Rhythmic Gymnastics

January 12, 2010
I interviewed Delia Z., my best friend. She was a rhythmic gymnast who competed in the Junior Olympics and this interview is about those experiences. Rhythmic Gymnastics, an Olympic sport, is a combination of ballet, gymnastics, and dance. There are five apparatuses used: ball, clubs, hoop, ribbon, and rope. I will be identified as E, and Delia will be identified as D.

E- What’s your favorite move?

D- The chest stand. You have your chest on the floor and then arch your back until your feet go over your head, and reach the floor in front of your face. At first I never thought I would be able do it, but it’s pretty cool—you turn yourself into a circle. I also like a move called the illusion. It’s hard to explain, and people tend to look at you and say, “What is she doing?” but I thought it was cool. It really is an illusion. You begin as if you’re going to do a front walkover and then you flip one leg and your torso in an axis while the other leg stays on the ground.

E- How many hours a day did you practice?

D- I practiced 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Practice started at 4 PM and ended at 8 or 9, but it was in Brooklyn so it took 2 hours to drive there. When I got back home it was usually around 10 or 11, I started my homework at 12, and I went to sleep around 12:30-2.

E- What’s an average practice session like?

D- Well, we have a warm-up which is pretty fast—like 100 double jumps with the rope (jump rope). Then we do splits and then ballet routines. There are these set ballet routines that we always do to music, so we all line up at the bar and do the routine together when the music goes on. Then we do oversplits, where you put one foot on a chair and one leg on the ground and do a split from there. The PAIN! That’s pretty quick—in that position for a minute. Then we do diagonals, which is where we all line up on the carpet on one side of the room and then one person does a move to the other corner of the room—a kick, a leap, or some other move, and then you wait for the rest of the people in the line to do the same move one at a time. Then we get apparatus—ball, hoop, clubs, rope, ribbon—and we practice individually. Then an order of music comes on one by one—you have to set a time if you want your music played, and then when your music comes on you do your routine and everyone else has to get out of your way. Then we have conditioning. Everyone hates conditioning. Basically, it’s painful activities. We do oversplits on two chars instead of one and stair exercises where you put your tiptoes on the stair and then have to lift your feet up and down –you get cramps feet from that.

E- Whenever I see a ballerina in everyday situations, I think they’re beautiful. Their posture, straight backs, just the way they walk makes it seem like every step is elegant—a dance to them. You can see ballet all over them—their bodies are the product of their art. What do you think about this beauty that all rhythmic gymnastics must have?

D- I don’t see it. I’ve seen my friends coming out of school with backpacks, and I don’t think that every step is like they’re doing rhythmic gymnastics. It’s just normal to me. But then again, whenever I see violinists put their violins under their chins, I think it’s really beautiful. Even not-so-good ones--it’s like an air they have —like they’re really into the music—you can see it in the posture and I think that’s really elegant. But if you looked at them you’d probably think they look stupid. It’s normal for you.

E- Do you think RG took over your childhood?

D- Well, I did have a reputation for what I did. RG took a lot of my time and my nickname was “The Rubber Band.” One time we did gymnastics as a unit in gym, and it was really easy for me. I was so happy. They were doing bridges and then my teacher said, “Now try to do a split but if you can’t, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. I was just sitting there in a split and I was like, “Wanna bring a chair over?” (reference to oversplits)

E- Did you consider people at school ignorant?

D- No, it was just frustrating because people don’t understand that in rhythmic gymnastics you don’t flip. They say “Oh, you do gymnastics, like the flippy stuff on the bars,” and I’m like, “No.”

E- How do you deal with the pain? It’s like self-induced torture.

D- It’s not torture. We know that it’s going to hurt if you want to get better, and that’s what we do. It’s not that we enjoy our own pain.

E- What is your opinion of the rhythmic gymnastics lifestyle?

D- Well, at 20 you’re an old lady. Go quit already. It’s really hard to maintain flexibility after 20. After that, really all you can do is coach. That’s all you’re good at. All your accomplishments are in the past. Even if you go to the Olymipics, it would be a great accomplishment, but do you know the Olympic gold champion is? Her name is Alina Kabaeva—have you ever heard that name before? Exactly. It’s not like “Oh, Tiger Woods, yeah I know him.” People are really unaware of RG.

E- Any tips on how the reader can gain flexibility/ be able to do a split in (hopefully) less than a year?

D- Stretch in the lunge position, which is kind of like on one knee like you’re proposing, but then you stretch the back leg as far back as it can go. Sit like that for a while every day, but remember that your hips have to be aligned—it’s called squaring.

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