If you haven’t done a handstand by the age of 12, you’re probably never going to do one. That was my thinking anyway. I said goodbye to the handstand dream a long time ago. But Kerstin Oschabnig aims to change that.
Anyone can attend Kerstin’s handstand workshop in Studio 58 near Rathaus Neukolln. Studio 58 is a hidden gem in Berlin. It’s independently owned and dedicated to providing an affordable space for professional stage-artists. It’s for dancers, circus artists, yogis, actors, therapists and acrobats to share ideas and teach others their practice. Anyone at any time can check the Studio 58 calendar and come along and train in their respective art.
So every Tuesday at 6pm Kerstin rents the space to impart her handstand wisdom. The room is bright, spacious and the floor padded – excellent news for people like me. I have no doubt I’ll collapse in an upside-down heap so a bit of padding is encouraging.
The class is busy. About twenty of us gather nervously around the petite Kerstin. The class begins with a wrist warm-up. We kneel on all-fours and lay our hands palm down on the padded floor. “Lean backwards and forwards so you feel the pressure in your wrists,” she explains. Then we turn our hands palm up, a position far less comfortable. I can feel my wrists straining, a new sensation, and I get a taste for how demanding this 90 minute workshop is going to be.
“Beginners – today you will just get used to being upside down,” Kerstin explains. “It’s just like standing on your feet. You don’t need strength to do that – even though the muscles are working. With handstands it’s the same thing but with your arms. You just need to learn how to do it. It’s not natural… Yet.”
I feel encouraged. As a child I was never one to do cartwheels or backflips. I was always too scared to be upside down – but the way Kerstin explains it, anyone can do this. I just need to learn how.
“Now partner up and line up against the wall.” I pair up with a lovely lady called Caroline who, thankfully, is just as nervous as I am. Kerstin demonstrates how to lay our hands flat on the floor, head down and how to flip our legs up. In theory my partner, Caroline, will be there to catch my legs and help me balance against the wall.
Attempt one is a disaster. I have no faith that I will be able to support myself and am terrified of collapsing on my head. I put my hands on the floor, kick my legs up and as soon as I feel Caroline grab my leg I freak out and come down again. The second try is slightly more successful – I get my legs higher and get a feeling for being in the air.
Then attempt three I go for it. I kick my legs up, Caroline grabs them and I am upside down in a handstand against the wall. My shoulders, totally not used to this kind of pressure, kind of collapse into themselves and I come back down immediately. But I nearly did it! I feel so happy… and it’s only 30 minutes in.
Now it’s Caroline’s turn to try. I station myself next to her as support and give encouragement for each attempt. She’s slightly more nervous than I am and doesn’t quite make it into a handstand, but she visibly improves with each attempt.
When it’s my turn again I feel much more confident. When I flip up I remember to engage my core and my shoulder muscles and I stay in a handstand position for at least 2 seconds. It’s an absolute miracle.
Kerstin is there to offer support to anyone who needs it throughout the class. Her knowledge and advice is so useful that every time she gives me a pointer my form instantly improves. This woman must have magic powers – I never ever thought I could do a handstand.
Kerstin’s journey in acrobatics started later than most. “I started five years ago when I was 23 and living in a small town called Graz in Austria. I was doing capoeira first but I liked the acrobatic aspect the most. So a friend and I decided to practise together. In Graz there was nowhere to practice or learn acrobatics, so we just started doing it by ourselves. We rented a room to train and invited other people to come and share the cost. Then people asked us to teach them and that’s how it all started.”
Kerstin fell in love with the playfulness of handstands and acrobatics and, when she moved to Berlin, she wanted to incorporate it into her everyday life. “I used to have a normal job. I was working as a journalist and teaching acrobatics and performing in my spare time. But it’s really hard to do something if you don’t commit all your time to it. Because otherwise your head is stuck between two things and you can’t concentrate on what you want to do. So last January I went full-time as a performer and teacher.”
Partner acrobatics is Kerstin’s passion and she performs all over the world. She incorporates the importance of teamwork into her handstand workshops, creating an atmosphere where people can meet and connect with each other.
The second part of our workshop is to do a handstand without the security of a wall. Because Caroline and I have already built up some trust I feel confident doing this with her. My first attempt is a fail but on my second attempt I flip my legs up and, with Caroline’s help and encouragement from Kerstin, I’m standing on my hands.
All the blood has rushed to my head but my shoulders are secure. “Now isolate your feet and move them around!” Kerstin says. I follow her instructions and lose my balance and come back to the floor. But that’s fine with me – I think I’ve done enough for my first handstand lesson.
We wrap up our session with some very fun partner-stretching. As we file out of the classroom I ask Kerstin why she decided to teach this class. “As a child everyone did handstands,” she explains. “It was so much fun and gives so much adrenaline to be upside down. But as we grow up we forget this mindset of playing. That’s why I do this. So people can have the space to be a child again and explore their bodies in a different way.”
She’s right. On the U-Bahn home I can’t help laughing out loud with amazement. I can’t believe I did a handstand today.
And Urban Sports Club has tons of acrobatics partners across Germany and France. Take a look at our site to find a location near you.