Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


Photographer: Sofie Knijff

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In a backroom near the centre of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, Norovsambou trains young girls to become contortionists. Her students are following a long tradition. Since the founding of the Mongolian State Circus in the 1940s, Mongolia has been one of the world’s top sources of contortionists, the best of whom have gone to perform everywhere from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre to the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival. Norovsambou runs a tough regime. Her students start their training at the age of five. For the next seven years, they practice for at least three hours a day. Only a few will become professionals. Some of them will get injured along the way. Others will lack the necessary mental toughness. Before she took up training, Norovsambou was a top contortionist herself, travelling the world giving performances and winning prizes. As well as her coaching work, she helps students from poor families find sponsors who can pay for their training.