Arts & culture

Shannen Jones: How a passion for gymnastics turned into a career of Contortion and Foot-Archery

June 15, 2023

Shannen Jones

“It not something you can just do. I lot of people think you are born flexible but no, you have to show-up every day and continue growing and learning new skills,” says professional contortionist Shannen Jones.

One of the Gold Coast’s brightest young talents, 23 year old Shannen Jones has transformed her school-girl passion for gymnastics into a fully-fledged cirque-cabaret career, which has spanned Australia and abroad.

Shannen wowed audiences at Scotland’s famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has been invited to perform at Adelaide’s Fringe Festival three years in a row since graduating from High School on the Gold Coast in 2017.

“Online shows can’t replace live gigs,” says Shannen.

“I get a wide range of reactions from my acts. Some people are horrified but some people are amazed. I love that interaction between an artist and the audience.”

Having trained in gymnastics and ballet since the age of 4, Shannen spent nine years with the Elite Rhythmic Gymnastics Club in Burleigh Heads before joining the Gold Coast Aerial Angels Academy.

“I really loved gymnastics and it was my biggest passion ever but I realised that I enjoyed the performing side more than the competitive nature of the sport,” said Shannen.

From humble beginnings performing at school fete’s and Gold Coast community events, Shannen’s destiny was realised during a spur of the moment road trip to Byron Bay where she spent the day busking her cirque-contortion to the passing parade.

“At the time I was working at KFC and I had this overwhelming feeling that I should drive to Byron Bay and start busking in the streets – which was so random, I don’t know where that idea came from?”

“I ended up doing that and doing really well. That’s how I was introduced to street performing,” she said.

Shannen explained that street performing allowed her to polish her skills.

“Before I started busking I was only performing on stage with my seven minute acts and I didn’t really know how to speak to the audience or express myself vocally. When I started busking, I started with waving at people with my feet in handstands or solving a Rubik’s Cube with my feet – and novelty stuff like that. It allowed me to really break down that fourth wall and taught me how to connect with the audience and express myself in an entirely new way.”

Shannen credits the world record-holding sideshow and freak-show performer Chayne Hultgren for her transition into Fringe Festival performing.

“I was introduced to Chayne Hultgren, the Space Cowboy. At the time I was just learning my bow and arrow, I wasn’t really performing it but I reached out to him and told him what I was doing. He basically said that if I can learn the skill in time, I’d have a job at Adelaide Fringe Festival.

“The next year, I just finished graduating from High School then had this month long contract – it was incredible,” says Shannen.

“Growing up, I wasn’t really aware of the opportunities we had here on the Gold Coast for artists.

“Now that I’ve grown up a little bit more, I know that there is lot of room for art and exploration here.”

In 2022 Shannen earned the title of Guinness World Record holder for the farthest arrow shot using feet, with a length of 18.27 metres.