Everything You Need To Know Before Booking A Contortionist

Contortion is an exciting and specialised type of performance that requires years of training, genetic flexibility and of course showmanship. One of the many reasons contortion is so popular is the sense of curiosity it creates within the audience, I mean lets face it- it can be graceful, flowing and beautiful but it can also be downright strange and freaky. Contortion is an iconic act and will leave your guests talking about it for years to come, here’s some considerations you might want to think about before booking a contortionist.

A contortionist is defined as “a performer displaying extreme physical flexibility” but there are several different types of skill discipline within this and they’re all exciting and rather different from one another. Most contortionists use a combination of front bending, splits and back bending to create a choreographed routine to music, but here we’ve broken the skills down a little more so you can see exactly how to book a contortionist and what style of contortion would be best suited for your event. 

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Back bending and front bending

Contortion back bending is without question the iconic image that springs to mind when the word circus is mentioned. It is a high skill level and visually unusual form of contortion. The principle is simple- it is any movement which requires the backwards bending of the spine… in its most extreme form of course! In the classic circus world a contortionist performing back bending tricks would have most likely been billed as “The Amazing Rubber Girl” or “Rubber Man” due to their extreme flexibility creating the illusion that they had no bones or were made of rubber.  

Many people associate contortion with the natural ‘gift’ of double jointed-ness or the ‘ability to dislocate joints’. Whilst dislocation and joint manipulation is a very rare method most professional contortionists do not use this at all. Most contortionists usually have a form of genetic hypermobility. Joint hypermobility is when a person’s joints are more flexible than most people’s – it can create the illusion of being ‘double jointed’- unfortunately for many people this syndrome causes discomfort. However, a contortionist uses it to their advantage- improving their muscle strength to support their joints whilst allowing them to create seemingly impossible shapes with their bodies! Making the most of their hypermobility will allow your contortionist to perform in the iconic rubber-like flowing style synonymous with the performance of contortion.

The opposite to back bending is….you guessed it- front bending! Front bending is less common and uses spinal flexibility in the opposite direction. These are the two main categories for contortionists- whether they are front-benders or back-benders. In contrast to back bending- the front bender will forward fold their body down their legs then emerge face and arms first behind their knees. Another iconic front bending pose is the human knot- where the performer lays on their back and wraps their feet and calves behind their head. These are pretty much the limits to the signature front bending poses and there are very few contortionists adept at both directions.

Back-bending is generally seen as the more desirable and skilled style of contortion due to the unbelievable spinal range these performers have. Iconic poses include the ‘Head Seat’- where the performer appears to sit on their own head- usually in a chest or handstand, the ‘Triple Fold’- similar to the head seat but the contortionist pushes even further into the stretch until their shins are touching the ground and finally the “Hairpin”- the contortionist kneels on their feet and bends backwards- almost doubling themselves in reverse until their head touches the floor behind them. These extreme positions should only be performed by trained, professional contortionists due to their complexity.

When should I hire a back bender or front bender?

Watching a contortionist perform back bending leaves audiences amazed and questioning the possibility of what they just witnessed which makes them ideal for almost every type of show. This form of contortion relies almost entirely on the ability of the performer as opposed to equipment or technology making this act ideal for venues with either a high stage or a raised platform as the nature of this performance often makes it low to the ground so visibility for your guests has to be clear. 

Back bending contortionists are all very different in their routining of their acts, most tend to progress through the act with tricks advancing in difficulty, however some present their acts slow and gracefully, others high energy and upbeat. As a result back bending contortionists are ideal for many events including corporate events, weddings and private parties. A good entertainment agency will have a variety of contortionists on their database allowing them to advise which one would best suit your needs.

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Have you ever seen a pickled person?  With a Contortion Box Act, also known as ‘body packing’ – Now’s your chance. 

This creative, visual and increasingly popular form of contortion has a hint of novelty to it but still requires an enormous amount of time and skill from the performer. Enterology is “the art of contortion, allowing one’s body to squeeze into a small space or box, which initially appears to be too small to contain the performer”. In its most common form-Enterology is a display of a contortionist squeezing inside a perspex box until they are fully enclosed within it. 

Enterology tends to be a strictly choreographed routine as often the space is so tight or unusually shaped there is only one possible way for the performer to position themselves within. It is often classed as the most entertaining form of contortion due to its fun nature and ability to create an unusual spectacle right in front of an audience’s eyes. Enterology is also one of the rarer forms of contortion and acquiring the correct props to perform this act can be difficult. 

Most enterologists have their boxes/containers custom built to their height, weight and pressure exertion. It can take several attempts to get the build right and once the build is achieved it can take long months of training to safely perform inside the prop. As a result enterology has remained a specialised area of the contortion body- making it perfect for those looking for ‘something a little different’. Enterology doesn’t just stop at boxes, there are performers available with a huge variety of props they can contort into, including bird cages, glass jars, suitcases, trunks, fastened straitjackets and even through tennis racquets! You have to see it to believe it! 

Some enterologists begin their act within their box and emerge to showcase some advanced contortion tricks, others perform this the opposite way round, first demonstrating their flexibility then contorting into their box, others centre their entire act on their unusual props- climbing head and leg first through a tennis racquet or taking their time to showcase the intense skill required to fold themselves limb by limb into a clear perspex viewing box. 

When should I hire an enterologist?

Enterologists are perfect for so many types of event. If you are looking for something creative and unusual, or if you want to make a statement, enterology is a fun, specialised and rarely seen act. Enterology requires minimal space- in fact that’s the main concept for this discipline so if you’re short on space this act is ideal for you. 

Most enterologists prefer to perform on a stage to best showcase their talents but most can adapt to perform in any dedicated performance space where a crowd can gather to watch the show whilst still having enough room to complete their act. Due to its highly choreographed style enterology comes across to guests with a very high production value and often adds that wow factor to an event. Most enterologists cannot offer their performance in an ambient/mix and mingle style setting due to the nature of the act. However enterology is not to be overlooked and is a super exciting, fun and energetic form of contortion performance. 

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Contortion Duo

Knowing how to book a contortionist is one thing but is one really enough?  A contortion duo is often wrongly referred to as an Acro-duo because the two acts are very similar- however there is a slight, but very important, difference between the two. In an Acro- duo one performer focuses on strength and the other flexibility, in a contortion duo both performers are equally as strong and as flexible as each other. 

A contortion duo will wow crowds with incredible feats such as hand to hand adagio skills and assisted stretching- the art in which a second performer uses their external force to support the first performer in an extreme static position.  

Watching a contortion duo is thrilling and creates a real sense of amazement as the performers move fluidly around each other creating unbelievable shapes. A contortion duo is ideal for a high impact stage performance but many duos also offer ambient style performance in which the performers mingle with the crowd, finding open spaces and performing a sequence of tricks there before continuing to the next suitable space.

This is a unique and creative way of entertaining guests in a less formal setting than a stage show and the specialist tricks displayed seem somehow even more impressive in this situation. Contortion duos spend years training together to ensure they are both at their optimum level for their performance and each contortion duo will have a choreographed stage act and a pose base suited to ambient performance which works specifically for them. Some have slow, sensual and graceful stage shows, others are fast, upbeat and energetic or use extra props such as chairs to add exciting elements to the performance. 

When should I hire a contortion duo?

When you require both require walkabout and stage performances. A contortion duo is particularly good if you want to create a high impact visual display focusing on contortion. As its two performers they are able to fill a performance area not just side to side but also vertically as they are able to incorporate lifts and balancing moves into their choreography. As this act is both classic and contemporary it suits a variety of needs, and can be tailored to suit most event themes.

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The Marinelli Bend

The Marinelli Bend, a contortion manoeuvre so difficult it deserves its own section. This extremely difficult pose is rarely seen and is usually a little more expensive to book- don’t be put off though- it is truly unbelievable. The Marinelli bend is named after its inventor- international contortionist H. B. Marinelli (1864-1924), it is compromised of a head seat pose with the legs extended forwards over the head… whilst the performer is supported only by a mouth grip clenched between their teeth at the top of a short post. 

As if that wasn’t enough, we are also able to offer a unique variation of this move called ‘The Spinning Marinelli Bend’, where the performers uses specialised equipment to perform this skill with the added finale of being able to spin 360 degrees. 

This extreme pose is ideal for creating that extra wow factor in a climax during a contortion performance or showcasing the ultimate level in contortion skill. The Marinelli bend is considered to be the most dangerous contortion pose and therefore is only suitable for a stage environment where the performer cannot be touched or interfered with by guests. All professional contortionists are be fully insured up to (£10,000,000) in public liability insurance and if the performer is trained in the Marinelli bend this will also be covered. They will of course provide a full risk assessment for the type of contortion they are performing to make sure everyone has a safe and fun time. 

If you desperately want this move in your booked contortion performance be sure to ask your booking agent about it prior to your event. This highly specialised skill is so exciting and unusual that there are even official world records held for it. The longest time in a Marinelli Bend is held by a Mongolian performer and the highest stack (a triple Marinelli bend- where two contortionists perform handstands on top of the contortionist in the Marinelli bend!) is held by a trio of Chinese contortionists. Its so specialised in fact that there are only a handful or contortionists performing this act worldwide and only two specialising in it in the UK.

When should I hire a Marinelli bend contortionist?

The Marinelli Bend is highly specialised and rarely seen so it is recommend only for client’s willing to spend a little extra to enjoy this extremely difficult performance. 

That being said a Marinelli bend performer will be at the height of extreme flexibility and will most likely use their Marinelli bend as the finale to their already sensational act. If you are looking to create a high impact finish for your event this act is perfect, it also takes up more stage space than a standard contortion act or an Enterology act making it ideal for venues with a large stage.

As you can see there are multiple disciplines to this skill, and with so many choices out there you may find yourself asking how to book a contortionist, or more to the point, what type of contortionist should I hire? 

A good events co-ordinator will work with you to determine exactly what will fit best for your budget and event. They’ll give expert advice and complete important paperwork to help ensure your event is unforgettable. You can view our amazing Contortion Performers here, or if you have your own ideas in mind and would like to discuss a custom package created specifically for you – please use our Contact page.

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