Part 1 | Part 3
The beginning of the day
Warming up, stretching and meeting people
When I arrived in the morning I would have to shake every male’s hand, that was their culture, (would take a long time if you were last) I would also kiss the girls on the cheek but that was seen as odd at the beginning because the girls should come to you. (Oh yeh lol)
By 9 o’clock, half the school would be waiting to be let in (not like my school -The Circus Space – that’s more like 9:04, you can already start to see why they are better), when we get in everyone has their place to warm up, it’s an unwritten rule, front half – hand to hand, contortionist and jugglers, 2nd half – everyone else. The warm up was self done like everything but all anyone did was sit in box splits and talk, that’s all anyone really did. Now, I’m flat in all splits but not at 9am in -20 degrees. It would take me a good half an hour to get there, for that I was laughed at, they laughed at my inflexibility and asked if I had ever been stretched, nearly everyone there could lie on their back and have their legs on the floor in box if not by themselves with someone pushing. The best box splits I saw by a guy was a hand to hand base, extreme over splits, why? I do not know, jealousy? YES. So for the warm up, no one ran, jumped or did anything to get the blood pumping except two lads who warmed up by round off back tuck which annoyed everyone on a daily basis.
The first people to stop stretching/warming up would be the contortionists and jugglers which would be about 9:30, then the straps artists would stroll in, topless, no matter how cold it was (they were known as the crazy ones of the school). 9:30-9:45 would be the handbalancers and then finally the hand to hand pairs. It was like clockwork every day.
As we are warming up the teachers start to arrive. First at 9:15 is Yuriy Pozdnyakov the juggling teacher (also head of the school) most students would go over say good morning (most formal way possible) and shake his hand. Secondly would be all 3 hand to hand coaches all ex-sports acro world champions, ALL hand to hand students would race over, I mean race pushing each other out of the way just so they could stand at the start of the line, each teacher would come over and shake their hand – No one wanted to be at the end of the line. Then my teacher, Victold a 73 yr old man would come at 9:50 and would go to lots of students and shake their hands and give them a hug – he would say how beautiful the girls are and how strong the boys are looking, he was such a lovely teacher, wasn’t your stereotypical blunt grumpy Ukrainian.
Before I left for Kiev everyone was telling me how much I was going to cry, how much they were going to push and stretch me, but I only saw that with 2 girls, it happened everyday at the same time 10:15 one girl will start crying, 10 weeks went by and it was the same, same stretch, same time, same crying. By the end, everyone had lost their sympathy…
After the warm up and throughout the day the students would stretch each other. The main ones were:
Toe point; you would have someone stand on your feet and walk pushing with their heel into your toes.
Knees; they would stand in turn out on your knee joint and bounce up and down, oh, your legs are on something high so there is a gap between your legs and there floor, (this one I hate and wanted to cry every time) a perfect example of this knee and toe stretching is Pavel Stankevich.
The most outrageous stretch was the elbow; some girls would try and hyper extend their elbows. I asked why and they said Anatoly Zalievsky had told them to, well you know what; I would probably do anything he told me to do as well.
So the handbalancers were split into 2 groups. 1 group focused on contortion handstands taught by Nataliya Pozdnyakova and the other one was just handstands, with exceptions.
From what I gathered the students didn’t get to pick their discipline or their teacher, they got told what to do (very harsh If you don’t like that discipline but sometimes TCS gives its students too much freedom so I see the pros but also the cons). In the group that mainly focused on contortion, all the girls were ex rhythmic or already contortionists, I have never seen the flexibility like these girls, 1 girl had her leg on a gymnastic horse (around 3 foot high) and was flat in all splits without warming up or any pain, there teacher would make them pull their legs past the line of your hips, so when they were in a handstand there legs were in over splits behind them, this I didn’t really like, I think it’s beautiful when they have a flat line. There was one boy who was 19 (I think), from France and was a very highly skilled gymnast – he will be the next Sergei Timofeev. Every morning once the girls are stretched and warm, they would then condition 1 arm leavers on a single cane, their teacher would spot them and sometimes they would hold an ankle weight. There teacher spent a lot of time with them correcting, spotting and telling them what to do (interesting in the contrast with Victold the other Handbalancing coach) though they are different styles I would say Victold’s students were better due to their own self motivation and drive. A comparison can be with Victold’s student Artur Bezkorynny and then Nataliya’s students Sergei Timofeev and Anastasiya Mazur.
So all the girls trained 1 arm lever, 1 arm lower to croc and 1 arm gufus/figure (seen here). They were the main tricks, you started learning them on day one. Again different to Victold, his was more like; you get one trick then move on (which is like my teacher at TCS)
Theory 1 – Why do 1 arm lever if you can’t 1 arm?
Theory 2 – When you get 1 arm you are already strong enough to do 1 arm lever.
Again, I see the pros and cons.
The girls though could not jump up onto blocks or leaver and on the floor they would struggle getting into a handstand, they would go too far and fall into a bridge and then press it from there, which I thought was crazy, once they were in a handstand they were doing amazing things it was just getting in to a handstand was a problem.
One exercise I enjoyed to watch was when the girls were in scorpion and were trying to kick the feet under their armpits, they would get their feet in and then they would pop straight out, it was just funny to watch. I guess though if I tried it, it would be funnier.
There were 3 girls that I think were in 4th year. 1 girl I could watch all day training, she just had ever muscle in her body working exactly where she wanted it, every finger was in the exact place and it looked so elegant and easy for her. She would do her act on tall canes I think 4 or 5, she would do 1 arm turning and she was trying to get a full pirouette on 1 cane. She was very close at this, it was just a hit and miss trick. However when I saw her act I was a little disappointed, her movement was beautiful, her handstands were stunning but she lacked performance, fun and excitement.
I would rather watch her train than watch her piece and I think it’s such a shame but I also think that’s what makes what we do so hard, you can technically be the best but if you can’t put it into a piece it doesn’t matter. (This is only my opinion so people may disagree)
Then there was a girl who would do her act on a round table, so she would be on a flat surface doing every handstand shape you can think of. She was super strong doing planches and 1 arm lower to croc and flexible so doing all the contortion handstands, but, the interesting thing about her act is that she was doing contact juggling at the same time. So, I have seen contact jugglers draw a square with the ball when they are stood up, well she did it in a 1 arm changing positions with her legs whilst drawing a square. She would have up to four balls in her hands and rotating them all while lowering down to the floor. Then have four in both hands while balancing on her elbows. Ridiculously impressive – two extremely hard disciplines put together and both at a very high standard. Again I felt disengaged as with the other girl, something was lost when she did her act, I don’t know if it was the music and because it was all very one level and had no contrast but I just felt like we miss something and it doesn’t show off how good and how hard it is. It’s such a shame because she is so talented but again I felt her piece just lacked a spark.
The last girl would perform her act on about 24 wooden blocks; she would start on the floor and stack them all up transferring from one arm to the next changing and again doing every position you could think of. Before you have realised it she has stacked all the blocks and is at the top and she is still in a handstand about 4-5 mins later with no rest. Hardcore, especially when people don’t realise. She hops up and down the blocks, turns and just looks phenomenal and so at ease but again I feel she lacks something and I think its life, happiness and enjoyment. I know she does have all that but it doesn’t come across when she performs and it’s such a shame.