We talked with Sapphire Ng in July, 2020.
Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
I am Sapphire Ng. I am a guitarist, dancer and model by profession.
I studied contortion at Forgotten Circus School and London Dance Academy (LDA) in London. I trained in Russian Ballet, Classical and Contemporary Ballet, and Pointe Work Technique at Danceworks and Pineapple Dance Studios in London. I also trained in Ballet and Intermediate Jazz Dance Technique at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.
My training schedule has been largely flexible, and fitted around or determined by my job bookings. My dance photoshoots or contortion coaching sessions for example would double as my training sessions.
At times when my musical pursuits ruled the day, my training would be molded around the prevailing schedule I have, and around my body’s pace of recovery.
In the realm of physical training, I’ve worked predominantly as a professional dancer. Now, I’ve also started providing private coaching in contortion and flexibility. The biggest stage I’ve performed on as a dancer was when I was 10.
I performed ballet at Alan Tam and Hacken Lee’s—Hong Kong celebrity artistes’s—Live 2003 Concert at Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In my dance career, I’ve also been booked to dance on film sets, music videos, and dance photoshoots. I’ve also had my professional dance images published in fashion magazines, and displayed in photography exhibitions.
I began my training journey at the age of 10. I attended ballet classes, the discipline of which I studied up until Grade 5. Following that, I began an intense four-year period of Chinese dance training in secondary school when it was offered as a co-curricular activity; ballet wasn’t offered.
Later in junior college, I spent a year dabbling casually in breakdance. For the following five years, I focused predominantly on music, and trained mostly by the aerobic exercise of running.
Thereafter I returned to the rigorous discipline of ballet in the final year of my first degree program in music in the USA, studying it at an affiliated performing arts conservatory. Alongside ballet, I also studied jazz dance.
For my following two years studying my second degree program in law in the UK, I trained rigorously in breakdance. In my first year, I trained additionally in competitive cheerleading in my role as a flyer.
In my second year, I again returned to training ballet as I contemporaneously continued to train breakdance. This time I further specialized my ballet training into classical and contemporary ballet. It was also around then that I picked up dancing ballet en pointe.
I started training in contortion in the summer of my second year in the UK. I also sampled a range of aerial circus disciplines, including aerial silks, aerial hoop, and aerial trapeze.
What I love most about physical training no matter what discipline is its powerful therapeutic effect on my mind, body and soul. The sense of strength and power that training imbues in me is also particularly addictive. Not to mention the exhilarating sense of accomplishment as I attain certain training goals or milestones.
Physical training is like a drug to me. It feels like the air I need to breathe to keep myself alive.
Describe a typical day of training
I have a rather diverse training regimen. It can vary depending on my goals and projects for any one time. This period of time can be as short as one week, or for the time it takes for me to achieve a certain move or skill.
I currently train around four to five days a week. I structure my training according to the concept of upper and lower body split workout. Sometimes it is, however, inevitable that certain skills I work on work the entire body, and thus subsequent training days would be altered accordingly.
I now primarily focus on the discipline of contortion, incorporating as well concepts from ballet and other forms of dance in my training. I’ve thus since supplemented my training with hand balancing, which is a core skill set for contortionists.
Also in view of two of my contortion-guitar videos that have since gone viral on Facebook within the past week or so, the process of evaluating audience response to my videos will certainly affect what and how I train. Its implications on my training remains to be seen.
On the other hand, brainstorming and experimenting with ideas, or working on specific skills for future videos will affect how I approach my training.
I can describe a typical training week:
- Day 1: Upper body, consisting of hand balancing and back contortion. I work on handstands after a basic warm-up, working through a variety of shapes. I then warm-up my lower back if my lower back feels sufficiently recovered from previous training. I do a combination of exercises that work and stretch the lower back muscles both actively and passively. If I were particularly well rested, at this point I will proceed to elbow stands, or experiment with any new moves or skills that strike my fancy.
- Day 2: Rest day if I went really hard on Day 1.
- Day 3: Lower body. I’ve recently adopted a new progression of strengthening and conditioning exercises for the lower body. Upon their completion, I proceed to legs contortion. Sometimes I coincide lower body training day with one of my contortion-guitar videos. For such days, I adjust my warm-up according to the demands of the skill I planned to do, ensuring I don’t fatigue my legs too much before the video session.
- Day 4: Upper body. I customize my training according to the level of recovery of my upper body, and also draw from exercises from Day 1.
- Day 5: Rest day.
- Days 6, 7: Upper body and/or lower body, depending on the state of recovery of my body, what I feel like training, or any particular skills I might be working towards. I opt for a lighter training load if I still feel fatigued, and I sometimes do this by doing upper back contortion.
How do you keep going and push harder?
Habit is what keeps me going and pushing harder day after day. After training for more than a decade, it is almost inevitable that habit serves such an impetus in my life.
Obsession is another potential monumental factor. I am driven by an obsession for progress and improvement. I am driven by visions of what I want to attain. I am obsessed with constantly challenging my limits, and pushing the boundaries of what I perceive the limits of my body to be.
Other times it is witnessing the progress I’ve made thus far in my life that motivates me to continue on this journey in the hopes of continued progress. The sense of achievement and satisfaction from attaining new skills or improving existing skills plays a big role too.
Sometimes envisioning myself being able to execute specific coveted moves, or having mastered certain coveted techniques keeps me going on tough days, on days I just don’t feel like training, or on days I question the tremendous amount of time and effort I’ve invested in training in my life thus far.
Other times, thoughts of all I’ve invested into training keeps me going as to give up at this juncture seems almost profane. Occasionally I train to inflict pain on my body, and to revel in post-workout pain. But more often I use training therapeutically as the most effective method to regulate my moods especially after a bad day, even if that meant training when I’m utterly exhausted.
Most rarely but still an occurrence, it is a fear that my current level of fitness will regress, or an almost illogical need to maintain my physical appearance that drives me to continue training on “rest days” that are long overdue.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’ve never been as excited as I am now at this juncture in my training career. I feel the strongest and most flexible today than I’ve ever been in my entire life. This is despite the existence of days where I lament the fact that I would be exceptionally more flexible in my lower back today if I didn’t suffer an almost debilitating back injury at 15 years old that left me terrified of stretching my back only until around one year ago.
Contortion has been a major focus for me since around one year ago, and even more so in the past six months. Witnessing the progress I’ve made in this one year seems at best unbelievable and certainly previously unimaginable to myself; this makes me incredibly excited about the future.
My body responds very well to contortion training. Time will only tell what new heights I’m able to attain in the future with consistent training. I’m confident that in the near or slightly distant future I will break even more boundaries of my own body that I never thought possible in my life.
Though it remains a question whether in this lifetime I am able to attain the skill set that only professional contortionists have.
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
Injuries are part and parcel of my life, and I believe that of any athlete’s life. I get injuries fairly frequently, even if they’re mild injuries that heal in a few days, or injuries that seem to have a mysterious origin.
While I have my share of traumatic injuries from training, the bulk of my injuries in the last few years appear to be from overtraining. I had overtraining injuries that took between two to four weeks to heal, or even longer for any remaining tinges of weakness to evaporate.
Some of them were aggravated from continued training even after initial injury, others occurred as I continued to stress taxed muscles.
It’s been a long process for me to learn to be more disciplined and patient in resting my injuries. I’m mostly getting better at it by realizing that nothing good comes out of aggravating existing injuries.
Now I rest my injuries mostly by using muscle groups other than the offending muscle for training. A great example is a major left hamstring injury I got from competitive cheerleading.
Even after around a couple of years or more since the traumatic injury occurred, I feel weird tinges of pain in my left hamstring at certain angles or from certain movements. It’s since been years that I attempt to rehabilitate this injury by focusing on strengthening and conditioning, but not stretching.
It was unfortunate, however, that less than a year ago around the time I first picked up contortion, an erroneous evaluation from a contortion teacher that it is appropriate to stretch my left hamstring, coupled with applied pressure from the teacher in partner stretching resulted in a drastic worsening of my injury.
I’ve since resumed my attempt to rehabilitate this injury by strengthening the muscles, and stretching other muscles but the injured one.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I don’t follow any specific diet. I ensure I consume the major nutrients, and only try to avoid foods I perceive as fattening or too unhealthy. Living at home, I eat anything my grandmother cooks. Certainly, my diet living at home is more balanced than when I lived overseas on my own.
I never count calories, nor do I track specific nutrient intake or alter my eating habits when I’ve an upcoming dance photoshoot or job, or contortion coaching session.
I’ve only ever took BCAA supplements for a summer when I lived on my own in London. I felt that I wasn’t nourishing my body the best way I could to optimize physical recovery, and I was suffering from constant exhaustion (most probably due to the intense daily training and minimal rest).
Overall however, diet is certainly the most liberal part of my training. I just eat. Whatever I want.
What has inspired and motivated you?
I’m inspired by a diverse range of disciplines including contortion, dance, acrobatics, breakdancing and aerial circus. I’m also utterly fascinated with parkour though I’ve only attended several parkour workshops.
Most of all I’m inspired by the creativity and incredible heights athletes across these disciplines have achieved. What strikes me the most is what I perceive sometimes as an otherworldly level of skill that these athletes have attained. What absolutely stuns me as well are athletes who infuse a unique style and approach to their discipline.
Right now, I’m most astounded by flexible breakdancers and circus artists whom I perceive as the epitome of strength and flexibility, and body control.
I had a breakdance mentor who continues to inspire me. Staying in contact with a few of my breakdance mates also provides a source of motivation; sometimes it helps just knowing that there are others who face a similar struggle when it comes to honing their skills.
I certainly have to thank also my breakdance peers who continue to direct me to sources of incredible athletic work that could potentially spur me to think out of the box.
On the other hand, I’m currently entering this stage in my training career where I start to be more experimental, and feel an ever greater thirst to break out of existing moulds.
Certainly the ability of a piece of work to serve as an inspirational springboard for greater creativity is largely dependent on the eyes of the beholder.
The best advice I’ve received relates to the notion of persistent training. Sometimes this advice was conveyed to me verbally, other times I witnessed it in action in my breakdance peers, whom until this day I perceive to be some of the most hardcore athletes I’ve known and whom I’ve had the fortune and pleasure of having trained with. They showed me the value of grit, and of persisting in spite of pain and setbacks.
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
The most important thing, I feel, is for one to focus on his or her own journey, to pay no mind to others, and to commit to a goal, work consistently and not give up until the goal is attained.
I get the impression that oftentimes for beginners especially it is most challenging to persist at a certain training regimen if results are not seen immediately. It is also often true that for many disciplines and art forms, the enjoyment of that activity only increases exponentially after attaining a certain skill level.
I will remind everyone no matter where they are in their training journey, including myself, that sometimes all you need is to have faith, and to believe in the process, to trust that if you put in the effort, the results will eventually and inevitably come.
I believe firmly in the notion that every little effort put in day by day makes a difference in the grand scheme of things; that laying a brick a day will one day build up to a wall.
Are you taking on clients right now?
I currently take on clients on a freelance basis, for in-person private instruction and online/remote teaching.
I specialize in coaching contortion and flexibility. But I also coach dance and ballet.
Contortion appears to be a lesser-known art in the country I’m currently based in, Malaysia. The general population understandably associates everything I do with yoga. There might or might not be more contortion practitioners here. But I think what I offer certainly stands out.
As for how long it takes for results to show, it is very client-dependent. Every person has a different body type which responds differently to contortion training, and differing starting levels of strength and flexibility. Age plays a factor too. Consistency and a willingness to train outside of class can also affect the rate of progress.
I’m probably most frequently asked if I have always been flexible. I would venture to say that I could have the flexible advantage since I was young.
However, ever since I picked up dance at the age of 10, I’ve consistently invested a lot of time and effort just honing my flexibility and related skills. My skill level today is merely a culmination of all I’ve put in over the years.
Where can we learn more about you?
My main social media channels are:
FB Profile: sapphire.ng.9
FB Page: SapphireNgGuitarist
Business enquiries can be directed to [email protected]
I have a blog containing my online portfolios: