Interviewing Lila Woodard was a jaw-dropping experience.
How else to describe a 14-year-old junior high student with a straight A average who travels around the world performing as a contortionist in a circus?
That’s right, a contortionist who gives a whole new meaning to the word flexible. She can bend, twist, fold and move her tiny body — she is 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 90 pounds — in ways that seem impossible.
Lila has other talents that seem impossible, too, like shooting arrows from a bow with her toes while doing a handstand on canes high off the ground.
“It took me several months to learn the bow and arrow, and now my goal is to hit the bullseye on the target every time,” said Lila, explaining that “a contortionist is an entertainer who twists and bends their body into strange and unnatural positions. It’s a combination of ballet, rhythmic gymnastics and acrobatics.”
The daughter of Lindsay Woodard, a teacher at Laguna Blanca School, and Bill Woodard, principal at Dos Pueblos High School, Lila began taking ballet and gymnastics when she was 3 years old and three years later, decided she wanted to try flexibility tricks she saw on television and YouTube.
“I seemed to have a natural ability and enjoyed moving my body in different positions,” she said.
At the age of 9, Lila discovered Le Petit Cirque (The Little Circus), an all-youth professional circus based in Los Angeles founded by Nathalie Yves Gaulthier, a former child actress and competitive gymnast.
LPC consists of a wide array of cirque specialists, including acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, hand balancers, foot archers and other performing specialists, such as vocalists, dancers, hoop dancers and martial artists.
“It’s the kids’ version of Cirque du Soleil. There are about 15 in the group from ages 7 through 18. Besides the United States, we perform all over the world in Canada, Norway and the United Arab Emirates,” said Lila.
“One of the highlights was performing at the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in front of 10,000 people, with singer John Legend as the headliner.”
She earned a gold medal with her foot archery act at the 2018 World Championships of Performing Arts and earned silver medals in contortion and aerial.
“In June, we were supposed to perform at ‘Rock in Rio Lisboa,’ the Portuguese version of the iconic rock festival started in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, but it has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lila.
The five-day fiesta features musical megastars from rock legends to modern pop icons.
Although disappointed that she won’t be performing at the event, Lila has taken the cancellation in stride.
“It was an amazing opportunity, but rescheduling happens a lot,” she said.
Because Ms. Gaulthier, LPC founder, believes cirque is a tool for social change and education, a large percentage of the performances are for charities, especially those that support children’s causes — at-risk children, children with heart disease, youth athletics and children with life-threatening diseases.
Performances have also helped raise funds for world peace, Native American scholarships, breast cancer research, animal care and homeless veterans.
Three times a week Lila travels to Los Angeles to train with LPC thanks to a modified schedule at La Colina Junior High, and she expects to continue when she becomes a freshman at Dos Pueblos High School in the fall.
“I also teach classes in flexibility at Elevated Dreams, an aerial studio, in Santa Barbara,” said Lila, a junior spokesperson with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
Asked what her parents and friends think about her unique talent, she said, “My parents support me 100 percent. My friends ask me to do tricks for them. They think it’s really cool.”
Future plans include performing as a contortionist in other circus companies, especially the famous Cirque du Soleil.
“Circus companies are really big in Europe. When I’m older, I’d like to be a coach for kids like me,” she said.