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Mongolia: Contortionists Aim for UNESCO Recognition

Mongolia is appealing to the United Nations to have Mongolian contortion included in the UNESCO list of traditional cultural heritages. (Photo: Pearly Jacob)

For some, a contortionist is nothing more than a freak-show act, doing something unnatural, not a thing of grace or beauty. But in Mongolia, flexing and bending the body into seemingly impossible positions has been perfected into what some call a uniquely Mongolian tradition. And these advocates of the art form are seeking international recognition.

Contortion is a highpoint at daily hour-long recitals of Mongolian traditions at the State Drama Theatre, a stout ornamental Soviet-era building in downtown Ulaanbaatar. The applause begins when a female contortionist opens her act with a perfect handstand, her lower back arched until it almost touches the back of her head, legs delicately curved in the air with toes stretched to form an elegant “S” shape.

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Pearly Jacob is a freelance journalist based in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia: Contortionists Aim for UNESCO Recognition

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