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Many factors affect the flexibility of performers including age, genetics, stature, and adherence to rigorous physical training routines. Most contortionists are generally categorized as "frontbenders" or "backbenders", depending on the direction in which their spine is most flexible. Relatively few performers are equally adept at both.
Skills performed by contortionists include:
Frontbending skills such as folding forward at the waist with the legs straight, or placing one or both legs behind the neck or shoulders with the knees bent (called a human knot).
Backbending skills such as touching one's head to one's feet, or all the way to the buttocks (called a head-seat), while standing, lying on the floor, or in a handstand. A Marinelli bend is a backbend while supported only by a grip at the top of a short post that is held in the mouth.
Splits and oversplits (a split of more than 180 degrees) may be included in frontbending or backbending acts. An oversplit may be performed while the feet are supported by two chairs or by two assistants.
Enterology is the practice of squeezing one's body into a small, knee-high box or other contained space which initially appears to audiences as being too small to contain the performer.
Dislocations of the shoulders or hip joints are sometimes performed as a short novelty act by itself. One example is lifting the arm to the side until it passes behind the head and lies across the top of the shoulders.
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