Junior Rebecca talks about life as a former gymnast
Observing the dancers in dance lab, it’s not hard to notice her seemingly spineless back
bends, the deep arches in her pointed feet or her leg held up at a 180 angle. Junior Rebecca makes stretching look easy and splits look painless—even without warming up she can slide right into a perfect spilt. Rebecca’s flexibility, the result of years of rhythmic gymnastics, is extreme even for a dancer.
“When I was little I would do cartwheels throughout the house and splits,” said Rebecca.
So at the age of 9, Rebecca’s mother signed her up for rhythmic gymnastics classes after school. This “for fun” extracurricular quickly developed into something more serious: passion and competition. On average, most girls start rhythmic gymnastics around age 6. Despite her late start, Rebecca’s coach noticed her natural talent and allowed her to skip levels to advance more quickly.
Herlove for the sport drove her to excel, “if I didn’t like it, I would have quit long before because it was really hard and painful.”
She described a typical practice schedule with her group at Texas Rhythmic
Gymnastics—three hours a day, three or four days a week. The group would start with warm ups: 100 jump rope doubles and an hour of stretching the legs, knees, back and arms.
Next, Rebecca’s least favorite part, conditioning for half an hour: 30 pushups, 90 sit-ups, and squats on one leg with the other extended straight at a 90 degree angle. After practice, “you never want to move again,” said Rebecca.
Everything was done with one pound weights on each ankle, the weights increasing as she advanced through levels. Finally, at the end of the day the group would perform routines, the part Rebecca looked forward to. Each girl’s routine was critiqued by the coach and polished.
Rebecca loved competing and performing because she got to use her competition equipment and wear delicate, one of kind costumes.
Rebecca remembers her favorite, a long sleeved leotard with a skirt and describes it as “mostly mesh with rhinestones all over it, it was tan and pink.”
Despite the glitter and sparkle, the focus was the competition. She had an “I want to win” mentality.
During competition, a rhythmic gymnast chooses 3 pieces of equipment to perform.
“Clubs, Ribbon, Rope, Hoop, Ball,” listed Rebecca in order of preference.
Unfortunately, Rebecca, who made regionals in the seventh grade, gave up rhythmic gymnastics, shifting her focus to the cello because her schedule was too busy.
“I was better at cello than I was at this,” and “eventually, you have to quit and you end up with a ton of back problems, and knee problems and neck problems”
These problems still plague here. Rebecca injured her back by overstretching while
Dance Lab was still learning choreography for a piece in the Nov. dance show, Canvas In motion.
Perhaps one of the pieces that stood out most was Chagall, Circus, also known as “the ribbon dance”. The piece was choreographed by Performing Arts Chair Beth Wortley.
“After studying the paintings by Chagall, I thought that ribbons would be a wonderful way to translate his love for circuses and fairs into dance,” she said. Wortley found “interesting ways to use ribbons in choreography,” reflecting the circular movement prominent in Chagall’s pieces.
Worltey said, “It was wonderful working with Rebecca,” who not only shared different
techniques with the class, but also choreographed her own solo pieces. Over the summer, Rebecca began preparing for the dance that would incorporate ribbons and her rhythmic gymnastics.
After nearly four years, Rebecca said it wasn’t really easy getting back into it, especially because ribbon was one of her least favorite props. She said she stretched and recalled moves from memory but said, “I had some things planned out but had to change it because of my back.”
Rhythmic gymnastics isn’t really a part of her life anymore. Rebecca has kept and lost some things from the sport.
“My flexibility has stayed with me, but my muscles have not.” Rebecca claims she is unable to do a single pushup. In fact, fellow dancers report that Rebecca sometimes fall during class, a result of overstretching at the bar. Often, she goes too far to pull herself back up and she has to ease herself to the floor to spare getting stuck or falling. Amazed at her flexibility, everyone laughs it off.
Fellow dancer Malaika believes Rebecca has “greater flexibility and more “bounce” so to speak, as well as balance due to her intensive training in the past.”
Now, dance is her only connection to the sport, and “Rebecca is really good at relating moves in dance to things she had learned in gymnastics in the past,” said Malaika. Rebecca said, “I took a couple of ballet lessons to help with technique” but truly picked of dance after she had quit rhythmic gymnastics. What she said she did learn and will never lose are the concepts of “perseverance, commitment, hard work—but with any sport, it’s like that.”