Master of hand balance

DOB: 30 December 1987

Place of Birth: Patos de Mines-MG, Brazil

Occupation: Hand Balance

From dishwashing to gardening, via living in Brazil, Spain, New Zealand and the UK, Miguel Santana is the world's best hand balancing artist. We spent a day with our pioneer to discover who the man behind the handstand really is and what he loves so much about the art. Fresh from teaching three Cirque du Soleil acrobats in his 12 square metre room, we had a chat on the balcony of his flat in Shoreditch, London.

"It's all about the pleasure and the fun of taking a challenge."

How did you start hand balancing?

It all started back in school in Brazil when I was 12. In Brazil we all learn Capoeira, so I did as well until I was about 18 [at which time] I left Brazil and moved to Auckland, New Zealand [via Spain and London], where it all started. I left Brazil due to some issues and when I got to New Zealand I started training Capoeira again with acrobatics. After a couple of years I hurt my finger and wrist from all the training and I met a guy who did Capoeira in a circus who showed me videos of people hand balancing in a circus. Since that video I was fascinated. A year later I was still working full-time, but after work I was always training handstands until I got to a good level.

"I have been travelling the world teaching people hand balance."

So when were you able to make the transition to hand balancing full-time?

After a year [in New Zealand] I was invited to teach two classes per week of a hand balancing class, which I did next to my job as gardener. The classes got so popular that I needed to rent my own place after four months. I was running more and more classes that I had to give up my full-time job as a gardener and even the two days [teaching] per week. I did this for six months and since then I have been travelling the world teaching people hand balance until today.

"I have been travelling the world teaching people hand balance."

What made you stop Capoeira and Acrobatics and focus solely on handstands?

I was ready for a new thing and hand balance really kicked off my head – I really loved it! I felt I could not progress anymore [with] Capoeira and the hand balance is a Challenge. It's the feeling and the pleasure you get achieving it; day by day your skill gets better. These days hand balance is a really popular thing to do and it's all about the pleasure and the fun of taking a challenge. I am really competitive and I like to learn things quickly, but handstand is something you can't learn quickly. That fascinated me. I wasn't learning fast, well I was in a way, but not as fast as expected. I was used to landing a new trick in the gym everyday but hand balancing wasn't like that. That's why I stick to it – you need so much patience. It's for everyone but it's not for everyone to reach the world-class level.

How much time do you spent upside down?

If I am not upside down myself, I am teaching people to be upside down. Today I started at 8:30am, it's now 4pm in the afternoon and you have seen I have only been upside down [either] training myself or teaching people to be upside down. Tomorrow I will fly to Hong Kong and in the airport I will be upside down again. Even on the plane I am stretching. Everything in [my] life is just hand balancing now.

"If I am not upside down myself I am teaching people to be upside down."

What does hand balancing teach you and how does it make you feel?

Handstand gave me my life and teaches me how to live. It gives me freedom and wings to fly. I am flying for the last 5 years now. When you achieve a really high level, you feel like you are floating in the air. It takes a long time to get into that space and it's a space where you feel like it is really natural what you are doing. It's a really good sensation. It's difficult to get to the point where I am today, but hand balancing kept me going. I can't stop progressing and I always want to learn; there is always something to improve. That is what keeps me going [because] one handstand is never enough. It's like you eat food everyday – why do you keep eating? To feed yourself. I need to feed myself and handstand is the best food. It's beyond eating my favourite dish, it's far beyond anything and the place it takes me to is huge.

What is the future of hand balancing and what does it look like?

Hand balancing is going to keep growing, and not just because of me. I am helping a lot of people around the world, sharing and teaching as much as I can, and if 20 people come to my class, they tell it to their friends and before you know it, hundreds of people hear about it. It just keeps spreading and spreading. Many of my students are now teaching as well and spreading the practice. Five years ago you could not find this anywhere and now everyone is getting into this space.

What does your daily practice routine look like?

I start normally with 45 minutes of stretching, followed by long handstand holds, like 5- to 6-minute holds and from there I go to one arm – 1- to 1.5-minute holds for the one arms. Then I have my routine of presses, mobility and flexibility training. Right now I am doing a lot of rehab training for my shoulder injury. It's not always that I am three hours upside down. When I train three hours, it can be also mobility training as this is a big part of what I do, just like flexibility and conditioning.

Can the practice of handstand change people's lives?

Yes! I mean, since three years I have all my students wanting to teach. For me it makes it possible to eat, sleep, travel and pay my rent but it is something beyond money that drives me. I never thought I would be where I am today. When people ask me, “what do you do?” and I say, "I teach handstand”, people are so surprised. They find it weird but that's definitely changing in the near future."

What will you do in the future? Do you have a dream?

I am going to open a few hand balancing schools around the world and I will be teaching there hopefully the rest of my life. [At the moment] I teach everyone and I am [already] living my dream. It happened naturally, but now my dream is building a house for my mom in Brazil and then I want to open hand balancing schools. I also have to decide where I want to live, so people will be flying to me rather than me flying to them all the time.

What advice do you have for anyone that wants to start practicing hand balancing?

For those who just started, don't give up. Give it some time. If you want to be good at something you have to isolate yourself. I travel the world now because I have isolated myself for 3 years. Before I came out of the cage I was locked indoor, just with a carpet. No one looking, just me filming myself and going over and over and over again. At the end of the day if you want to be good at something, you have to do it more than anyone else. I don't want to be better than you, I just want to be better than myself, every day. That's why I keep going.

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