Rhythmic Gymnastics: The Dancing Gymnastics

Learn about Rhythmic Gymnastics before the 2012 Olympics.

Rhythmic gymnastics combines dance with other aspects of flexibility and coordination.  Rhythmic gymnasts often compete and perform routines with hand apparatus, such as ropes, hoops, balls, clubs, and ribbons.  Each movement of a routine involves intense athletic skill, like strength, power, agility, flexibility, dexterity, power and endurance.  Rhythmic gymnasts may look as though they are playing with toys; however, this is quite the contrary.  Rhythmic gymnasts appearing on televised competitions perform at an elite level fooling many spectators into believing the sport comes with ease.

Rhythmic Gymnast with Ball and Flexibility


Most elite rhythmic gymnasts have five to six years of professional training and begin training between the ages of 6 and 8 years.  These athletes train seven days a week, five to six hours a day.  Many young gymnasts move away from their families to professionally train with the best coaches and instructors available for hope of competing in the Olympics.  To be a successful rhythmic gymnast, one must be passionate, disciplined, creative, flexible, and possess a bold and lively personality.   Rhythmic gymnasts endure strenuous conditioning exercises, as well as hours of stretching to reach their optimal level of flexibility.  Most rhythmic gymnasts are “hyperextenders” and “hyperjointed.” If a gymnast is not naturally this flexible, she usually engages in an extreme stretching regimen to mold and shape her body to hyperextend. Additionally, training to be a professional rhythmic gymnast involves intense ballet training to develop the proper technique, tone, and core strength.  

Rhythmic Gymnastics versus Artistic Gymnastics

Most spectators are familiar with artistic gymnastics, which incorporates components like the vault, the uneven bars, and the balance beam.  However, rhythmic gymnastics is gaining popularity as the alternative to artistic gymnastics.  More athletes are choosing this up-and-coming sport, because they are allowed more artistic freedom and creativity. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two genres becomes apparent during the performance.  Personality and creativity embrace the spirit of rhythmic gymnastics.  Rhythmic gymnasts rely less on the strength of risky acrobatic moves required of an artistic gymnast. Instead, other characteristics, such as hand-eye coordination, self-confidence, endurance, creativity, and flexibility, are emphasized.  Additionally, a specific body type is not stressed as much in rhythmic gymnastics as it is with artistic gymnastics.  Usually the height of an artistic gymnast heavily weighs in determining the success of that gymnast.

Rhythmic Gymnast Using A Rope


Rhythmic gymnasts use five major apparatus to compete.  These include ribbon, clubs, ball, hoop, and rope.  Gymnasts perform each of these apparatus on a matted, square floor.  The performance area for the 2012 Olympics measures 13 meters by 13 meters.

Ribbon: The ribbon is composed of satin or other similar fabric.  The minimum length of the ribbon must be 7 meters and attached to a stick with a length between 40 to 50 centimeters.  The stick is composed of fiberglass, wood, plastic or bamboo. When a gymnast uses the ribbon, it must remain constantly in motion. Some movement with a ribbon involves spirals, snakes, circles, swings, throws, and catches. 

Clubs: The clubs are a bottled-shaped apparatus that are of equal length and weight. Both clubs must be 40 to 50 centimeters long and weight at least 150 grams for the 2012 Olympics. Clubs involve some rhythmic tapping, throws and catches, mills, small circles, large circles, and swings. 

Ball:  The ball in rhythmic gymnastics is composed of soft plastic or rubber with a diameter ranging from 18 to 20 centimeters. Every ball used in the 2012 Olympics must weigh at least 400 grams. Using the ball as an apparatus involves circles, waves, throws and catches, movement with the ball balanced on the hand, and bouncing and rolling the ball across parts of the body and on the floor.

Hoop: Gymnasts may use hoops composed of plastic or wood with a diameter between 80 to 90 centimeters and a weight of 300 grams. The hoop apparatus involves swings, tosses, catches, rolls, spins, passes through and over the hoop on the floor, and rotations of the hoop around the hand and other body parts. Perhaps, most intriguing with the hoop are the high throws and variation conducted while the hoop is in the air. 

Rope: Ropes are often used in team performances to create visual appeal. The rope involves swings, wraps, circles, rotations, unwraps, figure-eight circling, throws, and catches.  Gymnasts often jump through an open or folded rope held by both hands. 

Rhythmic gymnast flexibility


The primary competitions among rhythmic gymnasts are the Olympics, Grand-Prix Tournaments and World Championships. During these competitions, each gymnast is scored on their performance.  The current scoring system is based on a 20-point system, which was adopted by the International Federation of Gymnastics in 2005.  This 20-point system bases performance on three element of a gymnast’s routine. The three elements include execution, artistic and technical. The execution category encompasses the gymnast’s ability to complete stunts and fluidity of movement with the apparatus.  The artistic category judges the gymnast on her expression through movement. The technical category judges a gymnast on skill, technique and difficulty.   


In 1984, rhythmic gymnastics debuted in Los Angeles as an Olympic individual sport. In 1996, rhythmic gymnastics debuted as a team sport in Atlanta.  It has quickly become one of the more popular women’s Olympic sports. Russia has continued to dominate in the Olympics for rhythmic gymnastics as the strongest women’s team.  The Russian team has won the team gold medal during the last three Olympics (i.e., 2000, 2004, and 2008).  Olympic rhythmic gymnast hopefuls will compete in the 2012 summer Olympics in London at the Wembley Arena.  Hopefuls to watch in the coming year are Alexis Page, Julie Zetlin, Francesca Jones, Shelby Kisiel and Polina Kozitsky. United Sates 2012 Olympic hopefuls include Alexis Page, Shelby Kisiel, Polina Kozitsky, Elektra Markogiannakis, Claire Skach, Anastasia Torba, Hannah Walter and Julie Zetlin. Julie Zetlin is the one to watch, as she won the gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games with the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics team coming in 4th place. Tickets to the August 2012 rhythmic gymnastics event in London have been sold out since May 2010.