Interview with the Contortionist

Rayn Hadley is a tal­ent­ed ac­ro­bat and con­tor­tion­ist from Es­sex, Eng­land, cur­rent­ly tour­ing with Orr's Great Ec­cen­tric Cir­cus. Fa­mous for stay­ing alive and well in the tight­est sit­u­a­tions that could pos­si­bly hap­pen to a young and promis­ing con­tor­tion­ist on stage, Rayn keeps amaz­ing medics, sci­en­tists, and most of all, the watch­ing crowd, with his brave and art­ful demon­stra­tions of the hu­man body's abil­i­ties.

Af­ter his splen­did per­for­mance, we fol­lowed him to his per­son­al room, which had a huge mir­ror in it and over­al­ly looked just like a minia­ture bal­let room. The on­ly piece of fur­ni­ture was a round so­fa which he claimed to be enough for all his needs, in­clud­ing sleep­ing, al­though we could not fig­ure out how he would have to coil him­self up to take so lit­tle space. He will­ing­ly demon­strat­ed and though nei­ther of us could pos­si­bly re­peat that pos­ture, from the way it looked it seemed like the most com­fort­able way for a hu­man be­ing to sleep. He then took a more hu­man-like po­si­tion, de­spite our hon­est ex­pec­ta­tions that he would be giv­ing the en­tire in­ter­view with his legs on the top of his head, or some­thing sim­i­lar.

We were of­fered a cou­ple of chairs from the next room, though I de­cid­ed to go as ex­treme as sit­ting right on the floor while my col­league Lin­da was rather busy with her pho­to­graph­ic equip­ment any­way.

M.R.: Rayn, you have shown some cer­tain­ly mind-blow­ing body-bend­ing stunts that a rare, if any, con­tor­tion­ist would be able to re­pro­duce. How does this kind of phys­i­cal per­fec­tion ac­tu­al­ly feel, would you please tell us more about the hid­den na­ture of con­tor­tion­ism, so to say?

Rayn: Of course. It's like do­ing such chal­leng­ing stuff that a mere sev­en min­utes on the stage tear all your joints in­side out, wear­ing you out like you wouldn't be­lieve, then on­ly an hour of rest to smoke a cig or two and let the body some­what re­assem­ble be­fore go­ing back to the gym where a 300 pounds ex-wrestler is con­stant­ly day-dream­ing to mag­i­cal­ly turn you in­to a walk­ing bub­blegum...

M.R.: Ah, that's crazy! Has he ever suc­ceed­ed?

Rayn: (laughs) Not re­al­ly, not with oth­ers. But with me he got pret­ty close, we've been train­ing for over 15 years al­ready...

M.R.: That's an amaz­ing­ly long-term prac­tice! Aren't you turn­ing 20 this year?

Rayn: Yeah, been bend­ing since I can re­mem­ber.

M.R.: Your back would seem­ing­ly snap in half so many times dur­ing the per­for­mance, which is very... un­usu­al by hu­man stan­dards, so to say. Every time it made me gasp but you seemed to stay so calm in such ap­par­ent­ly painful po­si­tions, I mean, if I had to do that I'd prob­a­bly scream in agony. How does it ac­tu­al­ly feel on your in­ter­nals?

Rayn: (laughs) Well, I'm not a medic, so I wouldn't know what goes where ex­act­ly, but the skin in­deed feels re­al­ly tense, gen­er­al­ly there's just a lot of ten­sion in the chest and stom­ach but it's very ex­cit­ing. The guts feel rather odd in­deed, but just be­cause you sud­den­ly start to sense them, while nor­mal­ly you don't even know where they are.

M.R.: Would they adapt them­selves to the po­si­tion?

Rayn: I guess. But it's bet­ter to do that on an emp­ty stom­ach.

M.R.: But still the spine wor­ries me a lot, is it healthy to bend it like that? All I can imag­ine is the ver­te­brae get­ting pulled apart as you fold your back like that. You're prob­a­bly go­ing to deal with some ma­jor back prob­lems as you get old­er?

Rayn: My moth­er and my grand­moth­er could do just the same, if I ever over­heard any com­plaints about the poor state of their backs, I'd think twice about my fur­ther train­ing. But just like singing or danc­ing, you have to fol­low the tra­di­tion­al meth­ods... Con­tor­tion­ism has been prac­ticed for thou­sands of years, there are tons of tricks to make it safe for a hu­man be­ing. But re­al­ly, bend­ing is just a form of art, like singing or danc­ing...

M.R.: Have you al­ways been good at bend­ing?

Rayn: I was good from the be­gin­ning (laughs). When I no­ticed it, I was bet­ter than most peo­ple.

M.R.: Have you en­joyed it since you were a kid?

Rayn: I'm from a cir­cus fam­i­ly, so my ear­li­est mem­o­ry is my moth­er teas­ing me with var­i­ous pos­es, she was as good as I am right now but I was re­al­ly clum­sy back then. Some pos­es I could re­peat out of my own clum­si­ness, but some com­plex pos­es I could nev­er re­peat, such as hand­stands.

M.R.: You've shown us some in­cred­i­ble hand­stand­ing to­day!

Rayn: That's all thanks to my moth­er, she's taught me many things about bal­ance.

M.R.: She must have been an amaz­ing per­former, and that just re­mind­ed me of one per­son­al ques­tion I kept want­i­ng to ask dur­ing the en­tire per­for­mance -- your out­fit, style, your man­ners, the over­all look, every­thing makes you re­al­ly ef­fem­i­nate...

Rayn: Like I al­ways feared, I was ex­pect­ed to be born a girl (laughs). For a long time I pre­tend­ed to be one, on stage, un­til I grew up and it was too ob­vi­ous it's a mas­quer­ade. Then we ex­per­i­ment­ed a bit with ap­pear­ances, but it hap­pened that I was too used to the ef­fem­i­nate look al­ready, all the oth­er de­signs weren't just as dra­mat­ic. It's be­come more spe­cial when peo­ple could eas­i­ly tell the re­al gen­der but still couldn't be­lieve it.

M.R.: Were you asked about your sex­u­al­i­ty be­fore?

Rayn: (in a whis­per) Les­bian.

M.R.: (blush­es) That's un­ex­pect­ed. There are guys, you know, of­ten dress­ing like girls to at­tract oth­er men, aren't there?

Rayn: There are many cul­tures in the world, but I don't think I could ever date a guy, let alone sleep with one. Every­thing I like orig­i­nates from the world of women for the most part, not just my dress­es but the emo­tions as well, the aes­thet­ics, all the things I tend to like...

M.R.: This is quite a rare com­pli­ment to hear. Sooo... what kind of seed are you smok­ing right now?

Rayn: Just some nico­tine.

M.R.: It's al­ways like that?

Rayn: Yeah. Once tried some weed be­fore train­ing, was ex­act­ly the day when our sen­sei, I mean Mr. Wel­by, man­aged to turn me in­to a re­al walk­ing bub­blegum (laughs). No, ac­tu­al­ly the day af­ter it wasn't fun­ny at all... I had to take a three days break from train­ing.

M.R.: Man, that's aw­ful. But don't you know a drop of nico­tine can kill a horse?

Rayn: Yeah. I've seen some num­bers in The Times re­cent­ly, ap­prox­i­mate­ly 1,200 hors­es die of smok­ing every year.

M.R.: (laughs) So do you have any to­bac­co?

Rayn: No (laughs).

M.R.: Well, un­for­tu­nate­ly we're run­ning out of time here, I would like to have asked you more things, but I'll leave that for an­oth­er time. What do you want to say to all the read­ers, per­haps a mes­sage or your per­son­al slo­gan? Some­thing?

Rayn: I guess it's every con­tor­tion­ist's slo­gan -- no mat­ter how tight the sit­u­a­tion, al­ways keep your chin up.

In­ter­view by M. Rowen, pho­tog­ra­phy by L. York.
Dai­ly Bend

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