Expert flexibility secrets by Betsy Shuttleworth to take your contortion skills to the next level

Expert flexibility secrets by Betsy Shuttleworth to take your contortion skills to the next level

Welcome to the world of contortion! In this article, we will delve into the expert knowledge of Betsy Shuttleworth, a former ballet dancer turned contortion trainer. With her years of experience and passion for flexibility, Betsy has honed her skills and now shares her valuable insights with aspiring contortionists. Join us as we explore the secrets behind taking your contortion skills to the next level.

Betsy’s expertise lies in honing and perfecting contortion skills, helping individuals push their flexibility and boundaries to new heights.


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.

Where I grew up dancing, competitions were not allowed so when we entered that world in 1997 it was interesting.

I was drawn to the performers with exceptional flexibility. It inspired me to research and seek out guidance and help from 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).

Expert flexibility secrets by Betsy Shuttleworth to take your contortion skills to the next level

One of my students

So in my world, the back area is your hips all the way to the neck. Often 1 area is used in back bending, which increases the chances of injuries. People must educate themselves.

The Importance of Flexibility

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 centred.

Strengthening for Success

Strengthening is key, it’s a must in any sport. We practice a lot of 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”.

Common Challenges for Aerialists and Pole Dancers

On Sundays, I teach at a local aerial school in Brentwood PA. What I see with aerialists and pole dancers mostly is tight shoulders, arms and upper backs. 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.

Contortion Skills: Age and Flexibility

For those of you thinking “I am too old to start contortion training” I beg to differ. If you look 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 number”…

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 its 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.

Embracing Beginners and Surpassing Expectations

So today I travel internationally to teach flexibility and contortion workshops. Beginners are my favourite because they always seem to surprise themselves and do more than they ever thought they could. I have been travelling with a student of mine who has recorded for 5 tv shows since July 2016. She shoots a bow and arrow with her feet. Developing impeccable contortion skills requires a combination of dedicated training, flexibility exercises, and proper technique. With a strong foundation in contortion skills, practitioners can achieve breathtaking poses and awe-inspiring performances.

A Personal Journey of Enrichment

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 in a direction I never dreamed of.

The Golf Ball Technique

In closing, I would like to leave you with a secret leg stretch I learned from a PT. Do your splits, and 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. You’re welcome.


Embarking on the path of contortion is a journey filled with dedication and discovery. Betsy Shuttleworth’s remarkable career and her commitment to teaching flexibility and contortion workshops worldwide have touched the lives of countless individuals. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced practitioner, remember that age is merely a number when it comes to pursuing your contortion dreams. Embrace the power of stretching, strengthening, and listening to your body. With Betsy’s guidance and your determination, you can unleash your true potential and create an extraordinary contortion practice.

We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with contortion training! Join the conversation by leaving a comment below and share your journey of developing contortion skills. Your insights and stories can inspire others on their path to flexibility and artistry.

About the author

Betsy Shuttleworth

Betsy is a flexibility specialist with over 18 years experience in contortion and over 30 years of dance experience working with different athletes from all over the world including dancers, contortionists and cheerleaders.
Betsy started Dance Extensions in 1996 as an instructor after her Point Park University education. Immediately Betsy attended and still attends as many workshops and classes to better herself as an instructor/trainer as well as judging performing art competitions. While ballet was her first love, contortion has become one of the main attractions at DEPAC. Betsy travels the United States as well as Internationally teaching proper warm up and contortion techniques for the safety of the children. DEPAC makes sure they do charity performances each and every year. These include rest homes and cancer research fundraisers.
Betsy combines her creative contortion techniques with her guidance from Ska Von Schoning of Showbiz Productions (Germany) as well as Alixa Sutton (Ukraine), Cirque Du Soleil choreographer and flexibility expert. Betsy has also had the pleasure of training with Cirque Du Soleil trainers Otgo Waller, Angelique, Olga Pikchenko and Enkhee Tumen

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  • Betsy is the greatest. I’ve only attended one of her classes so far, but her tips helped improve my splits (with that golf ball trick she just shared) and I became more aware of the tightness through my upper back. Previously, I hadn’t been aware of how to really stretch that area.

    • Sarah, Stand close to a wall for support, step on the golf ball with your toes wrapped around it and push down as hard as you can for 10 seconds. You will repeat that 5-6 times moving the ball back an inch at a time and repeating the process. In my experience the arch in front of the heal is the most sensitive.
      I haven’t determined yet if keeping the knee bent or straight makes a difference. Most people feel their split are easier or better after they do this. This is also great for plantar fasciitis.

      Sorry for the delayed response!