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Contortionist Myths- How Do They Do That?

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Many myths and fallacies have been perpetuated about contortionists; most of them are due to the general public’s unfamiliarity with human anatomy and physiology, while some are showman’s hype that has been invented by the performers themselves or their promoters in order to make the act appear even more mysterious.

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* Myth 1: Contortionists apply snake oil to their joints or drink special elixirs to become flexible. — This was a popular myth in the 19th century when medicine shows hired contortionists to “prove” the effectiveness of their arthritis medicines. Their extreme bending was not actually the result of their patent medicines. Flexibility is the result of either genetics or intense physical training or, more likely, both. This myth has inspired fictional characters like the Elongated Man.

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* Myth 2: “Double-jointed” people have more joints than most people do. — Every fully-formed person has exactly the same number of joints. “Double-jointed” is just a slang expression used to describe the appearance of a person who can bend much further than one might think a joint would allow a limb to bend. In spite of the origin of the word, it is a perfectly acceptable expression to describe a person who is hypermobile. Check out some more fully flexible folks-  the most extreme contortionists photos ever.

A contortionist does a teeth balancing act at the State Drama Theatre in Ulaanbaatar.

* Myth 3: Contortionists have to dislocate their joints when they bend unusually far. — Since some loose-jointed people are able to pop a joint out of its socket without pain, it may be hard to tell whether a joint is actually dislocated without an x-ray. However, as long as the joint socket is the right shape, most extreme bends can be achieved without dislocating the joint.[1] Actual dislocations are rarely used during athletic contortion acts since they make the joint more unstable and prone to injury, and a dislocated limb cannot lift itself or support any weight.

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* Myth 4: Contortionists can bend bonelessly in any direction. — The amount of flexibility of every joint in every person varies from below average to extremely flexible, including every degree of flexibility in between. Also, the degree of natural flexibility of one joint in a certain direction does not determine its degree of flexibility in the opposite direction, or the flexibility of other joints in the body. Contortionists can create the illusion of having boneless bodies by specializing in the skills that show off their most flexible joints, with the help of their acting talent and mime skills.

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* Myth 5: You are either born a contortionist or you’re not. — Muscle flexibility can be acquired with persistent training, as long as the shape of the bones in the joint do not limit the range of motion. There are a relatively small number of professional performers who claim they were not unusually flexible before undergoing years of intense training. Those who have naturally flexible joints, however, start out with an advantage, both in knowing that they have an aptitude for contortion, and the amount of flexibility they can eventually achieve.

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* Myth 6: Most contortionists have Ehlers–Danlos syndrome. — In reality, few contortionists have the condition. EDS is genetic, considered rare, and caused by defective collagen production. One result of this defective collagen production in individuals with Type 3 Ehlers–Danlos syndrome is loose, stretchy ligaments. (Ligaments hold the joints in place.) Since individuals with EDS can often have stretchy ligaments, they tend to be more flexible than the general population. In fact, some – but not all – individuals with EDS exhibit extreme flexibility. Another feature of EDS is spontaneous joint dislocations. The dislocations are caused by the ligaments’ inability to hold the joints in place due to their stretchy nature. Dislocations can also be performed at will by some, possibly even many, individuals with the condition. The same can said for individuals with Cleidocranial dysostosis.

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* Myth 6: Women are more apt to be contortionists than men. — The average woman tends to be more limber than the average man, but pictures of contortionists throughout history and around the world, taken as a whole, show nearly equal numbers of males and females. Western contortionists in the late 19th century were mostly men, just as extreme flexibility in modern India is practiced mostly by men.

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* Myth 7: Asians are more flexible than Caucasians. — While the art of contortion may be more popular in Eastern cultures, the level of flexibility is more a result of individual variation and training methods than ethnicity. Even though more Asian contortionists are seen on stage, this does not mean Asians are naturally more flexible than Caucasians.


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