Sammy Dinneen can regularly be found performing eye-popping acrobatics across the globe, and, more often than not, he’ll be upside down.
Originally a dancer and a circus school graduate, the London-based 28-year-old specialises in handstands and claims to be one of three known handbalancers that can look at the camera rather than the ground while being upside down (which is much harder than it sounds).
Sammy appears in solo acts as well as in worldwide performances of shows, which have so far included Batman Live: The World Tour, Traces by The 7 Fingers theatre company and Pippin, the US Tour. He also manages to teach the art in his spare time.
TRAIN went for a lesson with the handstand master and quizzed him on what it was like living 180 degrees over to the rest of us.
How did you get into the handstand world?
I trained to dance in Scotland and was greatly inspired by the circus shows I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; I loved what the artists did and began to train with them over the summer. That was the start of my journey and I have never really looked back.
I went on to study a three-year degree programme at The National Centre for Circus Arts in London, specialising in handstands while achieving a high level in acrobatics and other circus disciplines.
Afterwards, I wanted to take my training to the next level and travelled to the Ukraine, where I worked with some of the top handbalancers in the world.
What do you love most about your way of life?
I love the variety, the challenge and the excitement. Whether I’m teaching someone to hold their first handstand or performing on-stage to hundreds of people, it’s exhilarating!
Being able to be healthy for a living is an amazing feeling; it’s fascinating to learn about anatomy and what the human body is capable of doing, experimenting and pushing its limits.
How much attention do you pay to your diet?
Nutrition is something I really value and find important, although it isn’t necessarily essential for what I do. I stick to the paleo diet as carbs make me tired and heavy and I avoid processed food.
I do enjoy cooking, though. It’s such a wonderful feeling being in a kitchen. I’ve always had a passion for food and I love preparing meals and mixing different flavors.
Actually, If I hadn’t turned to acrobatics I think I would have been a chef. When I was younger, my mum taught me to cook and I would prepare our family meal once a week. Later, a stint working in a restaurant really taught me what being a chef was all about.
Are you strict with your handstand training?
One of the hardest things about my job, because it’s so varied, is maintaining consistency and regularity with my own training schedule and it can sometimes be tricky to fit in the amount of different types of training that my body requires. As a handbalancer, I often have my top off on stage so staying toned is important.
I train six times a week to maintain my proficiency level so the skill set seems as natural as possible, no matter how tired or unwell I am. I need to ensure that I can always get through a performance, no matter what.
I also swim, run and go to the gym to work on my overall fitness and to prevent myself from injuries.
Do you get nervous before you perform?
I used to but then I spent time watching some of my idols perform live. I saw them make mistakes and I began to realise that everyone is human.
Of course, I want every performance to be perfect but sometimes mistakes happen. Now I just go out there, do my best and enjoy it. I love what I do – performing and sharing my skills with audiences – and, because I ensure I stay at my physical peak, I can always get through any situation, which helps make sure I don’t get nervous.
What makes someone good at handstands?
Anyone can learn to hold a handstand; it’s all about training, passion, commitment and putting proper time and effort into it, like with any skill. Technique and understanding how to use your body is vital.
As a handstand teacher, it’s so great to work with someone to achieve moves that they once thought were impossible. Like a baby learning to stand and walk, it takes time. You just need to do a little every day, realise what you’re capable of and above all have fun with this newfound skill!
To find out about more unusual ways to keep fit, sign up to the TRAIN newsletter.