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Rhythmic gymnastics – art or sport?

Rhythmic gymnastics

Modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan could have had a crack at gold in the Olympic rhythmic gymnastics — but is it art or sport?

A mixture of both would be the answer from Slava Corn, the Canadian vice-president of the International Gymnastics Federation.

Look past the spangly outifts, fixed grins and thick layers of make-up. Detractors may shake their heads in bewilderment over all this multi-coloured kitsch but just watch what the gymnasts can do with a twirling hoop or a swirling ribbon.

“This sport has a difficulty score which is the content and it has an artistic score which is the performance and the presentation,” Corn said.

“It is a sport in our minds but obviously it does have a huge artistic component. For us it is a sport expressed in an artistic way.”

Among the gymnasts you can see the wafting and willowy influence of Duncan, widely regarded as the founder of modern dance, whose passion for flowing scarves killed her. Duncan was a passenger in an open-top car when her silk scarf got caught in the wheel axle and broke her neck.

“Ballet and all forms of dance have certainly influenced gymnastics,” Corn said.

The music at London’s Wembley Arena has been a gloriously incongruous mix. The Bulgarian team went for a Beethoven piano sonata. Germany opted for Fast Five Cheeky Bits. Azerbaijan’s Aliya Garayeva chose Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On, while China’s Deng Senyue hoped Michael Jackson’s magic would rub off on her with Smooth Criminal.

Lyrics are banned, the gymnasts can use only the tune as accompaniment. Sounds “such as engines, police sirens and objects breaking are not allowed”, the rules state.

Perpetual motion. Poetry in motion. If they can combine the two, the gymnasts are up there with top marks but some real disasters must be avoided. Never ever let your hoop flutter in the air. Woe betide the gymnast whose ribbon gets knotted. Always balance your ball impeccably like a performing seal. For the club-wielding routine, think drum majorette meets juggler.

In the London 2012 competition, the commentator was lost in admiration for South Korean Yon Jae-son’s hoop routine, telling the crowd: “She handled her apparatus magnificently.” The gymnasts in their spangly outfits have to sit in the “kiss and cry” seats in front of the audience waiting to hear their scores.

Detractors may dismiss the sport as being over the top but there is no doubting the skills of the gymnasts who start as young as six perfecting their ball, hoop, club and ribbon routines.

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