How To Become a Contortionist

Anya Shevelyuk - Pyragraph

Photo courtesy of Anya Shevelyuk.

As long as I can remember, I have always desired to be very flexible.

It has just always felt more comfortable and came naturally to me. Now, when I say flexible, I am mainly talking about my legs. I can stretch and stretch and stretch my legs all day and not feel any pain. As a matter of fact, I have to do over-splits every morning when I wake up, otherwise my legs feel super constricted. My back, however, is a different story.

My mother and I moved to America in 1995. We lived in Topeka, Kansas which meant I had no chance of ever becoming a contortionist. There was and is no market out there for that kind of art. At the age of 8 my mother enrolled me in ballet classes. I was never a great ballerina, but I quickly noticed that I was much more flexible than all the other girls.

In Russia if you do not start something the instant you exit the womb, you are immediately considered too old.

When I was about 11 a gymnastics school opened up literally one minute away. I had expressed a small interest to my mother about going there. However her response was, “You are too old,” crushing my dreams. But you have to understand that in Russia if you do not start something the instant you exit the womb, you are immediately considered too old. Assuming gymnastics was the only way to become a contortionist, and finding out it was now too late for me to start, I lost all hope. I continued dancing and took up acting until graduating high school.

When I turned 18, I moved to Kansas City for bigger and better things, but found myself at a loss.

I did not know what to do with myself. I had no life ambitions. I didn’t want to do anything and found myself in a deep depression for a few years. During the end of that time I befriended a guy who I told all of my childhood hopes and dreams.

It turned out that he knew a contortionist who taught five minutes away from my home.

I was immediately intrigued since contortion was a lifetime dream of mine. I researched the school and decided to give it a try. I had nothing to lose. Unfortunately, I had to wait six months until she came back from an ongoing show in Korea. While waiting, I stayed to train with another temporary instructor who was able to get me started with basic contortion. We also had a couple professional contortionists come through that gave really good, eye-opening workshops. This was the first time I felt happy and at home.

During those first six months, my over-splits drastically improved from front heel on the floor to 20 inches off the floor. Although a pulled hamstring injury during my very first contortion workshop really set me back a couple months before, my legs became as flexible as wet noodles. My back, which was 110% opposite of flexible, started to slightly give way to back-bending.

Once the school’s contortion trainer came back, I trained four to six times a week. This consisted of strength and stretch, contortion and aerial classes. I trained with her for about four months before I realized I was not improving as quickly as before. So I started training with another instructor online who had trained under internationally known contortionist Otgo Waller. I began to improve my back flexibility full-speed ahead, once again. I trained with her two to three times a week for six months before I felt I had enough knowledge to train on my own.

Contortion fulfills my spirit and brings me joy day in and day out.

New year means new resolutions. I finished college, the weight was lifted and after three years the stress was gone. After my break I felt motivated again. 2014 is the Year of the Horse, which is me. This year was going to be my year. I have never been happier than when I train. I have never been more sure about what I do until now. Since I train on my own I have had to become more creative with my stretches.

In late November 2013 I went to Vegas to perform for Live Design International.

This time I was able to train with Otgo in person. She helped guide me and gave many great tips on how to deepen in my stretches. After Vegas I took a month-long break from contortion as I had felt worn out from all my show performances.

I am living the life of my dreams. Contortion fulfills my spirit and brings me joy day in and day out. I once thought it was something beyond my reach. I found the power to create my reality within myself. I had the power to create my ultimate happiness and I did. I just had to be clear about what it was, believe that I can have it, envision it, feel it, and I took action. I know that I am on the right path for me and I am excited to continue growing on this journey as a person and as a performer.

Photo courtesy of Anya Shevelyuk.

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About Anya Shevelyuk

Anya Shevelyuk grew up being in the spotlight. From the very beginning, she was dancing around and putting on mini-shows for her family in Russia. After moving to America, Anya began taking ballet and theatre performance classes and has performed in dozens of shows.

At the age of 18 she moved to Kansas City where she was reintroduced to circus! Anya was so inspired and still longed to be in front of an audience. 22 seemed a bit late, but she began practicing aerial, contortion and hand balancing for hours every day. After a year, her body was doing things she could have never imagined!

During this time Anya received my degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis on Health and Fitness. She currently teaches aerial hoop, flexibility, trapeze and vinyasa yoga as well as performs aerial and contortion. Anya enjoys writing on the side and aspires to motivate and inspire others.


  1. Prudence on June 17, 2017 at 7:49 am

    This is a great story. Thanks for sharing! I recently started Aerials feel in love with it and want to try being a contortionist but I already have back problems (lower back pain from tight hip flexors) so don’t know if it’s possiable. You article gives me hope to start practicing stretches and shows it can take years. Or in my case decades :)

    • Claire on February 17, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      Have you tried to stretch your hip flexors?

  2. Natalia Weaver on February 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Hi! I am new to contortion…overall I am very flexible and can do a back bend all ready and feel confident in it as well. I work hard on general stretching but i am not sure what would really show me progress through time? Can you give me a few beginners stretches to work on? and get me going towards the right direction! Thanks for any help you can give me !

  3. natalia on April 20, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    i can tie myself in a knot

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