ontortionism) is an unusual form of physical display which involves the dramatic bending and flexing of the human body. Contortion is often part of acrobatics and circus acts. In general, "contortionists" have unusual natural flexibility, which is then enhanced through acrobatic training, or they put themselves through intense, vigorous and painful training to gain this flexibility.
In some countries like Mongolia, many people (mainly girls) learn contortion and it is considered a nationally respected art form that holds cultural importance. For hundreds of years contortionists have entertained crowds all over Mongolia. Contortionists usually start practicing from a very early age. In Mongolia the minimum acceptable age is 5, as they believe contortion can cause bone deformities in younger children. Some sports, rhythmic gymnastics for example, demand extreme flexibility but not the hand balancing skills or performance skills of a contortionist.
Most contortionists are categorized as either "frontbenders" or "backbenders", depending on the direction in which their spine is more flexible. Relatively few performers are equally adept at bending both frontwards and backwards.
Some of the skills performed by contortionists include: 1) Frontbending skills such as folding forward at the waist with the legs straight, or placing one or both legs behind the neck or shoulders with the knees bent (called a human knot). 2) Backbending skills such as touching one's head to one's feet, or all the way to the buttocks (called a head-seat), while standing, lying on the floor, or in a handstand. A Marinelli bend is a backbend while supported only by a grip at the top of a short post that is held in the mouth. 3) Splits and oversplits (a split of more than 180 degrees) may be included in frontbending or backbending acts. An oversplit may be performed while the feet are supported by two chairs or by two assistants. 4) Enterology is the practice of squeezing one's body into a small, knee-high box or other container which appears to be much too small for a person to fit in. 5) Dislocations of the shoulders or hip joints are sometimes performed as a short novelty act by itself. One example is lifting the arm to the side until it passes behind the head and lies across the top of the shoulders.