How Olympic Gymnastics May Be Merging Closer to How Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Will Be Judged
The idea of making gymnastics blend with a more artistic frame of mind actually goes back to the early 1800’s when the ballet and gymnastics world were set far apart. It wasn’t lost on those in the ballet world, though, that the sport of gymnastics had connective strings to ballet with the realization that the two could easily go together into something powerfully cohesive. It would have only been forwarded by demonstration or by cutting through the red tape of officials who controlled each respective entity.
During the mid-1800’s, it was the design of calisthenics and later eurhythmics that managed to finally connect the two as a form of exercise that helped young (and older) women get in better shape who worked as dancers.
Perhaps it was the technique of the “Grace without Dancing” courses from that time period that’s really the forefather (or foremother for that matter) of Rhythmic Gymnastics. The above was an American precursor along with a dozen other similar techniques built upon throughout Europe. But it’s the Soviet Union during WWII that started employing much of the techniques of Rhythmic Gymnastics in the modern era. The ribbon twirls, use of the hoops and batons, etc, were developed by the Soviets that more or less built upon a true rebellion in the world of ballet that usually gets forgotten today.
It was the iconoclastic ballet dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan who had led that revolt years earlier in the idea that many of the ballet moves employed in dance schools were unnatural to the human body and that employing some of the moves used in gymnastics would help the body move more naturally as well as moving it more within the realms of sport. By the time of Duncan’s notorious downfall, gymnastics was already long a medaling sport at the Olympic Games as well as outside that arena, yet still considered to be something that involved technical precision in order to be taken seriously. Nobody even considered employing graceful balletic moves in with gymnastics before, particularly because more than a few thought dancing didn’t denote athletic skill.
Well, it’s not much different today with the thought that athletics and dancing can’t really go together in regular gymnastics. Tell that to some of the few gymnasts in history who have played up artistry more than other gymnasts do. Current gymnasts such as Nastia Liukin, who won the all-around gold medal at the Beijing Games, grew up with the Russian balletic traditions, even though she and her parents moved to America when she was practically an infant. According to her former Olympian gymnast father/trainer, Valeri, they’ve played up the artistry in her routines because they know it’s her strongest suit. Considering her mother, Anna Kotchneva, was a rhythmic gymnastics world champion, the crossover to gymnastics with their daughter may have been intentional.
And that’s the question that lies with the world of rhythm gymnastics and the regular gymnastics world in coming years. According to FIG (Federation of International Gymnasts) the controversial scoring system will be changing again for the supposed better. That’ll be a relief to people like Bela Karolyi who expounded until turning red during NBC’s Beijing Olympics coverage about how bad the scoring system was since it was changed not long ago.
Artistry Being Counted More in Modern Gymnastics
The President of FIG, Bruno Grandi, has been fairly adamant in an Isadora Duncan way about getting balletic artistry to matter more in gymnastics. But there seems to be split camps on whether the technical aspects denote more skill or whether an artistic ability to express one’s self in a graceful way is more skillful. I argue that expressing your body in a way that shows captivating fluidity as Liukin did at the Beijing Games is much tougher to learn than anything technical, as you can see:
It’s not much different in the piano world where learning to play expressively and mastering rhythmic nuances (Rubato for one) is much more elusive than practicing like a hack learning how to master smooth scales.
It basically comes down to natural talent versus practical skill. In the world of artistry in gymnastics, you either have it or you don’t. While the U.S. Team was great, Liukin had the Russian school education where it’s all understood, despite still being American. The true American-born gymnasts don’t really care about incorporating the balletic gracefulness because they think the judges won’t reward it.
Even with each passing year, gymnastics is lot different and be merging closer to the still obscure sport of rhythmic gymnastics. That’s because Grandi’s stance that gymnastics needs to be entertaining in order to grow will start factoring into the scoring for the first time in history–and, hence, make gymnasts in the mold of Liukin be able to win more medals.
The only problem is that the more artistic side to gymnasts is starting to fade other than maybe a few from Russia and Europe. New gymnasts from the U.S. probably won’t bother with learning it anymore either because it’s just not a part of their… well, soul, if you must say that.
Expect the arguments to continue over art and technical, no matter what happens — because gymnastics has never been a sport where everybody seems to be happy with every outcome.