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Contortionists are circus performers whose act mainly revolves around bending themselves like pretzels. Occasionally, they will incorporate other things into their act such as spinning Hula hoops on an up stretched leg or shooting bows with toes while bent over backward.
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While not required, many acts involving rope climbing and or elevated dangling from aerial silk, tissue, The Spanish Web, aerial hoops and corde lisse frequently involve contortion as well. More mundane sets much just give the performer a chair or have a strong man hold them up.

Performers of this type are generally divided into front benders and back benders. Some can fold both ways but most still do one way better than the other. Anyone who can perform a split beyond 180 degrees also might find work in this area, touching a knee to a shoulder or feeding themselves with their feet work too. Some more extreme cases involve a contortionist slipping into a clothing trunk or barrel and those with good pain tolerance may dislocate their joints to bend them even further.

A variant is the rag doll, where a flexible person will be violently shaken or otherwise abused by someone in an attempt to convince the audience they are not actually alive.

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Also see World's Strongest Man, Girls With Mustaches, The Freakshow, and Clown, other circus acts which sometimes go hand in hand with this one. Circus brats are also natural companions. For more fantastic stretches not usually seen in this performance art, see Abnormal Limb Rotation Range and Rubber Man.

If a person without unusual flexibility undergoes the sort of contortions associated with this trope, the results can be messy.

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Examples

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     Anime and Manga 
  • Tiger Mask has Black V, a wrestler whose teacher decided to make him train under a circus contortionist to the point he fits the rag doll and is practically immune to submission holds, with Baba calling him a Rubber Man. He's not completely immune to submission holds, but what Tiger Mask resorts to knock him out with one would have killed a lesser man.
  • The sequel Tiger Mask W features Mister Question, an Indian wrestler who uses yoga training in this fashion, even able to dislocate his arm joints for extra stretch.
  • Being set in a Cirque du Soleil-style Circus, the cast of Kaleido Star does flexible stunts from time to time. For example, the main character Sora Naegino does handstand splits in one scene, dodges a roommate's flying kick by bending backwards, and even tries aerial acts in later episodes.
  • In one scene from Karakuri Circus, Shirogane does a Dope Slap to Narumi by whipping her foot up from behind her back to kick him in the head. Masaru lampshades this with an aside, saying, "Shirogane, are you made of rubber?"

    Comics 
  • A Dilbert strip involves a contortionist trying to make a car accident Dilbert caused look worse than it really was by attempting to make himself look mangled.
  • Spider-Man does painful looking contortions as if they are a second nature to him and he used to have his own performance act making use of his web shooters before he took to fighting crime (perhaps the Spanish web taken to its logical conclusion, but no one remembers because most adaptations cut out his for profit ventures at professional wrestling). He's predominately shown to be a front bender.
  • Rag Doll was originally a foe of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, who used his contortionist abilities to imitate a lifeless dummy in his first crime...and just kept the disguise as his costume. His eventual children inherited varying levels of his contortionist abilities—the Rag Doll who was a member of the Secret Six "cheated" by having surgery done to increase his flexibility.
  • The Elongated Man has full-on Rubber Man powers, but originally was fascinated with "India Rubber Men", a type of contortionist common in circuses and sideshows of the time. He discovered that many of them favored a drink named Gingold, created a concentrated version of it, and gained powers.
  • The Marvel Comics character named Scarecrow is also a contortionist who turned his talents to crime, using the skill to appear like a boneless straw figure. Nowadays mostly he's used to play up a Halloween connection more than rag doll with his flexibility.
  • Harley Quinn seems to have this talent in the New 52, as demonstrated by her incredibly hard-to-do pose seen here, from the 2013 Harley Quinn Annual #1, where she's thinking up a plan while incarcerated.
  • Batman villain Copperhead is a contortionist in some of his (or her) appearances.
  • Discussed meta version: Google "Escher girls". (I.e. comic covers that show women in sexy but anatomically ridiculous poses.) Also in a Vampirella fan email where the fan complained that she were quite lithe but couldn't twist herself into the cover of Warren #90.

    Fan Fic 
  • The vocaloid fanfic Rotting Camellias has Miki as one of these, working in a circus.
  • Fate/Long Night: Nymeria Martell's body can bend and twist at near impossible angles, which she takes full advantage of in battle.

    Film 
  • Abi, Token Human contortionist of Meet the Feebles, has an unfortunate accident and now cannot unbend himself with a performance coming up.
  • Shanghai Surprise, has Sean Penn visit a famous courtesan who lists contortion under one of her many skills.
  • In Charlie Chaplin film The Cure Charlie goes to a spa. He enters the massage room; on the table next to his a big burly male masseuse is giving his client a once over. The client is played by a circus contortionist so the masseuse bends him into seemingly impossible angles.
  • In the film Minority Report Anderton gets blasted through a window, where he encounters a group of contorting yoga practitioners. They are all bent up, and one walks over to Anderton with her head and arms contoured around her knees.
  • In the movie version of 12 Years a Slave, the first musical performance job Solomon is offered is said to involve creatures which can contort themselves in unearthly manners.
  • In Ocean's Eleven, Danny and Rusty recruit a Chinese contortionist/acrobat as part of their heist team. His job is to cram himself into a cash box so he can be surreptitiously wheeled into the vault.
  • In It (2017), Pennywise the Clown uses contortionist tricks to show up in disturbing places. Actor Bill Skarsgård apparently underwent extensive training to pull it off, no CGI needed.

    Literature 
  • In The Night Circus the resident Tattoeed Lady, Tsukiko, is also the contortionist.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is Colette, a contortionist who initially befriends the Baudelaires in The Carnivorous Carnival but winds up joining Count Olaf.
  • A midget contortionist who folds himself up inside a suitcase is integral to the seemingly impossible theft committed in The Thinking Machine story "The Lost Radium".
  • One of the "player"'s friends in a Give yourself Goosebumps is bent into the shape of a balloon animal by a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane birthday party performer. In one possible ending, she reveals that it was all a ruse made to scare you and that she was able to be "folded" such because she's a contortionist.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Avery in Dog with a Blog is a juggling contortionist.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles hired a contortionist to play a terminator named Rosie. Since terminators are implacable robots, this falls under rag doll.
  • Mission: Impossible had the team hire a contortionist when they came upon a mission that seemed to require someone taking an Air-Vent Passageway.
  • A victim of the week on CSI NY was one. He was found folded up inside a rather small box buried in the beach sand.
  • The serial killer known as "Sqweegel" on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was notable for his creepy, seemingly inhuman "spider-walking" gait and ability to fit through small spaces. The character's history (though not quite the same person, considering that "White Sqweegel" died in the book, and very messily) goes back to the Spin-Off digital novel Level 26; both specifically feature Sqweegel cramming himself into the spare tire compartment of a car. Both incarnations are played by real-life contortionist Daniel Browning Smith, creeping around in a body suit.
  • The host of Stan Lee's Superhumans is one of these in Real Life, and is introduced as "the World's Most Flexible Man" in Mr. Lee's narration.
  • Played supernaturally in two of The X-Files episodes featuring Eugene Victor Tooms: a serial killer with extreme contortionist ability, that allows him to squeeze through almost any opening to get to his victim.
  • In Game of Thrones, the prostitute Kayla at Joffrey's wedding was a contortionist. She was (perhaps obviously) played by real-life contortionist Pixie Le Knot (born Jennifer Keith).

    Professional Wrestling 
  • As it grew out of carnivals, professional wrestling has always had contortionists amongst its ranks. Yes, even in the days when it was not a worked sport, and the rise of Mixed Martial Arts have only strengthened the notion that it is pretty hard to make a contortionist submit.
  • Dianne Von Hoffman's brothers were champion amateur wrestlers and she said they would use her flexibility to come up with new holds.
  • Innovator and world record holder of a lift of the same name (which involves lifting a dumbbell while doing a split between two benches), Rob Van Dam, is known for being deceptively flexible(and agile) in spite of often having a visible gut. He can counter just about any hold that does not put him in a seated position by kicking the other man in the head, and sometimes the seated part does not apply either. He is also a decent back bender.
  • Low Ki isn't a traditional example, but he's very limber around his joints, not only being able to do splits and such but also being able to bend his arms in extremely painful looking ways.
  • Daffney Unger was described as one by commentator Don West, after seeing all the submission moves that failed to put her away. Even Amber O'Neal, who likes to show off by doing the splits, was taken aback by Daffney's displays of flexibility.
  • One of MsChif's main draws is that her flexibility, pain tolerance and deceptive strength make her a very adept escape artist in regards to submission holds and also allow her to apply some nigh inescapable holds herself. Primarily a front bender but can go both ways.
  • Chif's old rival Matt Sydal developed into a "yoga master" as his career progressed. Unfortunately for him, the benefits of his yoga regiments are most commonly displayed in the clutches of Kyle O'Reilly as he tries to wrench out a submission.
  • WWE played this up with Melina Perez even before they had her wrestle with her now famous splits entrance, then with signature big boot and finishing hog locked leg drop which ended in a split pin. Her back bending worked against her though when Beth Phoenix made Melina kick the back of her own head.
  • La Rosa Negra put on a demonstration for a referee at Fighting Evolution Wrestling trying to check her person for concealed weapons. Mickie James tried to do something similar at a Traditional Championship Wrestling event but was told she was on a family show.
  • In addition to his jumping spots, Jack Evans of Generation Next was known for his uncanny flexibility, which allowed him to survive squashes from Ring of Honor Champion Bryan Danielson that likely would have snapped a stiffer man into pieces (and were probably safer for Evans in the long run).
  • Back bender AJ Lee did a mild contortion demonstration for the NXT season three talent contest and commentator Matt Striker pointed out a lot of submissions probably were not as effective as they appeared to be on her.
  • While Heidie Lovelace's red baron "Punk Rock Rag Doll" mostly seems to be in reference to her ring gear rather than this trope, it was inspired by a beating she received from Lei'D Tapa which made her look as lifeless as a...
  • Ladybeard is quite flexible, which works well with his cross dressing male pinup model gimmick. He will show you his hairy bikini clad body and toned backside from all possible angles!
  • This is OVW wrestler Rebel's role in TNA's Menagerie, which includes strong man The Freak and Crazy Steve the clown. She often incorporates flaming objects into her routine but does not bring them into the Impact Zone, which has a history of fire trouble.

    Video Games 
  • Wraith from Saturday Night Slammasters, as if being a 7'2 Wrestling Monster was not enough he also incorporates amazing bends into his attacks.
  • Yun-seong from SoulCalibur II is of the high kicking and over 180 degree split example. In fact, one of his victory poses is just him jumping into the air, doing the splits and landing in that position. There is an unlockable demonstration where he shows off (along with sword handling because it is a fighting game). Voldo is an even better example, who besides his own demonstration goes so far as to have a curled up rolling attack among his crazy multiple angled strikes.
    • Tira can also, given her harlequin tendencies. Her movies are very acrobatic, and at times she raises her legs clear over and behind her head to take a swipe at her opponent.
  • Tekken 6 gives Voldo a more modern expy in the form of Zafina.
  • Street Fighter IV introduced Juri Han, who can bend her legs in an incredible number of positions, to the point that a taunt has her stretch one over her head.
  • Street Fighter V has assassin known as F.A.N.G. who in addition to using this to hide is so limber he can invert the way these performances are typically done by temporarily adding inches to his height. His main gimmick is to confuse opponents by delivering strikes from odd angles.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Exaggerated in The Batman where Rag Doll is so good at this he can fit inside of a hat! Even more so later, where he is crushed in the gears of a clock tower (much to Catwoman's horror) and not only survives, but comes out smiling, saying, "that sure worked the kinks out!" He doesn't seem to have an obvious origin, but there is a scene where he shows up getting a drink out of costume, where he's no less bendy.
  • An episode of Rugrats had Phil and Lil's mom fix up a date between a friend of hers who was a contortionist and Chuckie's dad. The contortionist appears in the episode walking on her hands. The following episode, Chuckie's dad tells his son that he is going on another date and says that the lady "will not walk on her hands this time".
  • An early episode of Beavis And Butthead had the two visiting the circus, and seeing one of these in the show. They visit her in her tent, and she reveals to them that she's double jointed. She's also a prostitute on the side, so she asks the boys what they like. Not getting her meaning, Butt-Head asks if she can pick her butt with her nose.
  • Ty Lee on Avatar: The Last Airbender is a circus acrobat who often performs casual feats of contortion.
  • A few moments from The Simpsons:
    • In "Bart's Nightmare (The Monkey's Paw)" from "Treehouse of Horror II", the family meets a yogi-style contortionist on the streets of Morocco.
      Bart: I could do that. I just choose not to.
    • In "Homer and Apu", Bart learns some yoga from Apu, and uses it to get out of school early, by pretending he got mangled in a car crash.
    • In "Lisa the Tree Hugger", the environmental activist Jesse Grass does yoga (he started before it was cool). He has his legs behind his head when Lisa meets him in jail.
    • In "Skinner's Sense of Snow", some acrobats at a Cirque du Soleil-style circus gives Marge the idea to clean her bathroom this way.
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