I have included handstands as part of my cross training series, as I genuinely believe it is an exercise that compliments your pole dancing and conditions many parts of your body to make you a stronger and safer dancer.
I never did handstands as a kid, maybe a few cartwheels here and there, but being upside-down was not something that came naturally.
Through yoga I strengthened by headstand practice, but handstands were only something that we seemed to focus on during workshops, where there is more time to talk about technique, offer spotting, and allow people to work through the fears associated with inversions.
When learning handstands I was constantly demoralized. My teacher at the time wanted me to “bunny hop” up which I found very static and underwhelming.
If you are unfamiliar with this, check out this video. He calls it the “down dog hop” but it’s a clear explanation and visual of what it’s meant to look like.
The bunny hop technique asks you to put your hands on the ground in front of you, shoulder width apart, fingers spread and facing forwards. You then walk your feet up to your hands like a shortened downward dog, bend your knees and spring your legs up to position the hips over the shoulders. This technique takes core strength to hold your legs in a tuck once off the ground, strength in the arms to keep them straight the entire time, and a lot of power through the legs to move your hips into position. This technique might work for some people, but it did not work for my body proportions and strength at the time.
Then one day in 2011, I joined an Acro class at the pole studio. The teacher showed me a more gymnastic inspired way to get into a handstand – the kick up. I see kids in playgrounds handstanding like this all the time! By kicking off one leg, my other leg was free to stretch in the direction of kick, naturally using my body weight to help shift my hips over my shoulders. In one class I was already kicking up further away from the wall and using my legs in a front split position to toy with the balance point.
After 4 years, I still cannot bunny hop! But, I can practice my handstands with the kick up method, and it’s allowed me to begin to feel more comfortable in the position so that I train it more often and find other ways to get in and out of the pose.
After warming up for pole dancing at home, I usually try out three to five handstands against the wall. Kicking up and then seeing if I can take my toes off the wall to find balance. If I’m feeling brave I also try against the pole – a smaller target to kick up against that is easier to hit if you get your butt to the pole before your toes.
The other night I came up with a new way to train my handstands – in the hallway!
There wasn’t any space to kick up, so, facing one wall, I placed my hands on the ground in the centre of the hallway and walked my feet up the wall behind me. At the top, I opened my legs to have one foot on the wall behind me and the other in front.
My arms and shoulders were feeling the burn as I stabilised through this whole sequence, pushing the floor away and clawing with my fingers.
My goal was change feet, scissoring my legs from wall to wall. I managed about three before I was exhausted and walked my feet back down the same way I got up.
Looking at the video (it’s always a good idea to tape yourself to see your form) I was pleasantly surprised how solid my body was throughout the leg change. I was holding a vertical alignment, with a little bit of an arch in my back which could improve, but the scissor action did not put me off balance.
Considering how this applies to pole dancing, think about an Ayesha or Static V and it’s leg variations. You need a solid torso to stay stable in the pose while your legs might go up into a Pencil/Straight Edge, out into a split, or behind you into a back bend.
If you have a solid handstand against the wall, have a go at this variation and see how it benefits your pole inversions too!