Certified Contortion & Movement Coach

Hi there! My name is Vanessa Barthelmes,

My personal mission is to educate students on
safe effective contortion training.

Hi there my name is Vanessa,

I am a certified contortion and movement awareness coach.

As a newcomer in the circus arts industry many years ago, I was very surprised to find out the industry is completley unregulated!! no educational training is required :S

I personally saw a large problem with that which is why it is my personal passion to teach others body awareness and technique to self empower athletes on a safe practice.

Getting Certified

In an unregulated industry how am I certified to teach? ......

Contortion is a hybrid of gymnastics, and flexibility resistance training, with elements of dance. So I became certified in those areas and more!

My Qualifications

USA Gymnastics University Instructor
Progressive Ballet Technique
Cert Personal Trainer
BSc Sport Science, Sports Coaching (current)
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Yoga Teacher Training 200hr
Dance Teaching Assistant Modern Dance
Aerial Bunge Dance Instructor
Pilates Instructor

Contributing Factors

To an Unregulated Industry

A large contributing factor to the lack of regulation is that contortion is a performing art that has been handed down from coach to coach over time.

Below are several fitness titles and the qualifications behind them to empower your decision when choosing a coach.

Fitness Titles &

What They Mean

Different fitness certifications educate the professional in various techniques. Some certifications are simple exams others take up to 7 years!

Here is a run down of titles you may come across when searching for your flexibility and contortion coach.

Different certifications will determine the amount of study and knowledge known in regards to body mechanics

Strength &Conditioning Coach

A strength and conditioning coach is a fitness and physical performance professional who uses exercise prescription specifically to improve performance in athletic competition. Strength coaches also help athletes with injury prevention and proper mechanics within their sports performances.”


“A personal trainer is a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction. They motivate clients by setting goals and providing feedback and accountability to clients. Trainers also measure their client’s strengths and weaknesses with fitness assessments.” They assess basic biometrics, prescribe modalities of exercise and correct form (hopefully but sadly not always), track progress, provide feedback, motivation, and accountability.


Athletic Trainers (ATs) are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians. The services provided by ATs comprise prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.


Physical therapists (PTs) are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects.


Group Exercise Instructors are fitness professionals who teach, lead, and motivate individuals through intentionally-designed exercise classes. Education needed is High School Diploma and simply take the group instructor exam.


A yoga teacher is a fitness and wellness professional who leads group classes in yoga. Must complete 200 hours of the yoga curriculum. High school diploma is needed.


Instructors that teach aerial arts, contortion, flexibility and acrobatics. There are no certifications anyone can declare themselves an instructor as there is no regulating body.

Populatrity vs expertise

Popularity vs Expertise Ok. So the world of advertising has made this one a little harder to spot. I remember over 10 years ago when I was completing my marketing degree I would always wonder how these amazing designers or hairdressers achieved these amazing write ups in leading magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Harpers and Vogue.

My internship at a leading magazine publisher in Australia opened my eyes. When you are reading these write ups there are two distinctive types editorials and advertorials.

Editorial By Vogue. Not paid for.

Advertorial By Vogue. Paid By Brand For The Article.

Pretty hard to tell the difference right? Using this method it would be pretty easy to create authority and serious buzz around your name and brand. The customers will come swarming.

Why am I telling you this?

Things are not always as it seems. I want you to learn from my mistakes.

I took a class with a highly reputable leading contortion studio a few weeks ago. We were instructed to go into the splits 10 minutes into class and I was barely warm. Consequently I lost my two block over split and couldn’t even touch down in my splits afterwards.

Ok so you could say maybe the class was a little advanced for me but…

A good teacher will recognize when students are at their limits.

Then create alternatives to either decrease or increase the intensity of the movement.

An exceptional instructor will ensure they know the students body limits and limitations before starting the class.

It has been over 5 months and I am still not flat in my split. That was just from a strain. Imagine if I tore a muscle.

Please remember just because someone is popular it does not mean they know what they are doing. As we saw popularity can come from great PR, Ads and Publicity.

Tell Tale Signs If you are sore after a class that is not a good sign. That means you are creating micro tears in the muscles and now they need to repair those tears.

Flexibility training is NOT a no pain no gain situation. Pain = Game Over.

Every time you stretch and are sore after class you are becoming less and less flexible.

This may not be your teachers fault. It is more than likely that you are pushing yourself way too far. Stretching should never be painful, you should not be at the point where you are grimacing or holding your breath. They are all major signs you are pushing your body too far!

I do want to add an exception to the rule of being sore after class. It is more than ok to have sore abs and back muscles (not from crunching bones) but from increasing their strength. This is normal and a good sign that your body conditioning and strength is moving forward in the right direction.

If you are told that an instructor can help you get flexible fast. Run for the hills.

Don’t do something that does not feel right because the person is popular and a leader in the industry. Do what feels right for your body and search for trainers with qualifications.

Even if you are with a qualified trainer and it does not feel right in your body, do NOT do it. Take it easy and discuss it with your trainer at the end of class.

It’s always ok to ask what your teachers qualifications are. There are a lot of unqualified teachers out there that can and will do damage to your body. You only have one so treat it right!

Implied Qualifications vs Real Qualifications When you are searching for a trainer it can be pretty easy to be mislead. For instance there are many fancy words out there like anatomical stretching or trained by “Leading popular name in the industry. ” This can lead to false sense of security or assumed qualifications.

While they may have been trained by someone who has qualifications without having the knowledge to work with the body does not qualify the instructor.

When it comes to injuries, the balancing act of strength and stretching you need to be able to draw from your tools and deep understanding of the bodies functionality.

Not only are we looking for qualifications but the weight of them. For instance someone who has done a personal training course can be qualified in 12 weeks online. 12 weeks is not nearly long enough to understand the complexities of the contraindications that happen when we move stretch or strengthen certain areas of the body.

Personal trainers and many certifications out there are not trained to hands on manipulation of the students body.

That is exactly why a physical therapist is a doctorate degree because there is so much more you need to learn to safely work the body.

My first contortion teacher whom I will forever have on a pedestal is Anya Schevelyuk. Not only did she become a contortionist from scratch in her adult life, Anya has a physical therapy degree and a nursing degree. If I trust any one with my body it’s her.

Now I am not saying that every coach you work with needs to be a physical therapist. They are pretty rare in the flexibility industry. Just make sure you weigh the qualifications in your decision making process.

Ask for the qualifications before you invest your body and time there are plenty of instructors out there with 0 qualifications which means 0 insurance.

You flexible fast but it will come at a cost and your body will wear it.

Recommended Instructors & Coaches I am not the be all and end all and I will never claim to be. I am forever a student just like everyone else. The day you stop learning is the day you fall behind the curve.

I know of many wonderful instructors that I feel safely recommending as I have experienced working with them and I know their education and history.

Feel free to send me an email with your goals and what you are looking to achieve. If I can’t assist you I will recommend a trusted coach. At the end of the day I want you to get the best results for your body.

I hope this information will get you on the right track to your goals safely.

Here’s to good health,

Vanessa Barthelmes. Bsc in Health Science sub major Sports Science, 200hr Yoga Teacher Training, Aerial Silks and Hoop Instructor and Dance Bungee training.

Hi! I'm

Mariah Johnson

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Mariah Johnson