Going upside down can be scary. It’s spatially bewildering, and young students who have spent their lives upright often lack the strength required to feel confident putting their weight on their hands. But, don’t fret! There are safe and pleasant ways to build the muscle and the might for dynamite inversions.
#1 – Strengthen and mobilize the upper body in every class.
Consider all the work we do to articulate and warm the toes, ankles and hips. Apply that same time and attention to the fingers, wrists, shoulders, back and core. Yoga exercises, Pilates exercises and basic circling of the joints are all beneficial.
Favorite exercise: monkey crawls
Students cross the room crawling on hands and feet. Keep the pelvis at mid-level height.
Think pas de cheval but for the wrists—develop the hands through fluid shoulders and elbows. Allow the hips and spine to twist in order to feel the weight sink into each “step” of the hand.
#2 – Think and talk about alignment.
A sturdy inversion will be aligned just like a sturdy relevé. When we are inverted, the hands become the feet, the wrists become the ankles, the shoulders become the pelvis, the pelvis becomes the head and the legs become the arms. When the hands, shoulder girdle and pelvis are smoothly stacked above the plumb line, an inversion can feel easeful, and the legs are free to move from position to position.
Favorite exercise: wall-flowers
Handstand against the wall, letting the pelvis rest softly on the wall.
Bend the knees so that the femurs hang loosely from the socket.
Play with taking the pelvis off the wall and moving the legs around to find alignment.
#3 – Drop the head.
We teach dancers to lengthen the back of the neck in most balancing positions. This encourages the head to “float” above the rest of the skeleton and function as a counterbalancing action to the feet “rooting” into the floor. Likewise, lengthening the back of the neck while upside down allows the head to “dangle” and function as a counterbalancing force to the “floating” pelvis.
Fun exercise: say cheese!
Pair students up. Partner 1 sits cross-legged and smiling.
Partner 2 stands a few feet directly in front of Partner 1, facing away.
Partner 2 inverts and must smile back at Partner 1.
It’s upside-down spotting!
#4 – Undercurve, undercurve, undercurve.
Beginning inverters often think that the best way to get upside down is to kick their legs up.
Instead, teach them to get their hips up by pushing from a deep undercurve. Think of it this way: Kicking the feet into the air to invert can equate to tossing the arms up in order to jump. To actually jump, we learn to push the floor away.
Favorite exercise: low-rider
Start on the floor with one knee down (toes tucked) and one knee up.
Reach three feet ahead with wide palms.
Push the floor away to land on the palms as the pelvis suspends over the head.