Amanda and Elaine Dai are sisters and competitive rhythmic gymnasts who train at Rhythmic Dreams in Newton, Massachusetts. "Rhythmic Diaries" is their account of balancing training and competing in this rigorous sport with being normal high school students.
Every summer marks the beginning of three months of gymnastics camp, or what I affectionately term "rhythmic boot camp." It's the time when we reflect on the season and try new skills, when we have lunch together between six hours of training, and munch on watermelon chunks. My favorite part, however, is when my coach, Ionela, choreographs new routines.
Ionela embodies many things -- passion, dedication, charisma -- but to me she represents one thing above all: creativity. During the summer, training is accompanied by a symphony of new music -- the result of hours of work on her part. As Ionela shouts corrections at us, she simultaneously listens to the music and experiments with apparatus handling. My teammates and I watch, enraptured by each new movement, and hope that she will decide to make our routine next.
All this culminates in the best moment of camp: When Ionela calls you in from lunch to work on a new routine. The fatigue from three hours of morning training evaporates, and I excitedly return to the carpet. While I stretch, Ionela puts my new music on repeat and we brainstorm elements and tosses. The instant we're done, Ionela is on her feet trying out new handlings. Ribbon in hand, she expertly whips the stick back and forth, up and down, to create a whirlwind of color and motion. During these moments, I forget to blink, captivated by the snakes and spirals that pattern the ground and the tubes and tosses that defy gravity.
"Oh! What about this?" Ionela asks, wrapping the ribbon around her arm only to unwind it in a boomerang toss.
I watch as the ribbon flies in an arc, its speed cut short when Ionela snatches the end mid-air. The stick touches the ground, and an instant later she pulls down on the end so the arc inverts and sends the stick soaring back into her hand.
"Or," she says, considering a new combination, "How about this?" She tosses the ribbon, performs three chaîné turns underneath, and catches the stick in an illusion. "Now you try."
The gym rings with the sound of apparatus hitting the carpet as we experiment with different combinations. An hour later, covered in sweat and panting with exhaustion, we smile triumphantly at the 30 seconds of the new routine. On those torrid summer afternoons, the dormant depths of our creativity blaze with life and meld together in one unique synthesis of gymnastics, apparatus handling, and dance choreographed to music.
To me, this process represents rhythmic at its best: the ability to translate ideas into reality. Anything and everything is possible when I'm in the gym releasing the ribbon in a switch leap, performing two somersaults underneath, and catching the stick in a third somersault -- it's all 100 percent possible. Tossing the ribbon with my foot in a front walkover and catching in a second -- perfectly doable. Rhythmic has pushed me to try, fail, and try more until my thoughts take form before me.
So have an idea? Try it. I bet it's possible.
And what does this process amount to? Take a look: