S.Oyun-Erdene: Mongolian style of contortion is unique because it combines flexibility and strength

  • By chagy5
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  • 2024-03-27
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S.Oyun-Erdene: Mongolian style of contortion is unique because it combines flexibility and strength

Contortionists are one of the precious and rare cultural passengers of Mongolia. Contortion is a traditional art form created to show the beauty of the human body by bending, folding, and creating various positions. Oyun-Erdene Senge, Mongolian contortionist of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, is one of the passengers advertising this distinctive tradition, culture and heritage of Mongolia. She broke the Guinness record by performing the most contortion roll push-ups in 30 seconds, beating the previous record of 21 push-ups with her total of 24. Oyun-Erdene has been practicing contortion since she was six years old. Therefore, today, we have prepared a compelling interview with this experienced contortionist. 


Congratulations on holding a Guinness World Record title. Why did you decide to try for the Guinness World Record?


I work for the touring production Alegria–In A New Light by Cirque du Soleil and they approached our show to see if artists wanted to break any records. I have been known for my push ups in my contortion community. Therefore, I asked if any contortion push up records had previously been attempted and there was one. The record was 21 contortion roll push ups in 30 seconds and I set a new record of 24 in 30 seconds.


Can you share your story about becoming a contortionist with us? 


My mom always wanted me to try contortion and she thought it was a very cool profession because you get to perform all around the world. Unfortunately, she passed away when I was six years old but my aunt remembered her wish and decided to act on it. So we went to audition at Norovsambuu’s contortion school and I started the three month trial period. Once that ended, I got a spot in the school to learn contortion full time.


When was your first time working as a contortionist?


I did my first show one year later when I was seven years old at the old National Circus for a children’s day. It was a really fun experience to perform with my contortionist friends and all the acts I performed were in groups.


You have been an artist of the Cirque du Soleil since 2004. Can you share your journey of joining this circus?


When I was 10 years old, Cirque du Soleil’s casting team came to Mongolia to audition circus artists. I auditioned with my partner Ulziibuyan Mergen because we were doing duo contortion. The audition was fun but I had no idea what Cirque du Soleil was. Once we passed the second stage of the audition, they said, “We will contact you if you will be a fit for any show”. One month later they contacted my coach asking if we wanted to join Alegria by Cirque du Soleil and honestly it was kind of a shock. We were very young, also we never thought they would want to work with us right away. Of course, we signed the contract and started training for the show in Mongolia for 10 months. Then when I was 11 years old, I flew by a plane for the first time of my life and flew to Montreal, Canada where the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil are located. I went to do all the costume fitting and make-up sessions there and a week later I flew to Toronto and trained for three weeks and after that I did my first performance on the stage of Alegria in September, 2004.


Now, you are an artist of a major Canadian-based organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. So, in your opinion and experience, what is the thing that contortion in foreign countries differentiates from Mongolia?


I think Mongolian style of contortion is quite unique because we combine flexibility and strength, as a result we are able to create very strong and beautiful contortion acts. Many other countries do have contortionists but sometimes they focus on one element whether that’s strength or flexibility. Also, we have created a great contortion technique because we have been doing contortion and studying it for almost the last 100 years in Mongolia which gives us lots of experienced coaches. These coaches have been teaching the young generation to do contortion safely with the great technique they acquired in their lifetime. 


Is there any chance to work as a contortionist in Mongolia?


There are definitely some events and shows we can do in Mongolia, but unfortunately there are not many long term or full-time jobs as contortionists at the moment. The type of large-scale touring production shows that I have been part of unfortunately don’t visit Mongolia nor do we have an equivalent of this type of entertainment back home. 


Are you planning to do anything for Mongolian contortion in the future? What is your future plan? 


I love the circus and it will always be part of my life so I would like to keep doing contortion and sharing my knowledge with the young generation in many different ways. I still love performing on stage so that’s my focus for now and I would like to keep the surprise of the future and excited to see what opportunities it will bring me.


How does it feel to present Mongolia and its contortion, one of the most valuable cultural heritages in the world?


I feel so honored to represent my country all around the world for the last 20 years. I have been so lucky to have this opportunity to perform in four different productions of Cirque du Soleil over the course of my career. I am grateful for my family, friends and my amazing coaches, they have been supporting me throughout my career. Without all this support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do on stage for so many years. I just feel very grateful for life and what a cool chance to be representing my cultural art. It is an amazing feeling every day. 


What is your opinion on contortionists in Mongolia and around the world, who are passing the cultural heritage which we can find only from Mongolia, to the world?


From my perspective, all the contortionists are so proud to represent their culture and country. Especially Mongolians, we are extra proud because contortion is our cultural art. We have great coaches sharing the art of Mongolian contortion around the world but it takes a long time to become professional. Therefore, to this day, Mongolia is still producing the best contortionists. 


How do you think the contortion affected you? What is the impact of this rare cultural legacy of Mongolian nomads on you and on the society?


Contortion has completely changed my life. It is a great feeling to do my cultural art and travel the world and be a modern nomad. I change cities every two months and perform for over 3,000 people almost every day. I met so many great people around the world and I love sharing about my culture and our traditions, and spreading the knowledge of circus as well. I am very proud to be a Mongolian contortionist and to inspire audiences from all over a world with an art form that mesmerizes them.