: American’s call dish “hollow”.
You should also try this with arch position.
2. Front Support Hold
With the exception of the shoulder angle, this shape is essentially the same as a good handstand shape. It helps develop static strength, stamina, body awareness and a good line. In front support the lower back should be flat, with the pelvis tucked in; the chest should be in with the upper back slightly rounded; legs should together and the glutes (bum muscles) should be squeezed; and the head should be in the natural line with the spine (ie. not lifted or dropped).
Start with holding front support for 20-30 seconds and then increase it by 10-15 seconds. You should be able to hold it comfortably for at least 1 minute. You can also try raising your feet and putting them on something like a chair.
Here’s a good video that demonstrates good technique in front support, and how to progress it towards a handstand. Skip to 4:46 to get to the front support position but you’ll miss the good stuff about shoulder position for handstands.
The higher you go, the more weight is on your hands and the harder it is. Raise your feet high enough and you’ll eventually end up with…
3. Handstand Against a Wall
Doing a handstand against the wall is a tried and tested method of developing your handstands – even at advanced levels. But you have to handstand with your chest facing the wall . If you have your back to the wall you’ll arch your back. Facing the wall let’s you keep good lines.
It may seem too easy but it works – handstands against a wall let you concentrate on your body shapes and lines while taking away the need to concentrate on balance. It also helps develop your strength and stamina.
You can also do this at an angle with your hands a bit further away from the wall, this is easier but make sure you keep the body straight and tight! As you get stronger you can slowly move your hands closer to the wall, creating a steeper body angle, eventually ending up completely vertical.
As with the front support holds, aim for 20-30 seconds building up to at least 1 minute. Good hand balancers will be able to stay on their hands for at least 5 minutes.
Once you are able to stay in handstand comfortably for 1 minute, gently try to push off of the wall, pushing your weight into your finger tips to balance.
4. Bunny Hops and Tucked Handstand
These may seem simple but a good bunny hop is hard to do. Make sure you have your fingers spread, hands shoulder width apart, elbows locked out, head in a neutral position and feet & knees together. Start with some small bunny hops, pushing weight into your hands as you go. As they get bigger you’ll need someone to support you so you can stay on your hands in tuck. Have your parent/friend stand so that they can support your shoulders and hips as you tuck up into a tucked handstand position.
As you improve and get more confident, you’ll be able to extend your legs into a proper handstand.
5. Handstand Tick Tocks & Kick Ups
If you’ve practiced everything up to this point you should be ready to start kicking up into handstand. Make sure you start standing in a straight, stretched position, take a long lunge forward, reach your hands away from you and do a small kick up, letting your feet come slightly off the floor. See if you can get the kick up to be slightly bigger each time until you start to feel that you are balancing on your hands for a moment. Make sure you keep your legs in split so that the weight of your legs stops you tipping over the top.
Once you can reach the balance point you can try swapping your legs. This helps you to practice balancing and bringing your feet together while still reducing the risk of tipping too far over.
Make sure you’re maintaining your straight position the whole way through the movement and are returning to your straight, stretched starting position to finish.
As you improve you can try to hold the balance, maintaining a small split, and slowly bringing your feet together. Trying to kick up and bring your feet together fast is a sure-fire way to lose your balance as not only does your kick up have to be precise but the second leg has a tendency to make you overshoot.
How often should I practice handstands at home?
Practice your handstands at home as often as you like. The more practice you do the stronger and better you’ll become and the more fun handstands will be. Don’t practice when you’re over-tired or if your wrists are hurting. You want to push yourself but not damage yourself.
And most of all….
A little danger is good for kids. Some of my friends with young children disagree. I always want to do the balancing baby trick and some of them are loathe to let me try. I guess I’m just more used to a little danger. I regularly let children climb onto a trapeze, or attempt somersaults and backflips. In fact, I encourage it. I also don’t mind when children get hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t intentionally let them get hurt; but it’s not a problem for me if they end up with a bump or a bruise, a scratch or a scrape. They’re kids; they heal. And they’ll learn something in the process.
So here are 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do. The sixth is obviously circus.
Circus gets a National Centre for Circus Arts
In case you haven’t seen the news, British circus is going national today with Circus Space being elevated to “national” status and relaunched as the National Centre for Circus Arts 25 years after they first opened their doors.
Over the past 25 years, Circus Space has become one of the leading centres for teaching these nouveau cirque skills. Many have felt circus has been the poor cousin of theatre and dance and all but a few of the country’s traditional touring family circuses have disappeared. In their place a new breed of circus entertainment has emerged that balances artistry and acrobatics.
The announcement brings circus in line with theatre, dance and music, raising the credibility of circus as an art form and demonstrating that, after years (centuries?) of sweat, blood and tears (often literally), circus is finally being taken seriously.
We have a lot to thank National Centre for. Adam, as well as many of the other teachers here at Airborne Circus, have trained and taught at the National Centre and they have been a continued support to us since before we opened our doors, offering advice and counsel in all aspects of what it takes to run a circus school.
As the National Centre for Circus Arts we are taking a leading role in supporting the wider circus sector in the UK, creating opportunities for circus to be seen and for people to participate in training at all levels.
Looking forward, who knows what having a national centre will do for the circus industry? We hope that it will bring good things – increased opportunities, recognition and participation – and look forward to seeing the future unfold.
Congratulations for a job well done, Circus Space. And welcome to the world, National Centre for Circus Arts. We’ll definitely see you around.
What do you think having the National Centre for Circus Arts means for us? Will it change the industry? Let us know in the comments below.
Easter is just around the corner!
Now that the storms seem to be over, and the sun is making some appearances again, it’s starting to feel like spring might be here (soon). We’re looking forward to spring quite a lot. Not just because better weather means we can start doing some circus outdoors but because we’re running two Easter holiday circus workshops!
The first workshop is for 7-12 year olds and the other is for 11-18 year olds. Both workshops will give new students the chance to learn the basics, while more experienced students can push themselves further and concentrate on learning some new skills!
It’s been a while since we’ve run our own holiday programme but this Easter we want to give all of our students the opportunity to continue learning circus through the holidays as well as let some new folk come try it out.
If you’d like to participate in our Easter holiday circus workshops, or if you know someone who would, the workshops are open for registration now and can be booked via our holiday circus workshops page.
Check out our holiday circus workshops page for more information.
What do you do with a 5 year old?
This is a question we get asked all the time. But I often think the answer is inadequate for people. ‘We teach the young kids the same stuff as the older kids – acrobatics, trapeze, juggling,etc.’
For some reason people seem to expect young kids to be less able than older kids. And that’s really not the case. In my opinion, it’s not that young kids are less able, it’s that they’ve had less exposure. Said another way, it’s not that they’ve been around on the planet for less time but that they’ve been around circus for less time that makes them less able.
We probably all know this but the main way that very young children learn is by copying. So if they’re brought up around circus they’ll copy circus. The earlier the exposure and the more time devoted to copying and learning circus the better they’ll be by the time they’re five.
My friend Lesley (incidentally it’s her birthday as I’m writing this – happy birthday Lesley!) runs the Wookey Hole Circus, a very successful youth circus in Somerset. Her daughter was watching all the people around her teaching, learning and performing circus from the moment she was born. Here she is at 18 months practicing her hula hoop and taking a call at the end. (In case you don’t realise, this is impressive for 18 months!)
I can’t wait to see what she’ll be like by the time she’s five.
Our classes for young kids have exactly the same content as our classes for older children. So what’s the difference? Well, there really isn’t any difference in the content – all of our classes include juggling, trapeze, tightwire, acrobatics and more – but the delivery style changes with the different age groups. Our 5-7 students have slightly more structure than the 8-12s who have slightly more than the teens. As students get older, they naturally gravitate towards certain skills and away from others, possibly disregarding some skills entirely. One of our teens told me last week that she’s not interested in acrobatics at all and doesn’t want to do it. She’s got her heart set on the unicycle and is always ready and eager to get back on it and practice each week. And that’s more than ok by me. Not everyone is built for, or interested in, every circus skill, and that’s one of the beauties of circus: there’s something for everyone.
Although at the moment we only offer classes for young people who are 5+ I’m committed that as Airborne Circus grows we start to offer classes for pre-schoolers and toddlers too. The early we get them the better they’ll become!
In the meantime here are a couple of videos of young children who started circus early on. They obviously didn’t learn this overnight but it should give you a sense of what young kids are capable of if they’re exposed to circus early and given the chance to learn.
What Young Kids Can Really Do
Airborne Circus will be at the Grange Big Local Community Festival today running a drop-in circus workshop between 12pm – 1.30pm.
We’ll be teaching juggling, diabolo, devil stick, poi and plate spinning.
Pop along and say hi!
We’ve been offered complimentary tickets for our youth students to go see Gerry Cottle’s Circus at Alexandra Palace.
The show – 50 acts in 100 minutes! – features performers from the Wookey Hole Youth Circus (above).
If you’d like a ticket to see one of the performances of Gerry Cottle’s Circus below please email Adam. Tickets are limited and are on a first come, first served basis (maximum 1 per student + 1 parent).
Gerry Cottle’s Circus Showtimes
Monday, 30th September 7.45pm
Saturday, 5th October 5pm
If you can’t make it to one of these performances there are 50% off vouchers scattered throughout the shops in East Finchley and the areas surrounding Ally Pally so keep your eyes peeled!
Our Wednesday afternoon youth circus class for 8-12 year olds in East Finchley has proved to be the most popular youth circus session that we run this term. Although it’s the youth circus class that we’ve been running the longest, there has been a disproportionate amount of interest in that particular class leading up to and into the term. If anyone has any idea why we’d be interested to know!
The Wednesday youth circus class for 8- 12 year olds is now full but there are still places available in our youth circus for 8-12 year olds on Monday afternoons.
Find out more about our youth circus classes or see our youth circus class schedule now.