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Contortion Fetish  Written by: Mistress Tracy, 03/25/2011

There are many fetishes about the human body, some about body shapes, sizes, skin colors and, of course, specific sex acts that captivate the imagination. The contortion fetish is one in particular that delves into the deep-seated love of the human body as it bends and stretches in defiance of normal extensions and balance. The sensuality of a body that can bend backward and forward far beyond what most people can do has a distant cousin in the sensuality of being pushed further than one is used to, either mentally and emotionally, in the BDSM world. Contortionists are revered as both poised, graceful beings and freakish, fascinating oddities all at the same time. A whole subculture of contortion-lovers exists, whose proponents may or may not include a totally sexual element to their devotion.

Going as far back as 1944 and the Ross Sisters, all the way up to a well-known episode of "Seinfeld," contortionists and gymnasts are seen as talented sex partners, people who are likely to be able to satisfy in a way that a non-contortionist can't. Whether or not that's true, whole subcultures are devoted to the worship of the human body, particularly its strength and physical capabilities. This includes contortionists who seek out other performers, dancers, acrobats and trainers. They too seek out new and more diverse stretches and poses due to a direct and personal fascination with the body and their own capabilities beyond simple sexual curiosity.

In the Western world, a dichotomy between adoration of the ideal body and fascination with a freakish body plays a part in the promotion of contortionists. Women's gymnastics in the Olympics, for example, made up two thirds of the NBC coverage of the women's events in 1996. (1) It has been argued that the fascination with the gymnast's balance and ability to defy gravity falls within the framework of the American mythos of flight and the cultural obsession with "cuteness," that is, miniaturization, pixie-like magical abilities and a child-like body type that offsets risks from these powerful female bodies. Along with this widespread, culturally acceptable contortion obsession, parents of ballerinas are often referred to as "stage moms," who are routinely accused of putting their children's physical performance above their welfare. In the adult world, lovers of contortion for the sake of contortion have not only signed on to paysites, but have also used social networking to meet others with the same interests and to meet contortionists personally.

Historically, public observation of contortion and acrobatics were accepted in two different venues: the ancient Greek gymnasia and the travelling freaks or "minstrel" shows of the medieval world. In one context, the state provided for physical exercise and maintaining the body was seen as a form of civic duty and not keeping in shape was seen as mild delinquency. (2) The very opposite is true of the medieval context, where the physically fit actually performed for regular or "model" citizens, who treated the physical abilities of the performers as fascinating aberrations. (3) Indeed, the juxtaposition of contortionists with the deformed and other freaks on display is a complete reversal of the normalization of regular people competing to perform in the gym.

Today, a mixture of both can be seen, where awe is accorded to Olympians as they stand on pedestals, having performed seemingly impossible feats and where websites devoted to ballet dancers, acrobats and contortionists occasionally focus on them as deviant sexual objects, but mostly focus on the act of contortion itself as a point of reverential fascination. With the advent of the self-help movement and social networking, contortionists and other body-modification fetishists have actually begun to interact and support one another in attempts at further and more difficult stretches, bends and body shaping. There is also an International Contortion Convention (4) held annually, for acrobats, ballet dancers, contortionists and contortion enthusiasts, organized by the International Contortion Connection. (5)

In the Eastern world, both the history and form of reverence for contortion is different than the ancient Olympians and medieval freak shows, though modern contortion audiences may seem similarly fascinated with truly bendable bodies. In Yogic meditation, certain poses are meant to induce or enable the yogi to achieve a meditative state, using the lived experience of the body rather than the separation of mind and body from classical philosophy. In China and Mongolia, ancient Buddhist Tsam dances include contortions and today contortion is seen as an art form in and of itself. (6)

Contortion performers engage in different forms of performance that can loosely be divided into five categories: frontbending, (7) backbending, (8) splits (9) and oversplits, (10) enterology and dislocations (11). Enterology and dislocation are disputed terms that although well-used in the contortion world, do not necessarily translate into the non-fetish world as easily as the other three acts. In medical terms, enterology refers to the study of the intestines. In the contortion world, enterology is referred to as enclosing oneself in a tiny space, usually a small box. The word refers to the act of "entering" making the performer an "enterologist" much like an escapist gets the title by exiting from seemingly inescapable enclosures. (12)

Dislocation also has a medical definition, whereby "the ends of your bones are forced from their normal positions. This injury temporarily deforms and immobilizes your joint and may result in sudden and severe pain." (13) It can seem as though joints are removed from their sockets in order to accommodate the unlikely positions a contortionist can achieve, but the joints remain in their proper locations and movements take place without pain. As such, even though some refer to the positions as dislocations, others prefer to simply refer to joint extensions or descriptions of positions.

Within the contortion fetish are subgenres of fetishistic affection. These are specific types of movements and bodily training that are fetishized both sexually and nonsexually: ballet, acrobatics and gymnastics. Ballet dancers are generally fetishized as graceful bodies capable of extreme stretches. Gymnasts are seen as Olympic-style performers who can perform routines of physical excellence that demonstrate their ability. How it differs from dance has been hotly contested and the only consensus as to this difference refers to the long history of ballet and the institutionalized movements known as enchainements that are a part of the ballerina repertoire. In the case of acrobats, the acrobatic movements are generally accepted to be done with a prop that propels the body against gravity, rather than simple efforts of jumps or balance beams. The tightrope, the highwire, the swing and the rope are all part of the acrobatic performance.

In each case, the strength and power of the contortionist bodies are downplayed, at least in the generalized public forum such as the Olympics. This makes the accomplishments of the performers seem all the more unlikely and can imbue them with a sense of magical otherworldliness, (14) rather than being seen as an accomplishment by a dedicated and hard-working human being. This further reinforces the belief in the contortionist body as a fascinating, fetishistic object rather than a person with intent to control and train their body to perform feats.

In terms of specific contortion acts, there are subcategories of types of shows that a fetishist might find interesting. These are:

Adiago: an acrobatic act, usually quite slow, where one partner is lifted and presented by the partner as she/he performs splits and other feats. (15)

Rag Doll: an act where one or more assistants bend and contort a feature performer as though she/he is actually a life-sized doll. Often at the end of such a performance, the "doll" will be stuffed into a box only to emerge and remove the costume. (16)

Spanish Web: an act wherein one performer does acrobatics on a rope with another at the bottom spinning the rope, creating centrifugal force which the acrobat uses during poses. (17)

Corde Lisse: similar to the Spanish Web, but without a loop and without any spin in the loose rope. Knots and various drops are a part of the act where an acrobat not only poses, but moves up and down the rope. (18)

These are impressive feats for anyone, not only those who prefer the sensuality of a wildly contorted body. Through forums, social networking sites, circus schools and dance studios, contortionists, dancers, acrobats, yogis and gymnasts have more ability than ever to connect with one another and the people who love them for what they do. Rather than being seen as only freakish anomalies or body-focused, training junkies, the contortionist is likely to be better understood as a whole being. While fetish paysites dedicated only to their sexual abilities could be seen as limiting the understanding of what the contortionist is capable of, it is likely that as these new connections are introduced into fetish communities, more and more of the objects of our affections will become subjects and participants in their own world.

1, 2, 3. "Acrobats, Contortionists, and Cute Children: The Promise and Perversity of U.S. Women's Gymnastics," Ann Chisholm, Signs, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter, 2002), pp. 415-450, The University of Chicago Press

4, 5. International Contortion Convention, Aug 23, 2009

6. Contortionistgirl.com: History of Contortion

7, 8 , 9, 10, 11: Contortion Homepage: Bendy Glossary

12. Various contortion social networking sites

13. Mayo Clinic: Dislocation, Dec 23, 2008

14. "Acrobats, Contortionists, and Cute Children: The Promise and Perversity of U.S. Women's Gymnastics" (pg 6)

15, 16, 17: Contortion Guide: Contortion Performance Types.

18. Simply Circus Community: Aerial Arts FAQ, June 20, 2009

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