Deshae ‘Boneless’ Rapheal says he’s the only person in Jamaica who can turn his head 180 degrees, and he’s built a career doing it and other skills as a self-taught contortionist.
“I used to say I’m a Jamaican with a white boy talent,” Rapheal told BUZZ. “The only person you can think of right now is Bruk Up, and I’m like the advanced version of him.”
Now a recording artiste, Bruk Up rose to prominence in the 90s as a contortionist with an acrobatic style.
Unique dance style
Rapheal’s contortion journey started as a way to help his mother after their house burned down when he was 16.
“Entertainment and dancing was a ‘hell no’ for me, I wanted to be a veterinarian, chef and basketball player,” he said. “After the house burned down, I wanted to help my mom get back on her feet, so I couldn’t focus on school or those ambitions. That’s how I turned to street performing.”
Attending Clan Carthy High School at the time, Rapheal spent his days learning dance moves in the schoolyard with dancer Kemstar, who was the first to notice something unique about Rapheal’s dance style.
“He said I have double joints, and I told him I didn’t. We started arguing about it and mi go home and Google it,” he said. “While doing that I came across the word ‘contortionist’. Mi couldn’t pronounce it so mi go on Google Images fi try get an understanding of what the word means. When I saw the images I said: ‘Wow, it’d be really cool if I can do this and also become the only person in Jamaica who can do this’. From there I just started to practise.”
He was initially hesitant to pursue the art form because of the murmur that could arise about an overly flexible man in Jamaica. But he needed to help his mom, so he started competing in street battles and competitions to make a name for himself.
With much determination, training and injuries, Rapheal got a breakthrough. He appeared on the Ity and Fancy Cat Show, drama series Real Friends and several music videos. Before that, he made it to the semi-finals of KFC’s On The Verge as part of the dancing duo Ebola in 2014. The platform opened doors to the live event circuit, but the duo soon disbanded because of consistent chump change offered by promoters.
Working at Sandals
Rapheal tried working at a bakery, ice cream shop, and even performed for those waiting in line at The US Embassy on Old Hope Road in Kingston. Then came an opportunity to work at Sandals South Coast in Westmoreland.
“I went there and was told they don’t need an audition, they already knew who I was, had seen my work and wanted to know when I could start,” he said.
“That’s where things took off. My ultimate goal was to get myself from where I was to where I want to be. Even when I was in the streets I saw myself in the hotel industry. A male contortionist isn’t something you see every day. We a talk bout stretch your joints, bend your body in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and not to mention the head-turning thing. When I do it at the hotel people literally run out of the building. The tip that I get from just performing that for five minutes covers someone’s weekly salary.”
Write a book
He’s on a mission to let the country know of his skills and has even made a pitch to American talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. He is also expected to appear in the music video for Bedroom Bully recorded by Jada Kingdom and Verse Simmonds.
Whether he’s going through a tennis racket or shape-shifting into a duck, contortion is now Rapheal’s lifestyle. He hopes to pursue it at the academic level overseas in the future.
“I’m also gonna open a yoga studio and write a book about my life. I’m obsessed with breaking the barrier, and I look at myself as an example of what the human body can do.”