Celebrating contortionists


My ears are still ringing from the low punched-gut ‘ooh’ growl of a man’s bass voice, which was a mere accompaniment to rocking-out drums in bizarre nod to surrealism, made cool.  Of course, I went to see Cirque du Soleil perform KOOZA.

Combining acrobatic skill and sheer physical human performance, it made me think: how do you discover that you can bend like that?

The running commentary of my fellow audience followed a theme. We watched a male gymnast stack 25 wooden chairs, whist he shifted upwards in various elegant two handed, gravity-defying poses (and the occasional headstand).  But, I’m ashamed to say, my prominent thought, instead of ‘wow’ was: is that your party trick? The punched-gut music was the soundtrack to two men on two rotating wheels; they jumped, back flipped, in, on and around the very fast (and very large) copper wheels. How do you find out you have that skill?  What party do you have to be at to discover that you can run on a wheel? (Perhaps some kind of Romany Gypsy event on a fair ground site?)  That being said, the most bizarre act of all was the brilliantly named – by myself, even if I do say so – Bendy Ladies.  Of course, if you’re going to be pedantic, they are called contortionists. I came away in awe, and simultaneously, in disgust at the Bendy Ladies’ performance.  But I was determined to discover whether their skill was a party trick gone too far or in fact, a combination of nature and nurture.

Bendy Ladies uncovered

I have discovered that Bendy Ladies, as a rule, are either ‘frontbenders’ or ‘backbenders’, depending on the direction in which their spine is more flexible. Relatively few performers are equally adept at bending both frontwards and backwards.  I know what you are thinking; phew, at least we can agree that even Bendy Ladies have their limits.

I have also discovered that they performed what is called an ‘adagio’ act, which is an acrobatic dance in which they work in partnership to lift and carry the other partner as she (or he) performs splits and other bendy poses.

Now, I have grown quite attached to my Bendy Ladies and so I’ve uncovered some myths which should be put to bed right away.

Contortionist myths

  1. Myth: Contortionists apply snake oil to their joints.

This was a popular myth in the 19th century.  Bendiness is of course the result of both genetics and intense physical training. If there was oil on offer, I’d be applying it so that I could eventually touch my poor forgotten toes.

  1. Myth: Double-jointed people have more joints than most people do.

The term double-jointed is incorrect; it is actually hypermobility, and not two separate joints.

  1. Myth: Contortionists have to dislocate their joints when they bend.

Most extreme bends can be achieved without dislocating the joint.  In fact, dislocations make the joint more unstable and prone to injury. Bendy Ladies one, bendy haters nil.

  1. Myth: You are either born a contortionist or you’re not.

Muscle flexibility is a result of persistent training, as long as the shape of the bone in the joint does not limit the range of motion. So they are hardworking Bendy Ladies.

  1. Myth: Women are more apt to be contortionists than men.

The average woman tends to be more flexible than the average man (I do not include myself in that), but contortionists throughout history show equal numbers of males and females.

So, there we have it.  Contortionist myths uncovered and a glimpse into the wonderfully random KOOZA show, which, ear-ringing after-effects aside, was brilliant.

Picture citation: Eric Vardy “The Contortionist Series”, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Like this post?  Read my post: The ordinary do the extraordinary.