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What is Mongolian Contortion?

Updated: May 7, 2023

You might have notice that Calmness Hotline added new workshops and classes to their schedule for 2023. That includes a Mongolian Contortion workshop, coming up soon. What in the heck is Mongolian Contortion? you asked yourself. Well I had the same questioning moment, so I did the research for you.

I have to say, I found the Internet quite confusing regarding this ancestry discipline. A lot of articles talked about representing the beauty of the (female) body and how little girls in Mongolia start contortion classes at a very young age, as it is part of the country's culture and traditions. Mongolian Contortion could be compared to some form of slow dances, as the artists will be performing to traditional music. You might have seen contortionists build shapes and poses including multiple people, creating out of this world human constructions.

But then, am I allowed to learn this discipline as a western adult? I didn't even know what was different between Mongolian contortion and a normal flexibility or yoga class. I wanted to write an article about this sport/art form, but I didn't feel informed enough. So I decided to have a chat with the best person to answer my questions : Narlton Tsang!

Narlton will be giving the Mongolian Contortion Workshop next Sunday, January 29th so he is obviously the only person who can satisfy my need for knowledge.

Question : You specialize in Mongolian Contortion. I didn’t even know there were different types of contortion! What are the differences and advantages to learning Mongolian techniques instead of other types?

Answer : There are lots of different regions in the world from which contortion comes from, such as Russia and China. They all have their own special technique and style, the way they are performed, different signature tricks, etc.

I have not really studied the other ones, but I can tell Mongolian Contortion is focusing on control and stability. You always see Mongolian contortionists put a full cup of water or a bird on their head and they can still do tricks smoothly without letting any of them fall.

I have to say, all types of contortion are good, with different characteristics. The reason why I emphasis that mine is from Mongolia is because my technique has been doubted before from previous coaches, as it's are different from their idea of contortion. And to be honest, even within Mongolian Contortion, there are also differences in between coaches. The main reason is that I do respect my coach and respect the place where I have learnt Contorsion so so so much. I am so honoured to have been trained under him. That's why I say Mongolian contorsion instead of simply contortion.

The first coach I had more than 10 years ago, I left after one class. I didn't feel good at all in that class, I didn't like her tricks and training methods and she made me lose my interest for Contortion. But then I met my Mongolian coach, it was just another world and it matched my body and mindset so well. It was like: THAT IS WHAT I WANT! And the training has opened not only my body but also my eyes in Mongolia. So I can only say, finding a good match, a coach who really knows how to train you and make you feeling comfortable during the training, that's the most important.

Q : From what I’ve seen (on the internet), there seems to be a lot of hand balancing in Mongolian Contortion. Does one need to be able to hold a handstand before learning the contortion part of the sport?

A : Mongolian Contortion contains so many parts actually, hand balancing is just one of the topics. Please remember that your training is always depending on your desire. There are also so many things to practice besides handstands!

For me, training contortion means learning to control your body. Handstands are just a way or action to show your control. If you can do a handstand, you can master it during practice. If you don't know how to do it, you can train right when you start! No one is born with handstands. Moi non plus. I also started training handstands at the same time as Contortion actually!

Q : You’re offering an intro level workshop at Calmness Hotline on January 29th. What should people expect to learn from this class?

A : For the workshop, I will show and explain more precisely what Mongolian Contortion is at first and I will try to get familiar with each student to understand their desires and the weaknesses on their body during the warmup. Contorsion is a really big cake, we can't learn all the skills or master it in a short period of time, but I will spread the workshop into two topics : splits and backbends.

Q : How flexible do you need to be to assist to this workshop?

A : I'm open to all levels of student to be honest. Packed with many years of teaching from age 3 to 60+, I am quite confident to teach according to everyone's levels no matter if you are super flexy or tight, and if your body is weak or super strong. As I said, Contortion is a big cake, there is always something you can train.

Q : Are there any prerequisites students should already have beforehand?

A : Many people have this huge misunderstanding that contortion is all about pushing/pulling yourself into extreme flexibility, which hurts from their experience or looks like it hurts from videos on the internet. But as I said, Mongolian contortion is about the control, the mobility. I started Contortion when i was 27 already, and normally Monogolian contortionists start at 5. We can't compared ourselves but it doesn't mean we can't learn it and practice it. My experience actually provided an amazing opportunity for me to learn, experience and understand how to transform all the techniques to fit in an adult body without pain and injuries.

Q : How does contortion come in handy with pole or other aerial apparatuses training?

A : I am a pole dancer first. Contorsion helps me get into the bendy tricks for sure. And it actually reduces the chances of injuries and I feel more powerful because of the higher mobility!

This is so interesting! I love learning about new techniques and different circus skills. The Mongolian Contortion World seems to be so vast, I feel like I'm about to open the Pandora Box of contortion. I wanted to learn a little more about our new coach, as he recently moved to Montreal so I'm guessing most of you don't know him. Here is the second part of our little Q&A :

Question : How did your circus journey start?

Answer : I practiced gymnastics when I was in High School and I was an elementary judge at the Gymnastic Association of Hong Kong, so I was teaching in primary and secondary schools and I would judge the local competition from 2009 to 2012. I started pole dancing in 2013 and became the first male pole representative in Hong Kong, I competed in different international Pole competitions. I opened up my own Pole Studio in Hong Kong and I was teaching there since 2016. After the pole teaching became my full time job, I felt like I needed to find something else to be my new interest, but which could also enhance my pole skills. So I chose Contortion. I found a coach in New York who is a contortionist and he learnt from Mongolia. He recommended me to do a contortion workshop in Mongolia. So I just Googled it, sent a request, bought the ticket and went. The decision changed my whole life and I am really thankful to have done it.

Q : You recently moved to Montreal, what are some of your projects here?

A : I have just arrived Montreal 5 months ago and I am still exploring! My goal, beside training hard to get myself back in shape to be a circus artist, I would love to continue teaching and build up my coaching career here for sure, as I love spreading the knowledge and love of Pole and Mongolian Contortion! I do enjoy convincing people with my classes that contortion training is actually fun and safe! I am so thankful that Calmness Hotline is offering me a chance to start here and I hope I can meet more and more people and eventually settle down in Montreal.

Q : Any advice for someone starting a new circus discipline?

A : My advice is : be humble, try hard and enjoy it! You can't learn anything if you don't enjoy what you are doing. It's always hard in the beginning but don't give up!

I hope you now understand a little more what Mongolian Contortion is. It's mostly skills that need to be shared from one Mongolian contortionist to a new one. A strict but very fun club. Are you ready to start your own contortion journey?

Some articles about Mongolian Contortion found on the Internet :

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