Yasen Maslenko

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"We have a strong belief that one taking something from the nature has to give something in return," tells Yasen Maslenko, the male contortionist from Ukraine.

Since the ancient times, the heathen East Slavs believed that the trees in the forest are none else but the spirits of the deads: that huge oak could be your grandma, this birch could be your brother who didn't get back from the hunt...

It was very common to hug trees but it was also not forbidden to cut them, according to the beliefs the tree wouldn't die from being cut since it already represents a person in their afterlife. But everything made of a tree had to be taken a great care of: wooden decorations became valuable talismans, wooden houses were treated as sacred places, always kept clean and well protected from fire.

But taking so much hard wood from the nature, what could they possibly give in return? Of course, the spirits also needed some entertainment and wouldn't mind getting a hard wood from time to time either. And for that purpose the most beautiful youths in the village were taught how to dance.

These dances known to the Slavs since ancient times were quite demanding of one's agility and flexibility, not just anybody could perform them. Trunks, stumps, branches and hollows, all served as props to the limber lumberer, as only after properly pleasing the tree he was allowed to take it.

Yasen began studying the basic moves ever since he was a child, of course the final dance was not for children's eyes but even as a child he could begin stretching his body and patiently wait for his coming of age to get to the more interesting part.

"In the actual heathen tradition, youths have to dance in the nude, but for the sake of this international gymnastics tournament I was asked to come up with an interesting outfit. Well, I based it mostly on how peasant boys around Kiev used to dress many centuries ago: a loose white shirt and long tight red boots. Usually the shirt would be long enough to fully cover the butt as panties weren't invented yet, but I heard the tournament can appreciate a good high-cut!"
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