Brooklyn Boro

This Brooklyn woman can shoot arrows with her feet

May 17, 2019 Scott Enman
Jeff Stilt lifts Aryn Shelander up while she performs foot archery. Photo by Renee Choi

There’s a peculiar industry growing inside Brooklyn nightclubs, and it involves acrobatics, bows, arrows — and feet.

Contortion foot archery is exactly what it sounds like: People distort their bodies all while shooting a bow and arrow with their toes.

Aryn Shelander of Crown Heights, 29, enjoys taking it up a notch, combining foot archery and contortion with partner acrobatics.

Photo by Renee Choi
Photo by Renee Choi

She routinely performs handstands midair while using her partner, Jeff Stilt, 33, as support. But it’s a different feat that really elicits gasps from the crowd. “People generally freak out when I pull my ankles under my chin,” she said.

The entire act requires immense dexterity and is part art performance, part sports spectacle. It requires flexibility, strength, balance and grace all at the same time.

Aryn Shelander balances on Jeff Stilt's head. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry
Aryn Shelander balances on Jeff Stilt’s head. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

The artist said her performances enhance the party and give attendees something to remember long after the night is over.

“It adds to the element of awe and amazement,” Shelander said. “It’s something very tangible for people to talk about. People go home from a party and they might say a party is awesome, but to say that they saw someone shoot a bow and arrow with their feet while balancing on top of another person is a pretty memorable moment.”

Shelander and Stilt have performed at venues all across New York City, including at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

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Shelander trained in San Francisco before eventually honing her skills in Mongolia, where the form of contortion she practices originated. Mongolian contortion tends to be slow, elegant and steady, as opposed to other methods that veer toward grotesque and erotic.

Joy Fully performs at House of Yes. Photo courtesy of the artist
Joy Fully and Glenn Vasaturo (Tilt Movement Company) perform at House of Yes. Photo by Brynne Levy

In addition to foot archers and contortionists, there are other performers who can also make a night out truly unforgettable.

Take Joy Fully, 31, of Bushwick, who works as an acrobat and aerialist at many Brooklyn venues, including House of of Yes, Lot 45 and at BangOn!NYC’s parties.

Fully believes that her performances, along with those of other artists, help break the ice on the dance floor. Some partygoers, she said, may be shy when they first arrive to the club and the dance floor is sparse. Seeing someone else acting so freely makes them feel more open.

Joy Fully (left) performing with Mar Orozco Arango for Lightning Society’s Burlesquerade. Photo by Chris VMP

Fully has performed in cages, hoops and platforms high above the dance floor, molding her movements to the music while attendees dance below.

“We live in this society where we want to see people doing amazing things all the time and have as much stimulus as possible,” Fully said. “Aerial puts you at this different vantage point. We bring energy up to a level that dance can’t because you’re elevated above people. It’s dancing in the sky.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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