My name is Betsy Shuttleworth and I am a former ballet dancer now contortion trainer/coach. I opened my studio in 1996, in Canonsburg, PA. Twelve years ago my friend and colleague Dawn Churney came to the studio as co-director and co-owner to help with various classes and truly improved the atmosphere and program.
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Where I grew up dancing, competitions were not allowed so when we entered into that world in 1997 it was interesting.
I was really drawn to the performers with exceptional flexibility. It inspired me to research and seek out guidance and help through professionals in the contortion industry.
If you would imagine an ordinary backbend/bridge only using your back flexibility. Now imagine that same backbend with flexible hips and shoulders engaged. You see now a beautiful, well-rounded shape with flexibility evenly distributed (a rainbow if you will).
So in my world, the back area is your hips all the way to the neck. Often 1 area is used in back bending, this increases chances of injuries. People must educate themselves.
If I had to choose the most important muscle for most activities and especially in dancers, aerialists and contortionists it would be the stomach, the core. Everything is connected in our bodies and you want strong stomach muscles to keep your spine protected and help you keep your weight centered.
Strengthening is key, it’s a must in any sport. We practice a lot strengthening exercises in our contortion classes. I admit, not their favorite but they like the results.
An important rule to remember: “Strengthen what you stretch and stretch what you strengthen”.Strengthen what you stretch and stretch what you strengthen Click To Tweet
On Sundays, I teach at a local aerial school in Brentwood PA. What I see with aerialist’s and pole dancers mostly is tight shoulders, arms and upper backs. Obviously, this is from all the pulling, climbing and squeezing to hold difficult positions. These dancers work especially hard on legs as we all know the more leg flexibility the more beautiful our elements and poses.
For those of you thinking “I am too old to start contortion training” I beg to differ. If you look it up the articles, they will tell you not to break into the art of contortion after the age of 26.
Lisa, a skype student I work with is 49. With her commitment she has transformed her shape completely. So as the song says “Age ain’t nothin but a numba”…
A question I always get: “Can anyone be a contortionist or do you have to be born flexible”. Most people can improve their flexibility. Each body will tell you it’s limits, you just have to listen. Must rest in between. I always suggest stretching fully every other day and alternate strengthening, taking 1 day off a week for the serious students. Some need more days off, just have to see what best fits you.
So today I travel internationally teaching flexibility and contortion workshops. Beginners are my favorite because they always seem to surprise themselves and do more than they ever thought they could. I have been traveling with a student of mine who has recorded for 5 tv shows since July 2016. She shoots a bow and arrow with her feet.
At my studio, we specialize in hand-balancing, flexibility and partner tricks. My career is very interesting. It has taken me places I never thought it would.
I am grateful for this discovery and journey for it has enriched my life and taken me into a direction I never dreamed of.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a secret leg stretch I learned from a PT. Do your splits, make a mental note of where you are and how it feels. Grab a golf ball. Put it under your toes and with a straight leg push as hard as you can take it for 10 seconds. Repeat this moving the ball back an inch at least 5 times. You’ll find the arch hurts the worst. Try your splits again. Your welcome.
For information on flexibility workshops in your facility please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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