A balancing act

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes a look at the gymnastics-based sports growing in leaps and bounds.

Cheerleading combines aerobics, acrobatics, dance, cheering and gymnastics. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cheerleading combines aerobics, acrobatics, dance, cheering and gymnastics. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Olympic gymnast David Phillips is humble about his extraordinary achievements, saying simply, "I was good enough, anyway." Good enough to be talent- spotted at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games by Cirque du Soleil, who he says tries to turn athletes into artists, which is no small feat.

"It's a very creative environment at the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal," says David, who trained for the circus but didn't perform because of injury. He is in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games with the New Zealand gymnastics squad.

"You walk into their building and there are amazing artworks on the walls, weird creations and sculptures everywhere - even the way the building is designed challenges your senses."

Cirque du Soleil brings people out of an athletic environment - Olympic gymnasts, trampolinists and acrobats - and puts them in a creative one, teaching them about dance, drama, stage presence, costume and makeup.

"It's quite challenging for a lot of athletes," admits David. "But it's pretty amazing and a great opportunity for gymnasts."

If you'd like to see your kids performing one day when this special circus comes to town, we've rounded up the options for the rough and tumble of gymnastic activities here in Auckland:

Artistic Gymnastics

You know a sport is popular when the BBC makes a minor-celebrity reality TV show out of it. The Brits are right now creating a gymnastics show called Tumble and judges include British Olympian, Strictly Come Dancing champion and all-round nice-guy gymnast Louis Smith.

We take our kids once a week to Tri Star Gymnastics Club, despite it being a trudge through rush-hour traffic from our North Shore home to Mt Roskill. It's testament to the club that we're happy to do this.

It came highly recommended and not just in terms of performance: the coaches treat the kids with respect and make the classes fun. The head coach even says, "ouch" whenever the kids high-five him, much to their delight.

There are different levels so any child can slot into the system, be it in the play gym or gym tots classes, right up to women's (WAG) and men's (MAG) competitive gymnastics classes. Tri Star also puts on a Man v. Gravity event with the help of its resident Olympian and head MAG coach, David Phillips.

He says for the right child, artistic gymnastics and its demands on time, technical skills and physicality, will appeal, for the element of challenge.

"My brother spent a couple of hours every day after school skateboarding or surfing," says David. "I spent it gymnastics training. It's not that many hours if you want to be there, and naturally gifted kids will enjoy the challenge."

The Man v. Gravity event is to encourage and reward the gymnasts with a high-energy, humorous family event, and to show off what they've learned, outside the gym routines.


An athlete stretches his body in Man v. Gravity. Photo / Jonathan Cole

"There are lots of different kinds of gravity in gymnastics," explains David. "For some, it's the physical challenges, for others it's fear, or trying to develop a work ethic. Man v Gravity is about overcoming weaknesses and pushing gymnasts to new heights."

The events also raised funds for the three MAG gymnasts from Tri Star who have qualified for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

To find out more, visit tristar.org.nz. To find an artistic gymnastics club in your area, see gymsportsnz.com

Rhythmic Gymnastics

I wasn't bad at artistic gymnastics back in the day, but I was terrible at rhythmic gymnastics - the two don't seem to be as closely related as you first think. Rhythmic gymnastics is far closer to figure skating and ballet than to artistic gymnastics, in my mind. Think graceful balletic or contortionist movements, all the while catching balls to slip gently around your shoulder, drawing pretty patterns in the air with impossibly long ribbons (it sounds easier than it is) and spinning hula hoops, possibly while balancing on your hands. There's a lot going on.

If you have a graceful, multi-tasking, athletic daughter, this may be the right sport for them. The leading club is called Xtreme Rhythmic, with three levels: recreational gymnastics, a national levels programme and an international programme.

xtremerhythmix.co.nz

Tumbling

If you've ever sat on the sidelines of a gymnastics class, you've probably witnessed a lot of waiting around for turns on the apparatus. Not so with Tri Star Gymnastic Club's tumbling class, which Ella Lord, aged 10, says keeps her moving the whole time.

"I got bored at traditional gymnastics," admits Ella. "In the tumbling class we get to just keep running and doing everything. It's really fun and quite different to gymnastics because we just use the floor and the trampoline. there's no lining up."

Ella's mum Susan says the level of tumbling she does would take a lot more hours to learn in a traditional gymnastics class. Concentrating on the one skill means she can do high-level tumbling, while still being able to fit in netball, soccer and flippa ball.

"Ella needs to be active," says Susan. "Sitting in a line waiting to go on the beam wasn't for her. Tumbling class is just the ultimate for her and increases her fitness levels, impacting on all her other sports."

Tri Star's tumbling classes are available for 5-15 year-olds in beginner, intermediate and advanced classes. The moves are also helpful for other activities such as cheerleading and hip hop dancing.

tristar.org.nz

Make-Trix

Another option outside of traditional gymnastics is Tri Star's Make-Trix class, a kind of parkour class for kids. Ben Leys, 11, has been doing the class for two years and he loves it. "It's like gymnastics, but the flips are more extreme," explains Ben. "It's exactly like parkour and it's made me change a lot - I've gotten a lot stronger, a lot more brave and I've learned to do things I never thought I would ever be able to do."

Ben thinks anyone can do it if they put in enough effort, but admits it takes a lot of guts to do some of the flips. There are no competitions or judges, but the class learns routines to perform at the end of the year.

Gym manager Ashleigh Henry says Make-Trix classes are good for kids with a lot of energy and a love of "throwing themselves around.

"Boys in particular love this class, they just want to do some awesome tricks," says Ashleigh, watching kids doing a 4.5m run up and over a series of blocks. "But we also have a girls Make-Trix class as well."

The kids are all moving - one's back-flipping, one's front-flipping, another is springing off his head to land on the carpet. There's definitely no sitting around and being disciplined in this class, which combines all the more modern takes on gymnastics.

tristar.org.nz

Cheerleading

All Star Cheerleaders' Rebecca Moen came to the sport late, aged 16. She remembers being shocked and impressed by what she saw on her first visit.

After becoming "addicted", she worked her way up to the top team of the sport, which combines aerobics, acrobatics, dance, cheering and gymnastics.

All Star founder Kimberley Ramsay was given a set of pompoms at age 10. After an unfulfilling stint as a lawyer, she set up her own company with just 11 cheerleaders.

That was 14 years ago; now there are 1200 around the country.

Rebecca's husband Gerrin, a former gymnast, arrived from Chicago to provide international coaching to the team, alongside visiting choreographers. Rebecca says it's a lot less disciplined than gymnastics (the top cheerleaders train just six hours a week) and the boys in the team love the stunts and flips.

The work has paid off for the club, which won two gold medals at this year's ICU Cheerleading Championships in the cheeriest place on earth, Walt Disney World.

I dare you to watch the winning routine on YouTube and not join Rebecca in being shocked and impressed.

"The biggest challenge for us is to educate people on what cheerleading is all about," explains Rebecca. "It's not a cliche, it's very athletic and focused on the stunts and tumbles. It's like Bring It On, but a lot harder."

allstarcheerleaders.co.nz

Sport Aerobics


Erin Loader does sports aerobics. Photo / The Aucklander

At 13, Amanda Bush tried aerobics for the first time. She was a natural and came third in her first competition, later taking a place on the national team.

She set up an aerobics academy as a hobby and got tracksuits made up. The name grew by reputation and her Triple A Aerobics academy has now been running for 12 years.

Aerobics as a sport is high intensity, performed on a hard floor as an individual, trio or group. There's a new category called hero dance, which is basic aerobics steps put together with a freeform section in the middle that can be any other style of dance.

White Reebok trainers are still in for aerobics students, as well as white slouchy socks, a leotard a bit like a figure skating sequined number but without the skirt, and always the hair tied up in a bun.

"A lot of gymnasts come over to aerobics because it's too hard or there's too much strain on the body," says Amanda.

"They're most surprised about how fast the routines are at 162 beats per minute and that we're not only using our legs, but our arms too."

"Aerobics is so out there and so different - the name makes it hard to portray what it's really like," says Amanda. "Our recreation class has everything in it - a bit of gymnastics, flexibility, strength, dance and building self confidence - that's what attracts the parents the most."

tripleaaerobicsnz.com

- NZ Herald

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