Q&A with American Contortionists
I had the pleasure of being able to ask two contortionists of DEPAC in the USA some questions about their contortion training and careers and aspirations.
Ashley King and Katarina Danks (BendyKat)
How long have done contortion for?
AK: I have been doing contortion for about 14 years now.
KD: I have been practicing contortion for 17 years now!
How did you start contortion?
AK: I started contortion after seeing a close friend training at DEPAC, and wanting to train myself. (the studio run by Betsy Shuttleworth and Dawn Churney).
KD: I was introduced to “acro” and contortion at age 8 by a long time friend and mentor of mine in the dance studio I grew up training at. My dance director and teacher was introduced to it by the same girl who had brought her skill to us via another dance studio. It seemed as if my teacher caught the bug right from the get go. I was one of her first contortion students. We grew up improving as my teacher grew in her training skills. We were lucky enough to meet all the right resources along the way. I had finally found something I was good at and felt “myself.”
How often do you train and for how long?
AK: At my peak, around 16 years old, I trained several days a week for a couple hours at a time. Currently, I train between 1-2 days a week. My training is longer now being that it takes me longer to stretch my back out. A few hours.
KD: Well, that really all depends on how other business is going! On a good week I can train every day for about 2-3 hours. Unfortunately there are weeks where I am not given any time to stretch, and I pay for it. I always stretch with my students when I am teaching, though, so that I can recover more quickly when I get a rigorous training in.
What is your favourite contortion move/trick?
AK: My favorite trick is definitely the Mexican handstand. Even now, being less flexible, the element is still pleasing to the eye. It requires strength along with flexibility. –
KD: My favorite contortion element would most likely be a pose called a “crocodile.” It is a balance pose centering your weight sideways in your hip flexor fixed over one elbow. It can be manipulated a variety of ways with different leg position styling, wrist turning movement, transitions to other contortion elements, free arm placements to show more back flexibility, and handbalancing.
What has been your best contortion experience?
AK: Easily my best contortionist experience was when I attended ICC at the age of 13 I believe. Being able to meet people, doing what I love, from all over was incredible.
KD: My best contortion experience would have to be the performance in which I received my first standing ovation. I was performing with my former partner Tatevik Seyranyan, whose family created the “Contortion In A Cube” act. We were performing in the Le Festival de Cirque Vaudreuil-Dorion near Montreal. It was about our second or third performance that weekend for the public audience. The swelling and rush of the audience’s applause was like a 50ft. wave it me. I had tears in my eyes. She gave me a huge hug backstage afterwards. We ended up being awarded the Mayor’s Choice award from the festival. I was honored to have had the chance to perform that act.
What is your ultimate contortion goal/dream?
AK: my ultimate dream right now is to gain back my flexibility I had at 16. As I have aged, my flexibility has suffered, I am hoping to obtain it all back with time and training.
KD: My ultimate dream for the contortion world would be to see some sort of standardization or recognition of body-proper and safe training techniques by various contortion cultures. Contortion is an ancient art form with many regions of origin, but unfortunately due various ways contortion and flexibility is promoted to the general public, the safety behind it, I believe, sometimes becomes blurred with mass communication. I hope for better awareness and safety precautions in not just contortion training, but all types of flexibility exercise. I’m definitely an advocate for that.