Why I (Still) Won't Teach Your Child Contortion
This is a re-post from the old blog site when I first opened Kudzu Aerial and remains one of the most-visited articles on my site.
My teaching philosophy comes from the belief that we only have one body in this life and we have to learn how to nurture it into difficult poses, rather than force it (and the best part is that the science backs this belief up).
The following is the article with a few minor updates in content & graphics, if you want to visit the original story, you can read it here: http://www.kudzuaerial.com/fromthevine/noteachcontortion
I've had several requests to teach Over-Splits, Needles, and Back-Bending moves from parents and children over the years. My answer has not and will not change: No.
That isn't to say I won't teach healthy stretching, but contortion is usually not a safe or reasonable exercise for most bodies to practice - especially, the bodies of adolescents.
Our social media feeds are clogged full of bendy kids or performers who take it to The Extreme but the problem is, that no one sees what it takes to get there, or what happens next.
People who go viral with their talents are usually the products of years of moulding into a certain way, and before that, they had the correct anatomical build to get to where they are. You are born with the body you have, and it is the only body you will have, maximize it's use, don't limit it by pushing yourself to the point of injury for an Instagram photo.
I don't want your child's back pain on my conscience, no matter how badly they want that Instagram photo. An injury is not worth a few hundred likes. An adult life spent in chronic pain is not worth a "viral video".
I realize to many I come across as a hypocrite, my personal Instagram account is chock-full of me being bendy...but at the heart of it all, I'm not proud of being bendy - I was born bendy, I'm proud of the strength I've struggled to build my entire life. Aerial made that strength possible.
Every ounce of strength I've gained, I've had to train for EVERY SINGLE DAY. I know the oversplits look impressive, but the ability to use my body in a healthy way is why I continue to train, and why I enjoy teaching others.
For a majority of my life, my extreme hyper-mobility caused more problems than it solved. Thankfully, the dance training I received did not force my flexibility, otherwise, I can only imagine the problems I would have now.
I know I've lost a few clients because I won't teach them my "Secrets". The truth is my Secret is a genetic abnormality with several health consequences (including being blind in one eye, thyroid problems, and chronic pain for several years of my life).
After suffering a hip injury in my early 20's (related to my EDS) I had severe lower-back pain and limited mobility for years. I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anyone. Thankfully, I had a very skilled chiropractor who also practiced acupuncture who helped me avoid surgery. But the road to recovery was long and there were many days I would cry with just the act of getting out of bed.
I know I am very fortunate. Most people who get back pain are stuck with debilitating pain for the rest of their lives. I don't want your child's back pain on my conscience, no matter how badly they want that Instagram photo. An injurty is not worth a few hundred likes. An adult life spent in chronic pain is not worth a "viral video".
This being said, there are some great contortion instructors out there (and I can recommend a few), but the best ones will never FORCE you into anything you aren't ready for. If you or your child are serious about pursuing contortion, research your teacher and what their health background is. The sad truth is, most teachers don't have the knowledge of the danger of teaching back bends, forcing splits, and encouraging hyper-mobile students to "show off" their skills.
Adolesents don't usually know the difference between good and bad pain, but they do know they want to please and will go through exhaustive efforts to look a certain way. This is unhealthy and won't give them what they need to sustain a career in movement.
Go ahead and look at any true professional dance company, how many times does the corps do a "Needle" in the middle of Swan Lake, or The Sugar Plum Fairy does a backbend in the middle of her pas de deux? Don't confuse tricks with art. Kinetic arts are about strength and grace and movement quality. Art should never be about taking away your joy or your body's ability to function as you age.
The same lesson goes for life. Hard work and grace will allow you to pass through life with your head held high. I can teach your child that. In fact, if your child works very hard, that split and back bend will come (maybe not to the extreme level you want) because with proper training, increased range of motion is possible....but that requires hard work, focus, and dedication.
And I'm okay with taking a little more time to make sure that your child gets what they need to have a healthy body for life.
For me that's my professional #goal.