Transcript of Episode 58: Community
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis. Unfortunately, my cohost Mikael Kristiansen is on holiday this week. If you follow his Instagram, you can see we’re normally running a retreat in Turkey at this time this year. But obviously due to the ongoing pandemic, we are not running that retreat. It’s fine, but Mikael decided to go over there. He’s become a builder, helping to build the huts and infrastructure. He’s gone, but who cares, because you’ve got me.
I’ll fill in Mikael’s role tonight and go, ‘Hey Emmet, how’s things going this week?’
Thank you for asking. This week is going well. It’s not like infinite Wednesday because I got a puppy during the week, so I’m happy we have Albus the Dumble Dog. He’s now part of the family. Harry Potter theme here, and he’s pretty shaggy.
I have tons of fun and am getting bitten to pieces. Generally he’s all around great, but he’s a puppy. At around 6 o clock, it’s hyper time. That continues til about 10.
Enough about my puppy. Today, I am going to have a topic based on community. It’s a bit of a how to, and a manifesto.
I think about this a lot, oddly enough: communities, subcultures, context, subcultural groupings – how these things form. We, as the handstand community, that includes anyone who listens to this podcast, as you are interested in handstands – but the growing community presents shows, sets ourselves up…
We need different layers and strata to have a community. Handstands is an emerging discipline. It was a performance art, and it still is. It’s used in the context of different disciplines – gymnastics, yoga, acrobatics – but it’s becoming its own thing. Just as bouldering was a subset of climbing, and now it’s possibly even bigger than climbing.
You will have the same with hand balance. No matter where you’re starting, there is somewhere you can train. There is some level you can get involved in and learn to handstand. If I want to do a ten second handstand, awesome. If I want to do the highest level of one arm, awesome. And everything from in between, there is a place for someone.
Taking handstands out of its context – I don’t want to do tumbling or gymnastics, just handstands – that’s cool. I have no interest in performing, cool. I have no interest in performing, but train handstands for a couple of years and want to turn it into more of an art form, because it’s giving me an outlet for my creativity. Awesome.
We need to foster this idea that the community is inclusive, at every level. To clarify things, we can include diversity and all these things where we don’t want to discriminate. That goes without saying. What I’m talking more about is finding a place for everyone in the community to feel welcome, respected, and open. These are values of a good community.
You want to be a part of what we do? We all stare at the floor, which is odd, so we might as well have one more person to help our numbers, so we’re a bit less odd. This is what I’m looking for, or we should be aiming for.
How does this happen in practice? I actually have a model for everyone I want to share. It’s weird; it comes from the juggling and object manipulation community, and their successes and failures. It’s interesting to see.
In the juggling community, where I got introduced to circus arts, there is a hierarchal, splinter cell organization. It starts at the lower level, with the local juggling clubs or meet ups. These generally take two forms. You have a formal or informal meet up. A formal meet up is when someone either rents a hall or training space and says, between here and here at these times, turn up and we will be juggling. This can be in the form of a club.
We can have a handstand club. One advantage to this set up is we can slowly accrue funds and buy equipment. Slowly we will start getting equipment as part of the club. The club is as much a social club as anything else, so it fulfills this need. We have some outings, meet ups, BBQs, whatever.
Generally in the juggling society, a lot of them are run in tangent with universities. Universities generally have good clubs, but there is no reason you can’t have them elsewhere.
This will be our informal formal meet up. Generally at these meetups, there’s no formal teaching. There might be stuff for complete noobs who know nothing, but generally the teaching is more like you see someone doing something and ask how to get started. They show you X, Y, Z, or try this or maybe that.
Sometimes clubs get teachers in to guest teach. They focus on tuck handstands, maybe. Or it can be set up in the group that a responsibility as an older member is to coach the younger members for 20-30 minutes, get them started.
Very informal. The advantage is it’s a very flexible thing. You get to meet lots of people, all training the same thing. The disadvantage of this set up is there is no formal teaching structure. It’s ask around, see what is going on, try to teach yourself a bit. That works well to a certain degree, and more for some than for others.
The informal level of the meetup is when someone…I don’t use Facebook anymore. Local area groups, other stuff, where you get to know people on Instagram. This is where I found some of my really good friends. Andy Myers, Anthony Claffey, Vincent Vis in Dublin. We got to know each other on Instagram and just met up informally. “Let’s meet at this time and do some training.”
Then it progressed to some of the next levels I’ll talk about. But this idea of something with some continuity. For example, in Dublin, maybe not at the moment, but in summers, there is a park that everyone knows to go to. Tuesday, from when work ends to 9pm, if you are into circus, juggling, acrobatics, acro yoga, partner balancing, all this stuff – just turn up in the park, and people will be there training. Everyone is welcoming.
It’s informal. People stop by after work, hang out. Others are there for serious training. Some of everything. It’s nice to be around, try something else out. This one, it’s a set time and you know to turn up. Everyone slowly gets to know each other; it’s nice. People get interested. They ask what you’re doing. Handstands? I tried handstands as a kid. Cool, we’re here every week. By the way, there is also this other club. By the way, X teaches a class Wednesday night, you should check it out. I didn’t know there were such classes…
These are conversations that would be going on, to give an example. It gives an almost advertising, and a statement: we exist as a thing, that you can do. That’s interesting.
For myself, what do I do? I coach handstands. People are like, what do you mean, gymnastics? No, I coach handstands and this is basically what I do full time. People say, I didn’t know you could do that.
Handstands are a thing you can do. It’s an artform, a physical practice, a meditative practice. It is. It has its own community and things and subcultural definitions and boundaries, stuff like this.
The next level are the more formal set ups. This would be the idea that there is a structure or hierarchy, and generally a means of value exchange. Generally a paid class or paid meet up. A paid class, obviously someone decides they are competent enough to teach a group of 20 people, 10, 5, 3 people. I run a class, it starts at this time, and finishes at this time. You will pay for your 6-10 week term up front, or cash at the door, whatever you want to do. Up to you to decide. The teacher gets paid, and can make a living. The students will be more agreed upon to be taught, assessed and taught.
This is where the object manipulation community kind of failed, but the flow community took over. There was a big thing about not paying for tuition in juggling and manipulation, and getting it for free. That’s very hippy, but really cool.
At the same time, you’re not guaranteed to get an education. You have to figure out a lot of it yourself. This suits some people; others are maybe not confident or need more assistance, or want to guarantee they are getting what they need to work on.
At the same time, starting with the class idea is the teacher can be paid. I think this is very important. I have to say this because I am a teacher, but people who are teaching should be paid for the work they put in. Of course off hand and informal teaching is fine, but for a community to develop and thrive, there has to be some level where people get paid for their work. Just like you can be a tennis coach or yoga teacher, or whatever. You can just be a handstand instructor.
That implies a level of community with some kind of competence. We’re not at that stage exactly yet in handstands, but maybe some certificate that proves competence.
People who are interested in learning, earning money, and doing this, will generally invest time in quality coaching with someone else, going to other meet ups, going to other seminars, visiting coaches, buying courses. People who are invested in that way will generally look after their own education.
They also obviously rely on support, classes, and opportunities to teach handstands. There is no such thing as a teacher…it’s a two way symbiotic relationship in some way.
The other type of community get together on the paid side would be the formal meet up. What this is, the model I use for this would be Handstands and Coffee, held by Andy Myers in the Movement Studio in Dublin, which he started 7-8 years ago at this stage.
Every Saturday morning after they finished the classes with their gym members, they would have a Handstands and Coffee meet up. It started out very informal. The very first ones, I was going down and teaching for free. They were cool, I felt like teaching, we all learn and hang out.
Word got around there was a handstand meetup. Then it became that people who wanted to learn started coming. There was a formal structure imposed. While it was a meet up with a good bit of freedom, there was still an aspect of teaching.
Andy is mainly the person running it now. They have a group warm up, so everyone can get a bit of preparation together. Then the groups are generally split off to whatever levels show up.
It’s not a beginner or intermediate or advanced class; it’s whoever shows up.
Then whoever shows up will do handstands, and drink coffee. This is important, because if your hands aren’t shaking, how are you going to stand on them?
We have that idea. Some weeks there are 20 or 15 people there. Half are completely beginners. The next week is 15 again, and there are 2 beginners and everyone else is quite advanced.
This kind of informal formal structure is quite interesting. It gives people a chance to meet up, have some coffee, also foster a chance for people to get into a semi mentored situation with learning to coach. If you’re running this, and regular members are coming, you have this informal class without the onus.
We deliver and undeliver. It’s like going to a club. You go to a dance class, learn all your cool funky dance moves. Then you go to the club to dance. Not exactly the same, but you see what we’re getting at. Do Clubs still exist??….
So you have this kind of structure. This was the informal of formal. Then you have the formal in formal structure.
With people who come to classes, you might do a 6 or 12 week term of handstands. Then everyone goes and meets up on a Tuesday to handstand, so you have another chance to do them and meet other people.
It’s like when you go to a climbing gym. Some of them make you take the safety course first before you can use the gym. You have to go on the course, learn to belay, set up the ropes, tie off, check harnesses. You do that for 4, 6, 9 evenings, whatever it is. Then you’re allowed to climb unsupervised in the gym.
You see this in pole studios as well. They’ve got it right. When I was studying circus in London, pole dance was just becoming a thing. There was some playing on the raunchy aspect of stripper culture, but obviously they were trying to downplay it.
From this, though I’m uncertain on the origins, pole dance has become mega. I’m very proud of what they have done, although I had nothing to do with it. It’s cool to see a fringe activity with a seedy reputation has claimed itself as a sport, a health and fitness practice, an art form, loads of stuff.
They’ve been really good at it. If you look, there are pole studios that just do pole dance, maybe some aerial. They teach beginners. My cousins are both pole instructors – circus family, eh?
They went from doing classes to becoming instructors through one of the studios in Dublin.
It’s fantastic to see the studio as well. The owner set up her business in Ireland, was teaching, was really really good. A true machine. She’s gone from strength to strength, getting bigger and bigger studios, with more and more people employed.
This is really cool, a great example of how a ‘weird’ subculture went from “what would your boyfriend think” to gyms and competitions, social structures, community meet ups, ways for people to start out as a complete beginner and slowly become a professional – either teaching, performing, all this. It’s very inspirational to see what has come from this community.
Bear that in mind. Circus tries to do it, but doesn’t in some ways. There’s a lot of talking down the pole dance world for commercialization. In some ways, maybe they’re right in some aspects. But in general what they have done is great. Let’s keep this in mind.
If you’re interested, look at what has happened to pole dancing in your area or the last ten years.
With this idea of local level meet ups, there has to be international level meet ups as well. There has to be meet ups where you can go elsewhere, outside your town, or an unfamiliar country. We need this on the informal and formal level.
At the formal level, it’s when you say, X coach is in a city close to me. I’ll take a quick flight over and do the workshop for a weekend. Yuri Marmenstein. Yuval.
I take a trip over the weekend. I book in for the workshop and get 15-16h direct tuition from a person and learn from them.
Depending on the level your skill is at, when I go to a workshop or do a course, if I pay 500-600 quid for a course and learn one thing, it’s great. Total value for money for me. It’s because I coach, and if I learn one good point or even a good tip, I can use that with 100-200 people over the next couple of years. I get value for my money that way.
Other people, if you’re a solo practitioner, you didn’t learn that much, or it reconfirmed you’re doing the right thing. That’s cool; it confirms you’re doing the right thing. Confidence is confidence.
The other side is the social side. You get to meet all the other people who are super enthusiastic about the activity, to the point where they also flew into this town. Or they organized for Yuri or Mikael to come visit, or me. They have this community for that.
Suddenly the local community begins to make branches to other local communities. What do we have when we have more connections? We have stronger stuff. Simple. A stronger sense of community, both local and worldwide.
And this is what community is about at the end of the day – connection, and meeting new people, and sharing weird things you can’t share, like in jokes. You do this on the International level. This is how we get our memes.
This is how we get a kind of cross cultural pollination, across social groups. This is where things get interesting. I’ve gone to see Yuri, he’s basically told me my training is pretty good. I didn’t pick up anything new but now I have new confidence from him telling me I’m doing everything right and just need to keep working on it. Or maybe you learned a shit ton of new things you’ve never seen before. Awesome.
At the same time, you also spent a weekend with people doing the same thing, hopefully going for some lunches and dinners, and hopefully forging a stronger relationship. These are also important. It means that if your community is growing, you’re the person teaching the classes, or who wants to, or runs a group – you went over and learned a whole new set of tips, then you come back and enrich the community.
Obviously things of confidence and competence etc, but it is sharing.
You could also be the person who organizes the person who comes visit. If you have a coach you are really into, or this goes for any discipline – if you just send them a message and say, “Hey, I’d really like you to come to my city. How can I make this work, what do you need?” Most of them, once we can travel again, will totally be up for it. Reach out to those people you like, even if they’re small. If they’re small, they’ll be even more delighted.
A coach with 2k followers asked to come..or a performer you’re really into. Reach out to them to come teach for a weekend. A lot of the workshops and seminars I do come from people going, “Hey I don’t suppose you’d be interested in doing this.” Most of the time, we say yes, if we can logistically make it work. Don’t be scared to reach out.
At the next level, the other kind of international meet up is…the retreat, and also the convention. These are two different things. A retreat, for me, is not like a yoga retreat with a beach and you eat healthy. It’s more about intensive training. You go somewhere and do intensive training for a period of time, generally 5 days, sometimes 10. Sometimes even a couple weeks, or 5 or 6. In DOCH, Sweden, they do 5-6 week intensive hand balancing training.
You have a period of time in a different country, training 5-6 weeks, just focusing on your hand balance. Awesome. At the same time, you also have retreats or intensives where X coach is running a retreat for a period of time. It generally costs money, it’s more like a holiday at the end of the day. A high ticket item, most of the time.
You go there, you get coaching. The coach itself can really assess you and get into the details of your training, that might not occur in a weekend workshop. You get time, and you get to hang out with people for friendships, possible relationships – all these things that persist.
From our retreats, we still have memes, jokes, other stuff going on from these retreats. They’re still really good, pretty expensive.
Then the next level: the convention. A lot of people in the handstand world are not from the circus community. One thing the circus, and particularly the juggling community does is run conventions. Conventions are generally run by volunteers. They are run as non profits, or plough back to keep them running each year.
What they do is provide a weekend, generally in different cities.
If it’s a circus convention, there will be a training hall, mats. Always two halls: object manipulation, and acrobatic hall, to keep it separate. You don’t want objects running over you when tumbling.
A lot of them are run at close to cost, very reasonably priced, and have been going a very long time. If you’re looking at circus or juggling conventions, they tend to have an acrobatics moment. Acro yoga is generally quite strong in these communities, as are handstands.
Going to these, you also meet people. Everyone does your weird hobby; it’s cool. At the same time you usually have a social program going on – a show, a couple over the weekend. You see some cool shows, up and coming circus artists, the lower level ones. You see some very cool inventive stuff you might not elsewhere.
At the same time, you spend the weekend away, quite reasonably priced.
At the higher level of convention – in Europe you have the European Juggling Convention. In America, the International Juggling Convention (they were in Canada once..classic American thing). These conventions have been running for a very long time. The American one since 1953, the European is 40 something years old.
These provide a longer space. A normal circus convention might be a weekend – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The EJC and IJC generally go for a week. I’ve been to the EJC, and it’s nine days long, sometimes ten.
The cost of this is generally about 150E, sometimes less. You camp outside. Imagine a music festival. Instead of everyone taking drugs and dancing, everyone is taking drugs and juggling.
You have acrobatics, a formal set of workshops that run. Anyone who wants to run a workshop can. What this means is because there is a general feeling of openness and sharing in these communities, you can literally be having workshops with some of the best who have ever been in their respective disciplines, teaching for an hour or 3 or 4. You get this across all disciplines – aerial, juggling, ball juggling, handstands, contortion etc.
On top of it, for your price of admission, there will be shows, sometimes multiple, daily. What’s cool is they are open stage. Anyone who wants to perform will be allowed to. Sometimes it’s peoples’ literally first time performing. If it’s your first act it will generally be a disaster, but they will be supported and given amazing applause. Most people in the audience understand where they are at.
At the same time, you also see people who are literally the best they have ever been in whatever they do, or invented something completely new and are showing it off.
You also have more formal shows, like a circus company turns up to do their full show. Or they have circus artists do their act format shows in a gala show. Back to community, you meet 4000-7000 people most years at the EJC. You find more weirdos who want to come to your classes and meet ups. Or, I have 1000 couches to sleep on when I want to start touring around Europe. You get the idea.
We go from a very small, informal informal set up, to something that is big and moves around. This is what is interesting – we can have the idea of community permeating all levels. Everyone has been in a lockdown situation for a while, and are hopefully coming out of it and passing this phase.
You’re probably looking for social outlets; people are starving for this. I know this from talking to clients, friends…can there be a meetup arranged? Can you start a new class? Could you start an informal meet up?
Starting something that hasn’t been done before can take a while to get going. The informal informal, until word gets around and you have enough people in the community who know about it to come, it builds. It slowly defines hand balance as a distinct thing, and not a subset of something else.
What do you train? You must do so much yoga for that. No, I train hand balancing. What’s that? I do handstands etc. So cool.
We have this idea of community. I want to urge people – could you organize one, with three friends? Let’s get some boards and meet in a park, do handstands, and be open to people who have never done it before. Well, here’s a tree; would you like to do an incline body line drill? I have a class running at the same time; here’s some flyers for it.
It can be self building, and can take time to nurture. Slowly it will get somewhere. That will be interesting. I’d be interested in seeing 5-6 years time, the network of handstand clubs you can go to.
Because of this kind of setup, in the juggling world, the people who perform..you’d expect people who perform sports in front of an audience to be the best. They’re the best at whatever level. Even if they don’t win, they are still better than you and I.
In juggling and object manipulation world, it’s the reverse. The performers are generally not as good as the amateurs. Obviously performers have other things and skills to work on like performativity. Performing is another skill beyond technical object manipulation.
At the same time, because of this underlying community doing it for the sake of doing it, the skill level has exploded, almost on a vertical level of technical ability.
Juggling and object manipulation, at the time of the Vaudeville era, was one of the highest paid professions in the acro scene. Everyone was secret about their arts. Then you had this open sharing, and people were able to get things going.
Because people were testing things, when I started juggling, it was the birth of the internet and things exploded that way. Now, the peak of stuff when I was doing it is the base level. This is where it gets to. This could be like hand balance.
In terms of technical precise balance, there is a skill cap there. In terms of creativity though, like where juggling went – a few years ago there was one ball juggling, but not contact juggling. What could you do with one ball to make it interesting?
These kinds of questions asked and answered by community has pushed the technical thing. People know if they want to pursue the technical thing, they need to pursue the skill in this level, and if that’s my desire, that’s it. Same with juggling, if you want numbers, great. Or you never want to do more than 3-4.
In hand balance, how can there be a community in the locale that can foster creativity. I’ve given a semi structure of it. If people enacted it, and it’s weird to be the first person doing it in the locale, all the other kinds of meet ups, and can I build community?
The interesting thing about the community builders is what I noticed a lot – the people who are community builders are generally not the most skillful at the activity. They just really like it, and like being the person who can work and build. In juggling conventions, people who organize it don’t juggle too much, or do as a hobby. It’s not something they do 20-30h a week, but they’re the ones getting shit done.
For those of you listening in, who are like, I’m not good enough to do this, actually you could be. It’s not about skill, but organizing. That’s a very different skill.
If you look at soccer clubs, a lot of them have this network of mothers who basically run everything. They’re the ones who organize the treasurer, who washes the uniforms or packs the oranges and water..maybe it’s changed since I was a kid many years ago.
People who are involved in facilitating the activity aren’t doing it; they want their kids to be able to take part in it, using the soccer club analogy. In gymnastics, a parent has to supervise sessions. They sign up and take turns.
What you can do to skip all this, if you don’t want to organize, is get your mother. You have to be careful, because your mother could end up doing handstands and be more into it than organizing. But if you went to your mom and said, I know I’m 35 and still living at home, but do you feel like organizing a juggling club for me, or a handstand club? – You could do that.
It’s probably the wrong thing to do, but see where I’m getting. Because things are built up with a community that revolves around them, and the community begins to sustain itself. At some time in the past, someone decided people had to meet up.
If you look at the history of a lot of early football clubs, they’d meet at this place. Or this local town was doing it, so we got some people to also do it.
If you want to be braver and organize a movement convention, or handstand convention, where I rent a sports hall for a weekend and get people to come over. Maybe you’ve seen some people running them – brave to do that right now – but, you could visit them, and do a road trip.
My two weird handstand friends who are super into them, not just doing classes, let’s go and road trip and meet people and do handstands.
I think I covered a lot here, just to give you a hint of what could be to come. These are all things that maybe will foster some discussion and move things. Or maybe you’ll be like, shit, when is Mikael back because I’m sick of listening to Emmet.
I’m going to wrap up here. Next week we have a surprise for you. Mikael will be doing a solo show from his vacay. You have that to look forward to.
Thank you for listening, we will speak again in two weeks.