The Dietrich Twins

This sketch is based on the re­search that Fil­ter-GX is cur­rent­ly mak­ing on the ori­gins of con­tor­tion­ists cloth­ing. I will just try to retell every­thing he brought to my at­ten­tion on this sub­ject mat­ter.

Ap­par­ent­ly, uni­tards (or cat­suits as the term stands to­day) were a pop­u­lar out­fit for ac­ro­bats back in as ear­ly as the 1800s. As one of the ear­li­est his­tor­i­cal records that cap­ture this fash­ion we can men­sh­ion the 1820s news ar­ti­cles telling us about a con­tor­tion duo of the Di­et­rich twins, who per­formed in Up­per Cana­da (cur­rent On­tario) and the Great Lakes re­gion.

Al­bert and Fiona Di­et­rich were a "front­ben­der" and a "back­ben­der" re­spec­tive­ly. Their par­ents were from Aus­tria and moved to North Amer­i­ca with many oth­er im­mi­grants at the time. The first records of them men­tion 14 years old broth­er and sis­ter pos­sess­ing as­ton­ish­ing phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, the girl for ex­am­ple de­scribed as "bal­anc­ing nim­bly on her fin­gers, rais­ing her legs above her head, and slow­ly set­ting her feet un­der her head, so her chin rest­ed on her heels".

An­oth­er lo­cal news­pa­per's ar­ti­cle men­tions them at the age of 16, pos­si­bly at the peak of their ca­reer as per­form­ers, this time it was ac­com­pa­nied with a care­ful­ly made draw­ing of the duo to fur­ther im­press the read­er. In­ter­est­ing­ly, the ar­ti­cle fo­cus­es not as much on their ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tor­tions as it is fo­cused on their sen­sa­tion­al choice of cloth­ing. Pos­si­bly be­cause such de­grees of body­bend­ing weren't some­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly new to see, but the clothes, of the girl par­tic­u­lar­ly, in­deed made quite a change.

Fiona, as the ar­ti­cle goes, wore a cot­ton uni­tard-like gar­ment, with a loos­er chest area and tight leg seg­ments. Pos­si­bly a shirt and leg­gings made of the same fab­ric and col­or were sim­ply sown to­geth­er to cre­ate this outift, ei­ther way it was seem­ing­ly the first ap­pear­ance of the uni­tard in the doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry, at least if we con­sid­er re­li­able sources.

The jour­nal­ist makes a crit­i­cal state­ment on the girl's at­tire, how­ev­er, say­ing that the tight body­suit made her body ap­pear "soaked in red paint, while tech­ni­cal­ly un­sheathed" on a first sight. How­ev­er, we all know that by the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry such body­suits be­came al­most an undis­putable stan­dard for ac­ro­bats both in Eu­rope and Amer­i­ca as it would per­fect­ly dis­play the per­former's body with­out putting up an open strug­gle against the strict moral stan­dards of the time.

Al­bert's low­er half of the body was al­so wrapped in the tight­est leg­gings, how­ev­er, his top was cov­ered by a plain white shirt with puffy sleeves. As we know from nu­mer­ous pho­tographs made of cir­cus artists, by the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry both male and fe­male per­form­ers used the full body­suit equal­ly, but in the 1820s such a sleek at­tire on a boy would prob­a­bly still cause a great moral dis­com­fort in the au­di­ence. Of course, still no­body would dare to walk in the street wear­ing such a uni­tard but on a stage it grad­u­al­ly be­came an ac­cept­able thing for both gen­ders.

There ap­pears to be no fur­ther ar­ti­cles about this duo, al­though "Al­bert Di­et­rich" is record­ed as al­so work­ing at a log­ging camp near­by, but it's im­pos­si­ble to say if it's even the same per­son.

Thanks again to Fil­ter-GX for shar­ing all this in­for­ma­tion with me, we had quite a dis­cus­sion, so I tried to com­pile it in a more plain and read­able form. Hope you en­joyed read­ing this and al­so look­ing at my at­tempt to por­trait the twins! XD

See al­so

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