Girl, 10, masters art of contortion _ and now foot archery

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — With her springy red locks, freckles and unforgettable toothy smile, Bella Gantt fits the bill for the perfect child star.

Bella has become an internet sensation, with videos of her performances going viral on YouTube and the promise of stardom soon to come through national television performances.

The 10-year-old is mastering the art of contortion, and it's obvious that she was born to do this.

"She was just naturally good at it," said Betsy Shuttleworth, co-director of Dance Extensions Performing Art Center in Canonsburg, where Bella and her mom, Kristianne Gantt, travel an hour several times each week from their home in Greensburg for training in contortion and ballet. "She's multi-talented."

Bella started taking lessons three years ago and recently mastered a new skill: foot archery.

Using the flexibility and strength she has gained in lessons, Bella — also known as "Bow Bella" — can balance herself on her hands and shoot a bow and arrow at a target using her feet.

During a recent warmup, she missed three balloons and shot out a plexiglass window in the dance studio. The arrows are real.

"We fix whatever needs fixing," Shuttleworth said with a laugh, as she casually used transparent tape to repair the window.

It isn't the first time that's happened in her studio and it likely won't be the last, as Shuttleworth is training several other young contortionists with various skills.

After realigning the tower she uses to support her hands, Bella successfully shot a balloon with ease.

Bella is a fifth-grader at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. She travels so often that it would be impossible for her to attend traditional school, her mother said.

"She trains a lot — every day — and we travel a lot," Mrs. Gantt said. "She's a hardworking little girl."

She frequently travels to Los Angeles, where she has performed with the all-children circus, Le Petit Cirque. She will perform again with the group on Oct. 22 for a Halloween show.

"Le Petit is the perfect exposure for her," Shuttleworth said. "She's the perfect age."

Bella recently filmed a performance for Steve Harvey's television show, "Little Big Shots," which is scheduled to air during the show's next season on NBC.

She also was recently featured during a live broadcast on The Weather Channel.

Locally, Bella is slated to perform Nov. 26 during the Pittsburgh Holiday Parade and Oct. 15 at a benefit for the Children's Pediatric Center in Aliquippa.

Bella's eventual goal is to become a professional performer, but she hasn't let success go to her head. She is quiet, humble and hardworking,

She started in ballet and then moved on to acrobatics, where she showed particular promise, before being recommended to Shuttleworth for private lessons. She continues to take ballet lessons with the studio's co-director, Dawn Churney, and ballet teacher Ashley King.

The key to being a successful contortionist isn't flexibility, as most people think, Shuttleworth said. It's core strength.

"If I had the choice between strength and flexibility in a student, I'd choose strength — it's easier to develop flexibility than strength," she said.

Mrs. Gantt said she sometimes worries that her daughter is too intensely focused on training, so much so that she occasionally has to force Bella to take breaks.

"She climbs on everything. She really knows her own body and she knows when to quit usually," Mrs. Gantt said. "This is really part of her heart."




Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
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