Welcome to the Circuspreneur Blog where I will be discussing handstanding in terms of training tips, coaching, and exploring circus and acrobaticgymnastics competitive life as I’ve lived it from past to current and insights into the future as an extended conversation of my Live Like An Acrobat Podcast now available on:
In the Circuspreneur Blog I hope to bring you insight through my own experiences and through special guests as well. During such unprecedented times I have finally found the space to express my voice, views, and experiences in a way that I have never before. It has always been a goal of my mine to speak to the niche worlds that I have existed in for longer than I can remember.
For the first episode of the Live Like An Acrobat Podcast I discussed my background as a competitive acrobaticgymnast and as a circus performer, and how this has shaped me presently as a handstand coach today. I dove deep into how I’ve been innovating my coaching methods during the pandemic with my Handstand Doorknob Method through online coaching platform AerialFitBodies, and hosting weekly Sunday 10am PST live classes as well as offering private handstand training through AFB.
At the top of the episode of Live Like An Acrobat I recited a powerful quote by Brene Brown which was first given to me by my dear friend Vanya. It’s about a certain kind of courage, a courage I feel is so deeply relevant during these times. It begins:
“ The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
Over time, this definition has changed, and today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.
Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world that’s pretty extraordinary.”
I found that quote relevant right now because were seeing the imperfection the good and the bad of every single persons daily life all over the world right now within the safety and maybe even unsaftey of their own homes and were pretty much getting a glimpse beyond the veil into what it’s like for people in their day to day within their relating their family life their relationships. How they process their job with no one watching and also with kind of everyone watching. Not to mention the enormous undertaking of being an essential worker on the front lines. We’re exposed in so many ways right now to our own level vulnerability our own level of finding the courage to make it through our day with so much space and time to fill; with emotions running high feelings running high sitting with a variety of sensations probabilities that we normally get to productivity ourselves away, and so I wanted to share that quote as a start an entry into this episode of live like an acrobat, and I hope it holds a special place in your heart the way it does for me right now.
I want to give a special thank you to Ezra Richardson creator of Handstandology on Facebook. Please Check it out! Ezra is fantastic and he loves handstands and is super passionate about them. He created handstandology in order to dissect the science behind handstanding. We enjoyed a one on one conversation about how I have been innovating my coaching methods during the pandemic and this dialogue served as the bases for the narrative of the first episode of the Live Like An Acrobat Podcast. I look forward to having Ezra as a guest on a future episode of Live Like an Acrobat where we can dive in deeper to his efforts with Handstandology.
I am Shenea Stiletto the first ever American World Champion in Acrobaticgymnastics along with my partner Arthur Davis, and the first ever American Two Time World Champion. I have been a professional circus artists for nearly 16 years now performing for companies like Cirque du Soleil and many many others. I was also most recently assigned to the USA Gymnastics Athlete Task Force where I served as the only survivor appointed. I am not a survivor of Larry nassar, my abuse came from my USA Gymnastics coach who was fortunately convicted for his crimes. I am currently in the space where I am hoping to hold USA Gymnastics legally accountable for those crimes for the first time. The Athlete Task force was my best effort and the most important work I’ve ever done at working to restructure the USA Gymnastics system from the inside and create new polices, plan new structures and methods for safety, and speak on behalf of acrobaticgymnastics and the fellow survivors who should have been serving on the task force with me. I will discuss more of my time on the athlete task force before USA Gymnastics received decertification and eventually filed for bankruptcy in order to thwart the efforts of being decertified in a future episode.
The current crisis has provided the perfect opportunity for me to expand my handstand coaching skills and capabilities in an imperfect situation. Before the crisis, or as some may say evolutionary opportunity, I was much more subject to time and space when coaching, and there were many opportunities that I surrendered due to my very nomadic lifestyle as a circus handbalancer and due to my ongoing legal struggles with USA Gymnastics and the criminal court system fighting for justice, and additionally the high anxiety that I’ve struggled with about being in gymnastics gyms while working to heal through past inflicted traumas has also been a factor in affecting my reach as a coach specifically within the acrobaticgymnastics community.
So generally speaking I would coach before my circus shows, during the shows, right after my handbalancing act, and even after the show was done for the day. I’ve coached circus artists from such a large variety of backgrounds wanting to improve their handstanding and partnering acrobatics, with Olympic ice dancers and figure skaters thrown in as well.
With that said I’ve always wanted to do more coaching and have a tool to maintain consistent coaching over long periods of time in order to maximize improvement by my students.
Now, with developing a platform in partnership with Aerialfitbodies.com I feel as though the skies the limit in terms of accessibility for supplementing training for students right now, and for the future as we head into the unknown. Balancing monetization with giving is being delicately considered while we continue to find ways to ensure the survival of my programs, always considering the financial burden being shouldered by so many right now. Sourcing outside of the main community and cross promoting is advantages as your typical client is no longer who they used to be.
Interactive giving is what I like to call my approach to giving back, it allows stress free access while providing a welcomed distraction through practicing creatively crafted handstand methods.That is the basis for my weekly scholarship program that I offer, where one person is chosen to attend the live handstand class for free if they complete the handstand challenge that I create and send me the video. I’ve received the coolest recreations of my challenges and I love seeing the creative spin that is brought by each student.
Scholarship Challenge Winner @mo.acro
Scholarship Challenge Winner @ariana_acro
*Donations are accepted and greatly appreciated to help fund the Scholarship Handstand Program:
It’s been exciting and stressful navigating and reworking my coaching strategies via Zoom and evolving my verbiage while teaching and maximizing time together in order to maintain connection and flow with the students since I am not physically in their presence. Balancing creating and formulating something new from scratch while maintaining the practicaIties of life is in my DNA from my years of competitive experience and circus touring. Creating a new model of anything during quote on quote normal times is a high challenge so add heightened global anxieties and I am forced to produce quicker and with more efficiency in one way and then in another totally able to use the extra time to allow my mind to expand and open up to more ideas for the model. I am learning what to do better everyday, and I’m most importantly concentrated on providing quality of training and technique, and maintaining an ethical presence. My group dynamics of coaching are much different than my private sessions that I offer, and its been interesting tweaking my style and mostly slowing it down to absorb the lost in space aspect of coaching through the camera. I’m found myself dialing things down and dialing them back in order to provide more security and assurity in the class or private session. I have shifted my classes each time to accommodate returning students and new students all on the intermediate to advanced spectrum of handstand skill. You see what works and does not with a group with such range as there are many flavors to those two groups of skill level. What a student may be able to do on the floor or their handstand blocks very well turns into a challenge for them using the doorknob and this is the training boost and learning curve rolled into one.
Emotional support and excersizing positive psychology as well is incredibly instrumental right now, even though it should always be for the bases of any mentor or coach. Students are coming to you even more now for the supportive space you hold during your classes. Heart centred coaching with intentional learning has been at the core of my classes as it’s understood that students need extra nourishment to see themselves to the other side while much of life is so out of balance. Students have lost out on major competitions, access to work through live performances and the list goes on as the pandemic continues to affect multiple ways of life. The common thread we all share right now is surviving and thriving through handstanding in a supportive space.
With that said, you really want your students to learn and grow through this medium, and circus and handbalancing is not the standard at home work out. You’ve got to initiate some pretty intricate training literally through the ether. That’s why I created my handstand doorknob method. It would have never occurred to me if not for sheltering; even though my top question on the road while performing and coaching is usually how can I realistically improve in strange conditions, but most importantly on my own. Fast forward to these times we are in and I discovered that enhancing the traditional handstand against the wall technique with the actual use of the doorknob provides a higher level of movement capability, security, and accountability in technique. I’m working on more exercises with the method because I really want to offer as much movement as I can.. I’m also learning from my students who are confidently flourishing with the method. It’s imperfect of course, but adaptable. As a circus performer I’ve trained without light in a space barely big enough to sit down right before heading to the stage, so I try and apply this similar philosophy to coaching and training. That if your straight leg doesn’t fit in the space for that skill, then bend it and do the skill, you’ll either learn something new or strengthen something you didn’t know you needed to and if anything your confidence in your technique will become iron clad as a result.
I feel like students are really hungry for more depth in their coaching. Just as this time of global pause is forcing us all to go deeper into our own lives, I feel that it goes hand in hand with training handstands. The superficial can only take you so far and at some point you’ve got to be willing to do the deeper work and that’s with serious progressive training. You don’t get to a serious place by skimming by and or just capturing a moment in time that looks interesting. It’s more than that and just as we have found that by reworking efforts in our personal lives from a more sober attitude gives us better results so with training the body to mold and develop better and more consistent technique that can take you somewhere that you want to go and even where you thought you couldn’t go. It expands possibility when we dive into consistent effort met with hard won knowledge being used to guide us in advancing.
Initiating more connection with my students through unique new portals (apps etc) will be key moving forward, and I look forward to seeing how those are created by others and how I might use them. We are in a hyper micro coaching break down method approach now and this should continue as it serves deeper learning and safety. I’m taking advantage of all things technologically based at the moment to source the most from my students for feedback and vice verse. This is core to the reason of why I created the Circuspreneur Blog.
This may be a very difficult time, but if you have lived a bit and were touched by say the crisis of 2008 like I was and even 9/11 before that(I missed out on the acrobatic gymnastics World Cup due to the Iraq war, and I lost my acrobatic gymnastics career several times beyond that due to partners quitting, injuries of partners, and the saddest of all the death and loss of my beloved first coach Nikolay Mihov who passed away tragically from Lung Cancer) so you’ve been through an extreme pause in circumstances before. Those were incredibly uncertain futures with no positive outcome in sight. I struggled enormously throughout those pauses and twists and turns that impacted my careers. Two important factors that saved me were valuable mentors who came in to offer assistance and help guide coupled with a resolute inner resolve. But to say that I didn’t find myself lost and confused would be a tremendous understatement. So I’ve been taking stalk of how I survived those times especially 08’ because unfortunately my working performance partnership did not survive it, but we could have by making different decisions that I am making now. However, it’s also important to remember that social media resources were nothing like they are now, and so for sure that is making a huge difference now in terms of creating an online coaching platform or even circus show. The only down side is that it’s double edged. Yes there’s more resources to give students access but now the options are so many, and just as no options can seem limiting; too many can also be paralyzing or just make you one of many as a coach very quickly so that your potential impact gets muted. Even with that; utilizing online teaching will just continue to revolutionize the industry much like circus performances that are shifting and creating pop ups or drive in theaters once again, so we see the recycling of our past novelites to thrive in the present. I’m a traditionalist futurist at heart, I like the inventive mixed with the tried and true, and I truly know from experience that blending both serves in re- creation immensely. There is still so much unknown right now, but I believe that if we continue to exercise how to teach and coach more effectively as if this time will never end but that it is not the last curtain call by any means, that we will provide amazing new avenues for learning and maintaining high levels of skill. There were many handstand schools & handstand entrepreneurs that were already ahead of the curve when this crisis hit. Thats why it’s important to note that whatever you put in place now no matter how radical, if practical, may just lead you to flattening the curve of your own individual efforts the next time there is such a huge shift in society as a collective, and will serve in allowing you to adjust to what’s ahead currently with more ease and foresight.
Thank you for joining the Circuspreneur Blog as I share extended reflections of the Shenea Stiletto podcast Live Like An Acrobat. I hope that you feel enlightened and inspired to continue journeying with me and my special guests as we explore handstand tips, coaching, circus life, circus arts, and acrobaticgymnastics competitiveness. Please stay tuned for the next Circuspreneur Blog post, and until then stay healthy and stay safe with this Meditative Acro+Yoga Flow.
For updates and current posts follow Shenea Stiletto on Social Media:
Two-Time World Acrobaticgymnastics Champion, USA Gymnastics Hall of Famer, Cirque Du Soleil Artist and RAINN Advocate Shenea Stiletto