Elayne Kramer wants to get one thing straight before we go any further: She was not born double-jointed.
It’s the question she gets asked most about her job.
“I wish I were,” she says. “It would make life so much easier.”
She’s also not a dislocater, meaning she doesn’t purposely throw out parts of her body for the sake of a good contortion. (Yes, some performers do this.)
Instead she trains. And trains. And trains.
Staying flexible enough to sit on your head is one thing. Staying flexible enough to sit on your head while balancing on a pole using only your mouth to support you is quite another.
There’s a reason why Kramer appeared three years ago on Ellen DeGeneres’ TBS variety show. She’s one of the best hand-balancing contortionists around.
Her signature trick — shooting a bow and arrow with her toes while doing a backbend on a balancing pole — earned her a third-place win at the 2008 Monte Carlo International Circus Festival.
“A lot of people ask me if it’s an original trick,” says Kramer, who was raised in Sarasota until she was 13. “It’s actually an old trick. I’m happy to be one of the people bringing it back to the circus.”
Currently billed as the grand finale in Circus Sarasota’s “Summer Circus Spectacular,” the 20-year-old performer is giving local audiences something to talk about as they exit the Historic Asolo Theater.
For example: Does she ever drop her bow or miss the target?
“Sometimes,” says Kramer. “That’s why there’s practice — to make perfect.”
Born into a long line of Argentinean circus performers, Kramer is doing exactly what she had dreamed about when she was a little girl on the road with her family.
Her mother, an aerialist, and her father, a world-renowned circus clown, urged her to focus on ground acts. They’re safer. The rigging is minimal, and you don’t have to depend on someone else to keep you afloat.
Shortly after her fourth birthday, Kramer started training her body to bend.
“I remember watching this one contortionist,” she says. “Her act was beautiful. I’d seen other contortionists before but never like her. She made it look easy. It was like watching a ballerina. She was so calm and peaceful. I couldn’t stop watching.”
Naturally, Kramer developed a similarly enchanting routine centered on backbends and slow, flowing poses and a strong upper body.
She remembers her first trick: a surprise handstand act for her father’s birthday, which she performed on a makeshift table that her mother draped in red velvet. She was 7 years old and not quite ready to perform under the big top.
By the time she was 14, she was bending over backward for Princess Stephanie of Monaco and nailing her bow-and-arrow act blindfolded on the short-lived ABC talent show, “Master of Champions.”
“I’m constantly watching videos of myself,” Kramer says. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, I did a somersault, ta-da.’ A five-minute act might take years to perfect.”
To maintain her Gumby-like form, Kramer avoids exercises that strengthen her back muscles, such as sit-ups and weight lifting. Though not a waif, she’s small and fit but not muscle-bound like a gymnast.
It might sound metaphorical, but a strong back doesn’t easily bend.
“It’s a bit tricky,” Kramer says of her fitness regimen. “You have to know what exercises to do.”
Logging too many miles on a treadmill would cause her legs to bulk up, which would, in turn, throw off her entire act. Most of her workouts concentrate on strengthening her arms and abs.
“It’s not just about strength,” Kramer says. “It’s about balance and starting early. If you start early and keep up with it, you can get your body to do anything.”
IF YOU GO
Circus Sarasota’s “Summer Circus Spectacular” runs now through July 28, at the Historic Asolo Theater. Shows begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays. For tickets, call 360-7399 or visit ringling.org.
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