This is the 7th issue of my ALL ABOUT HANDSTANDS Interview series, which I have started to share the many beautiful souls out there who dedicate their time on one or two hands instead of their feet. And my curiosity seems to be endless when it comes to picking the brains of my favorite Instagram Handbalancers, as I am "just" a yogi who loves being upside down, compared to professional contemporary circus artists who have turned their passion into their profession for life.
MEET MIKAEL KRISTIANSEN
I've met Mikael for one of his workshops in Berlin a couple of years ago and was amazed by his lightness of being after having trained with very serious and strict people. With his background in breakdancing and his love for circus he is exploring the world mostly being upside down on one arm either on canes or the floor. If you scroll down you will be able to watch and listen to Mikael's super cool and informative Ted X Performance. Let's start by finding out out more first:
1. Tell me something about yourself: Who are you, what did you do in the past and what are you passionate about?
I'm a circus artist and handstand teacher. I used to study anthropology and do breakdance but then quite literally ran away with the circus. As a child I was mainly into video games and the trading card game Magic: The gathering and I was in pretty bad physical shape. I did Tani-Ha Shito Ryu Karate from 14 to about 21 and then got really involved with breakdance. Fast forwards several years and I took a bachelor in circus arts at DOCH (University Of Dance and Circus), Stockholm and have worked as an artist and teacher since then. I am passionate about a number of things, but to mention some, handstands (obviously), funk music, origami, really really REALLY bad movies, and snow leopards!
2. Your IG name is @mikaelbalancing What is your favorite thing or body part to balance on?
There are many practical surfaces to balance on but the hands make a good candidate of course since they have fingers. I really like 1 arm L sit of course but it doesn't always like me! Though difficulty of the elements matter less for performance purposes than people often think, I enjoy to train things that are challenging.
In general I like strength movements because they make you feel like you are flying when they work. When they don't though, you feel like you are made of lead and failure.
3. At what age did you start training? Did you do Ballet or…?
As I mentioned, I was pretty out of shape as a kid and I distinctly remember being ashamed I couldn't finish the 3km run at school. I started Karate at 14 but my physical capacities didn't really change significantly until around 19 when I got into breakdance. I met a circus artist named Cory Tabino at 23, trained with him for a few months before I applied to circus school and somehow got into DOCH. For me it went really fast to learn 1 arms because of breaking. I had already done loads of 1 arm moves and had the strength and sensation. Within half a year I had quite a strong vocabulary of 1 arm positions.
It was never really a desicion to change anything. After I discovered that I actually could learn physical and “cool” things, it just became something I had to master. With breaking in my early 20s it was a lot about identity and “being someone” etc. I think I had a strong urge to break free from the feeling of being “the fat kid” and my current life is to a large degree built upon an unreasonably large overcompensation from that!
Incidentally, we actually did have ballet at school haha! However, the teacher was a bitter and dreadful man who got fired after just a few months so we ended up with twice the amount of scenic improvistation classes which was very influential to my class.
4. You’re very flexible and strong at the same time. What would be your best advice for men to get more stretchy?
For my profession and level I am not that flexible but of course in relation to the general public I'm pretty decent. Handbalancing is one of those disciplines where most things can be made significantly easier by being very flexible. I have had the need to use more power as I'm less bendy than many others at a high level.
Regarding advice for men (or anyone) wanting to get more flexible, I think the first thing is to figure out why you would want it. To me at least, it kind of needs a purpose for it to have a significant enough driving force to bother going through the process. Other than that I think it's important to find someone who has experience with flexibility training as it is very easy to spend an enormous amount of time getting nothing done if you don't know what you are doing.