Creating your contortion journey

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Some important things to think about as you start your training journey

When I first became obsessed about the world of flexibility 18 years ago, I was stunned to see there were so few resources for learning. Growing up in the dance world schools were a dime a dozen, finding lessons was only a local phone call away.

Being so in tune with my body and placement, starting my flexibility program in the beginning seemed easy, it was an extension of what I already knew.  Now in hindsight, I should have searched harder for reputable coaches and teachers. There were things that I didn’t know and there are still things I am learning. I believe you can learn something from everyone and I am fortunate to be able to consult some of the best in the business when I have questions.

When I started reading about contortion the information I was finding said that after the age of 26, don’t bother. Too late to train in this art form. I can tell you with 100% certainty, that is a load of crap. I learned this when I got an Instagram message from Lisa Rostelli-Visco who was looking to break into contortion at age 46.  

I told her the only limits we have are the ones we give ourselves and let’s give it a go. The transformation that Lisa went through in 4 years was undeniable. Defied all the “laws” of flexibility according to the books.  (follow her on IG @lisaviscodancer)

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Bridget Canela from Phildelphia, age 35. 

She has had some struggles looking for flexibility coaching and here are some of her answers to my questions. After speaking with her I thought these questions might be helpful for others looking for training.

Where did you start your search for flexibility training? 

Contortion found me! It started being offered weekly not too long after my studio opened in Phoenix, and I’ve been taking classes/workshops ever since. I try to research online mostly and find trainers who have worked with circus artists I know or have trained with. 

Where did you research take you?

I found a lot of the community knows each other!  Many of the contortionists I follow end up either teaching the workshops I take, or being the coach of the teachers. 

What are some of the positive realizations you have had on this journey?

I was very happy to hear how obsessed with safety everyone in the art is. It’s nice to see with that level of training, mostly everyone in the community is dedicated to keeping their bodies and the bodies of their students safe. That’s a huge misconception of the public. 

What are some of the obstacles you have encountered?  

Having Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, many people have told me it’s a blessing and a curse. It took me years to get the courage to actually accept my flexibility and decide to commit to working with it instead of against it. Many people have told me I shouldn’t be training flexibility at all. I honestly feel better in my body when I train strength and flexibility, and I’m happy to finally be embracing that. 

What are your flexibility goals?

I’d like to be confident in my hand balancing. With hypermobile wrists and fingers it’s been a huge struggle. I’m also not super mid/upper back bendy since training aerials the past 5 years. 

What do you feel has helped you the most? 

Small, subtle cues do so much. Things like “close your ribs”, “look toward your feet” or “open your chest”. When you’re in a move it’s so easy to hyper-focus on one part of it, forgetting the other subtleties. In flexibility I find these make all the difference! 

Today resources seem more accessible in part thanks online contortion coach directories, such as contortionists unite. My very first mentor was Ska Von Schoning, creator of the International Contortion Convention. I remember attending our first ICC as wide eyed as a kid in a candy shop, and now I co-plan and coach at this unique gathering. ICC and Ska are the reason I found all the coaches in the contortion world. It is a priceless event I will cherish forever. 

Some words of advice if you are just beginning your journey and are considering a coach. The most important thing to ask “Is this person qualified to be coaching contortion?”. Most of us have a biography and a list of accomplishments, experience, testimonials and professionals we have worked with. 

Some key things to be wary of: 

No strengthening regimen.
If you find a “coach” that does not explain the necessity of strength in this art form, move on.  Injury is most likely to happen.  

Improper warm up.
A proper warm up includes more than just your back.  My technique when I teach a class or workshops goes as follows:  Strengthening the stomach (most important) hips, shoulders and back.  Stretching; Feet, Hips, Legs, shoulders and lastly the back. 

In closing, keep in mind that increasing your flexibility is possible at any age.  How much depends on what you are telling yourself, genetics and personal body limitations.   If you are wanting to start this journey, then do it. With todays technology we now have video training if you are unable to travel.   Most trainers can most definitely get you going on a plan of what to train when and how much but all of you will be different so don’t expect the same results as your friends.  That is not a bad thing, it keeps us trainers from being board.