Headspins are one of the ultimate b-boy and b-girl tricks, and seem to defy the laws of physics. But since dancers don't usually find themselves balancing on top of their skulls, achieving a headspin can feel pretty unattainable. To better understand the best approaches for this advanced move, we asked Alex Welch (aka B-Girl Shorty) and Simrin Player (aka B-Girl Simi) to give us some tips.
Even though there are tons of tutorials a YouTube click away, both Player and Welch stress that headspins are an advanced and difficult trick that can't be learned in a week. “Working your way up to a headspin is critical in order to develop the correct technique,"
Player says. Always spin on the center of your head—if you're too far forward or back, you could twist your neck. “You want to find the 'sweet' spot right in the middle," Welch says.
Both b-girls insist on wearing a beanie while they spin, and only do it on smooth, even surfaces. The beanie helps you spin faster by reducing friction, and it cushions your head. A stable surface allows you to keep your body straight up and down, protecting your neck.
A beanie also helps prevent hair loss associated with headspins—though your scalp will probably still peel. “Don't freak out! It just looks like dandruff," Welch says. “And your head will burn a little bit, too."
Safely executing a headspin requires three essential elements: balance, speed and form. “It's like you're a top," Welch says. “You have to spin fast enough to maintain your balance, and you have to engage your core and legs so you have control over your body."
Like any advanced dance step, the foundation has to be correct for the trick to work. Before you even begin to rotate, you should be comfortable with headstands. “I was told I wasn't allowed to spin until I could hold a headstand for 5 to 10 minutes, and a headstand without hands for one minute," Welch says. Player advises beginners to start and end their spin in a headstand: “It helps you focus on the spin," she says.
From your headstand, split your legs in a wide V-shape. Player suggests pushing your heels out away from you to keep your legs straight and even. Then, begin slow rotations, pushing off from your hands and moving your body as a single unit. This push-off is called a “tap." “It's important to have your hands in contact with the floor throughout these slow rotations," Player says. Eventually, you can advance to quarter-rotations using your hands and on up to “glides": multiple rotations without your hands touching the ground. Player suggests practicing with your legs in a fixed position for maximum stability.
Once you've safely achieved multiple rotations, you can start stylizing your spins with different arm positions, or ways to get up from and down to the floor. But the real joy is in letting loose and spinning. “It's the best feeling in the world," Welch says.
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "