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Contortion (sometimes contortionism) is an unusual form of acrobatic display which involves the bending of the human body into positions that would be impossible for most people to achieve. Contortion is often part of a circus act.

In general, contortionists have unusual natural flexibility, which is then enhanced through gymnastic training.

Table of contents
1 Description
2 Myths
3 History
4 External links



Most contortionists are categorized as 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.

Some of the skills performed by contortionists include:

Types of Performances

Like other
visual arts, a contortion performance can convey any of several emotions, depending on the choreography and costumes that are chosen, as well as the personality and acting skills of the performer. Performers might choose a style that is beautiful, athletic, weird, shocking, sensual, erotic or humorous, and each has fans that prefer that particular style, sometimes to the exclusion of other styles.

Some special types of performances:

A contortionist may perform alone, may have one or two assistants, or from one to four contortionists may perform together as a group.

In the past, contortionists were associated almost exclusively with circuses and fairs, but recently they have also found work performing in nightclubs, amusement parks, in magazine advertisements, at trade shows, on television variety shows, in music videos, and as warmup acts or in the background at music concerts. In addition, contortion photos and digital movie clips are traded by fans on the Internet, and several web sites provide original photos of contortion acts for a monthly fee, or sell videotapes of performances through the mail.


Many myths and fallacies have been perpetuated about contortionists; most of them are due to the general public's ignorance of human anatomy and physiology, while some are showman's hype that has been invented by the performers themselves or their promoters in order to make the act appear even more mysterious.



India / South Asia

China / East Asia

Native Americans

Europe (to 1900)

United States (to 1900)

Era of Photography (ca. 1900 to the present)

External links