Contortionism is a movement discipline which involves incredible feats of bending and stretching. Someone who practices contortionism is known as a contortionist; practice of this extremely physically demanding art requires extensive training and personal discipline. If you want to see contortionism in action, it is often included in acrobatic demonstrations, especially at circuses, and individual contortionists sometimes perform on their own at nightclubs and other venues.
Contrary to popular belief, one is not born into contortionism. It certainly helps to be naturally flexible, but people who want to become contortionists must train extensively. Training involves a great deal of bending and stretching to develop increased strength and flexibility, along with the development of a contortionism routine for performance. During training, contortionists often work with people who are skilled in the field to develop their own unique styles and to learn to practice their art safely.
As a general rule, contortionists are broken into two divisions: back benders and front benders. As these divisions imply, some are more flexible when they bend forwards, while others have spines which flex backward more easily. During their routines, contortionists flex and bend their bodies, often pushing them to the limits as they manipulate limbs and literally contort themselves into challenging physical positions.
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During a contortion routine, a contortionist may use props or work with other contortionists for the purpose of visual interest. Some routines are designed to tell a story which may be sad or funny, while others are simply demonstrations of skill which can sometimes be quite beautiful. During a stunning routine known as an adagio, for example, a contortionist and a partner perform a series of slow moves set to music. Some contortionists are also very good at cramming themselves into seemingly impossibly small spaces.
When you watch a contortion routine, it may be hard to believe that the performer is not dislocating limbs to get into position. In fact, most contortionists try to refrain from dislocating their limbs, as this can be painful and it will stress the joint; a dislocated limb also cannot bear any weight. Instead, performers rely on incredible levels of flexibility, with very elastic joints and tendons which are kept extremely limber.
People who are interested in studying contortionism would do best to start as young as possible, laying the groundwork for a flexible adult body. The study of acrobatics is a good place to start; if the student demonstrates more interest, he or she can be sent to a special school for contortionism.