By Angela McAdrian
Mary Pat Letourneau is a performance artist and award-winning choreographer in Chicago. She graduated from Columbia College in 2015 with a BFA in dance. Her specialty and passion lies in contortion and she is known for what she calls “contortion dance.” She loves to blend together contortion with various other forms of dance and aerial arts. Her choreography background includes dances for several music videos for Chicago music artists such as Towkio,Donnie Trumpet and Chance the Rapper. Ever since she was young,Mary Pat would gather together friends and cousins and create different types of shows and so it seems creating awesome moves is just something she is meant to do. Mary Pat has performed at Chicago clubs Untitled and The Drifter and sometimes performs with Ultra Angels as well as Bacchanal Promotions,a circus arts company,along with Quixotic Fusion. She also teaches flexibility and dance classes at the Chicago Academy of Pole and Dance. Since the age of three, Mary Pat has been dancing,starting at various dance studios in the Chicagoland area. For Mary Pat,contortion and dance is life,and it’s obvious Mary Pat is following her bliss and that it will continue to lead her to wondrous and interesting paths. Mary Pat’s work combines grace,fluidity,and the art of the eerie that is a treat to see.
photo by Melanie Bert
1.) Can you tell us how you got into contortion and how you first discovered your abilities?
Contortion is something I didn’t have to force into my life, I feel like this art crept into my body and that I am doing what I was meant to do. I initially wanted to be a contemporary dancer, however, gradually throughout the years, there were various incidents where I discovered I am naturally flexible and that it was my strongest trait as a dancer. I decided to focus on contortion training around the time I was in college and eventually trained with Oyuna Yadamjav, a Mongolian contortion trainer in Chicago.
2.) Can you tell us more about contortion dance?
I like to identify as a “contortion dancer” because I enjoy combining contortion with aspects that are important in dance, such as musicality, body movements that are not just tricks, and techniques that I have learned in my ballet and modern classes.
3.) What’s a typical work out for you like?
I mainly focus on pull ups and hand stands every day. I try to do at least 20 pull ups and 50 hand stands 6 days a week. I have a plank/side plank sequence I do before every performance as well. Strengthening every muscle in the body is important for a contortionist, but the core is the most important. It is not safe to contort without a strong core. Throughout the week, I’m stretching and strengthening my back, shoulders, wrists, hamstrings, and hips, as well as, working on conditioning, skills, and choreography on pole, silks, or lyra. I try to have one day off a week, but sometimes I have a rehearsal or have to teach classes. I also try to walk everywhere.
photo by Zandro Zafra
4.) Do you have any best tips or advice you would give to someone wanting to become more flexible in their daily life?
Try not to avoid stretching for more than 3 days. People generally only benefit from the results of working out and stretching for 72 hours afterwards. Also, still stretch if you are feeling sore, just listen to you body and do not push too much. It is all about finding balance-discovering the tension in the body and releasing it, engaging muscles while relaxing other ones, and knowing when to push yourself and when to relax.
5.) What is your diet like?
I’m a pescatarian, I eat fish but not other meats. I try to eat as balanced as possible. I’m very active, so I stay away from diet plans and anything that is low in fat and carbs. Unfortunately, it’s hard for contortionists to eat before performing or training, so I end up eating smaller snacks throughout the day and then I eat a lot at night.
6.) Do you get nervous when performing?
photo by David Hidding
7.) What has your performing experience been like? How long have you been performing for?
Performing is my all time favorite thing to do. I love the nervous feeling I get. Right before I go on stage, it feels like my skin is peeling off like I’m a snake and my character is revealed. I started officially performing at the age of 3 when I was put in a dance class…technically I did not really perform and just stood there and did my own thing, but I was on stage! My first contortion performance was 3 years ago at Untitled in Chicago.
8.) Reflecting back,do you have any favorite accomplishments as a contortionist?
I felt accomplished when I realized that I created 21 acts and performed in 208 shows in the year 2016.
9.) Has contortion had any benefits in your day to day life-or have there been any downsides to being a contortionist?
I mostly benefit from contortion. I feel like I am extremely aware of my body and simple tasks, such as bending over, are very easy for me. I guess a downside would be sore muscles occasionally, especially when it’s cold out.
10.) Can you tell us how your other interests such as aerial and pole (and any others) connect with contortion? How does one help/influence the other for a style that is uniquely you?
Being a contortionist is very helpful for pole and aerial because more tricks and movements are accessible and may look more interesting. Aerial and pole has really helped me to strengthen my upper body and core, which has allowed me to perform certain contortion balances and tricks.
11.) What motivates you? What inspires you?
It depends on what phase of my life I’m in. Currently, the vibes of certain individuals who are new in my life have been inspiring me. It’s hard to put to words what those vibes are.
12.) Besides contortion,what else,what other interests, are you passionate about and do you love?
I love oil painting and doing make-up art.
13.) What are some upcoming things for you?
I am going to Europe for the first time in April! I will be traveling to Paris and London.
photo courtesy of Mary Pat Letourneau