A contortionist is an acrobatic performer who specializes in the athletic skill of contortionism. This is the art of bending or twisting the body in unusual and unnatural looking ways. A contortionist commonly performs in circus acts and incorporates props such as a bow and arrow, trapezes and hoops into their act.
These performers can sometimes be classified as one of two types: a frontbend or a backbend contortionist. These classifications depend on the direction that the person's spine most easily bends. A frontbend contortionist is able to bend forward, as the name suggests, bringing his feet up around the neck or folding himself so that his head comes between his legs, facing his buttocks. A backbend contortionist can bend the spine in a backward position, allowing her to touch her feet to her head or her head to her buttocks. Generally, an individual cannot bend equally well in both directions.
Contortionists are not only able to flex their spines in amazing ways. Many can also bend their arms and legs into unique positions as well. One position, called a dislocate, involves contorting the body so that the performer appears to have dislocated her joints.
A contortionist might be one of the most physically fit people around. Using mind, body and breathing exercises in contortionism training, he or she maintains a daily regimen for healthy living. Interestingly, this art form is very similar to the more commonly known practice of yoga. In fact, advanced yoga exercises are often the same of those of a contortionist.
The ability to contort the body is not something that everyone has; it is the result of a trait that some people are born with, that of having unusually flexible joints. This physical potential is then cultivated with gymnastic or acrobatic training.
It is also possible for most average, healthy people to become contortionists. With determination and perseverance, many people may become flexible and fit enough to achieve some of these feats. Professional contortionists recommend that training not be attempted after the age of 26 years, however, and the average age for training to begin is two years of age.
Training to become a contortionist takes a great amount of time, with very little immediate results. Every muscle in the body must be stretched, working on one muscle group at a time. The cartilage and disc space of the spine and joints must also be conditioned carefully before any positions can safely be carried out.