Bent out of shape — in a good way

Magruder teen performs at contortionist convention

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006

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Photos courtesy of Sue Guy
Shelly Guy shows some of her contortion poses.

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Shelly Guy received a special present for her 17th birthday.

The resident of Rockville flew to Orlando on Oct. 28, which just happened to be her birthday, to audition for a spot as a performing contortionist with Cirque du Soleil.

‘‘Shelly made it through the audition process with Cirque,” Sue Guy, Shelly’s mother, said. ‘‘That means she is now in their database and will be considered for future openings with them.”

Not a bad gift to be noticed by arguably one of the world’s most impressive and avant-garde performing arts troupes.

‘‘It was definitely the best birthday present ever,” the Col. Zadok Magruder High School senior said, noting the 12-hour audition was both fun and rigorous.

If she is chosen to fill a spot, Guy said it would be a dream come true. After all, it was while watching a Cirque du Soleil show that she decided she wanted to begin training to become a contortionist.

‘‘I’d seen a lot of the shows and it was really cool and I could do a lot of the skills,” Guy said.

Naturally flexible from her years of training as a competitive gymnast, she said taking up contortion seemed like a natural progression.

‘‘Well, I started out with artistic or regular gymnastics, then after four years I switched to rhythmic gymnastics, which I continued for five years,” Guy said. ‘‘Then after breaking my foot twice in a row last year, I decided that my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore and it was time to find something else. Since I was already very flexible from rhythmic and I loved performing, I decided to become a contortionist and I’ve been focusing solely on contortion for a little less than a year now.

‘‘Contortion has been a lot better for me and it’s easier on my body,” she added.

Lean and lithe, Guy is active in her craft, performing on a regular basis and honing her skills whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Recently, she had a chance to do just that when she took part in the Fourth International Contortion Convention in Las Vegas. The three-day event, which is sponsored by the International Contortion Connection, occurs every three years in different locales and brings together 50 performers from all over the globe to hone and highlight their skills.

For Guy, it was not only a chance to visit Las Vegas for the very first time, but to also meet and perform with other contortionists.

‘‘The performance was amazing,” she said, noting that she performed as a solo act. ‘‘I was nervous and excited before I went on, and once I was on my table, I was completely confident and ready to knock the audience’s socks off. Second, I absolutely loved meeting everyone. I made so many new friends, and it was fun to share our fun and unique talents.”

While attending the convention, Guy said she had the opportunity to attend two workshops that helped her to strengthen and improve her skills.

‘‘I absolutely loved [the workshops] because I was working with some contortionists from Cirque du Soleil,” she said. ‘‘They gave me new things to try and helped me work on my one-handed handstands.”

Back home in Maryland, Guy said she trains with a private coach twice a week.

She also gets some additional practice working for Cast of Thousands, a Washington, D.C.-based company that provides entertainment for parties and corporate events.

‘‘I’ve done around 30 events with them over the past few years,” Guy said. ‘‘It’s a lot of fun. They also have a makeup artist and costumes for me, so it’s neat.”

Pam Burton, president of Cast of Thousands, said Guy has been working with the company since 2004 performing both as a contortionist and as a ribbon dancer. She said she is continually impressed by Guy’s physical flexibility and positive attitude.

‘‘We’ve been using Shelly for the past few years for mostly large, corporate events,” Burton said. ‘‘She loves to perform, and over the years she’s really grown both as a contortionist and as a performer in being able to really capture the attention of the audience. She’s always so excited about performing and she always gives 100 percent every time.”

Guy said one of the best things about performing is seeing the shocked expressions on people’s faces as she bends her leg over her shoulder or demonstrates her favorite position: bending both feet underneath her chin.

‘‘My favorite thing about contortion is that it is very unique,” Guy said. ‘‘It is so much fun to perform in front of an audience, who is amazed and shocked by what you do.”