From: Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 21, 1886.
The performers of what are known as “contortion acts” are ordinarily emaciated, loosely jointed persons, like ill-made manikins that have a tendency to tumble down in heaps, and their doing of unnatural and preposterous things with their vertebrae and limbs seems easy enough for such creatures, who have no muscle to get in the way of the bones that they fling so carelessly about. Hence it is rather surprising to see a person who is a model of physical perfection do these same feats, and when that person happens to be an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, graceful in every movement as a kitten or an infant, with the perfect form of an ideal Venus and the strength of a young lioness, surprise blends most happily with admiration.
But such performers exist, and the cuts given are of a contortionist the writer has in mind. It is Miss Julian, who is now performing with her brother at Barnum’s circus.
The phenomenal female was taught her art by her mother, and was only 5 years old when she received her first lessons, and was kept in training for three years before she made her fist appearance in public in Melbourne, Australia, where she was born. Her mother had been a contortionist before her, and her father was an athlete; so both were fully competent to give her the necessary instruction covering a wide range of performances, of which the contortion acts are only a part.
Before making her appearance in public it is necessary to work in the dressing room for ten or fifteen minutes, in order that she may get thoroughly warmed or “limbered up,” which exercise is similar to the public performance - bending in all directions, balancing, twisting, and so on. Clubs, dumb-bells, and other apparatus are never used, as they are not necessary, and nothing is done in the way of dieting or any other exercise except that which is incidental to her performance to keep her in training. She weighs 145 pounds, and is five feet three inches high.
There is no foundation for the popular notion that contortionists rub themselves, or are rubbed with certain oils to limber the joints and make their limbs more flexible. The only things needed to make a contortionist are natural aptitude for the work and long, patient practice, begun at an early age. The work injures on one, and most persons rather like it.
The nomenclature of the professional contortionist is peculiar, and few outside the profession can understand it. Here is some of it according to the young performer’s way of putting it:
“We change our programme frequently, for we have almost an infinite variety of acts, but this is what I do now. First there is an entree, in which I throw my brother over my head and he throws me, you know. Then the back-and-forward bends, forward bend in chair, backward bend and ‘flip-flap’ - all one trick; next two hands, one hand, no hand and ankle; next the steeple on the chairs; next the wrestle, throwing my brother over in a pancake, and then in a flip-flap; next ‘pyramiding’ up the backs of chairs, a row of flip-flaps and roly-poly, when I put myself in a ball, with my feet over my shoulders, and roll around; next picking up a piece of paper, running backward and forward in a back bend; finally running around my head on the floor. My brother is of great assistance to me. He performs with me, and together we do round off, flip-flap and back, spot backs, pyramids up the chairs, hand balance on the steeple chair with corners cutting off and so on.”
[Note: This is Rose (or Rosalie) Julian, said to have been born in Australia in 1867. Her brother was Martin Julian. The Julians traveled the Variety Hall circut as well as performing with circuses. They did perform with Barnum, Cole, Cooper & Hutchinson's Greatest Show on Earth in 1886. Later, Martin became the manager of the well-known pugalist, Robert Fitzsimmons. After Fitzsimmons divorced his first wife, he married Rose Julian. Fitzsimmons' first wife married Rose's brother, Martin. At least one newspaper account states that Rose and Martin's mother (probably Aimee/Amy) was married to Leon Samwells, possibly the Leon Samwells who was a gymnast, acrobat and had trained animals. - Judy Griffin]
Last modified October 2005