I've watched rhythmic gymnastics on TV many times, but seeing it in person and up close is an entirely different experience altogether. I was in Italy visiting my husband's parents and they had purchased tickets for us to go to an event while they stayed with the kids. I already knew the real motive for this was to give them some quality grandparenting time.
The Excitement in the Arena
I was not a big fan of similar events in the United States. I couldn't really explain this to other people outside of my husband, who is a huge football fan. There is something about artistic gymnastics that is both starkly beautiful and athletic. I've spent many years watching U.S. gymnastics teams, and I had only seen this combination of skills once before, in a world champion skater named Oksana Baiul.
She was so graceful that it was often tough to remember that this was actually a competitive sport. In fact, most of the time when she was on the ice, I sat in front of the TV mesmerized. I can still watch her Winter Olympic win and cry every time.
I know Oksana is not exactly what people mean when they speak of acrobatic gymnastics, but she set a standard for body movements and athleticism for me, and for all of Olympic history. My in-laws saw the spark in me whenever the subject came up. I had to admit, it was great to be away from the kids for a while, too.
Getting into the arena seemed to take hours. There weren't any usual conversations going on around me. People in line to enter the arena were actually talking about Elisa Santoni and Andreea Stefanescu as if they knew these women personally. They were deeply invested in their well-being, performances and the world of rhythmic gymnastics that was about to take place.
Where Did My Own Excitement Originate?
Everyone who knows me also knows that my thrill over acrobatic gymnastics was a serious pursuit, but they don't know how it all started for me. I remember how limber I was as a child. I would sit on the back of my mother's couch in a full split to watch television for hours. I could also contort my body in almost any manner anyone requested, including arching my back so that my raised foot could touch my head.
For years, everyone anticipated me taking ballet or gymnastics lessons. However, I knew that my parents could not afford it. My father had had many stints of unemployment, and when we were in one of those periods that even a two-penny piece of candy was a luxury. Very early, I understood this and did not want to place the burden on my parents of trying to afford lessons. I trained with individuals or groups and participated in as many group events as I could. I practiced several hours a day and my mom would often take pictures of me in my rhythmic gymnastics leotard.
I found another way to get this kind of energy out of me, however, with hair ribbons. I tied them together, choreographed a routine to the latest popular songs and invited three to five of my friends over to learn the routine. We put on our own little talent shows and always brought the neighborhood to its feet.
My parents could afford to make snacks for these individual events, so I knew it was a way to make them not feel ashamed of their financial situation while still letting me explore what interested me most. We eventually competed in regional talent shows with our act. When we reached high school, everyone developed other interests and the group fell apart. My love for the ribbon dancing, however, never left me.
What's the Fascination with Ribbons?
I suppose I could have had a fascination with freehand dancing, hoops, balls, clubs, rope, and batons for rhythmic gymnastics. Each of these has a certain kind of beauty that accompanies it. The ribbon, however, takes this art form to a whole new level.
It's almost as if the human body is in conversation with something as flimsy and unreliable as a ribbon. As a dancer, I know I would have a hard time to imagine holding myself up with any degree of certainty using a ribbon. If you can make a ribbon move fluidly and develop a rhythm of its own, then you can truly be a body in conversation with the ribbon. It was all so beautiful to me.
Whenever we are talking about how much I love artistic gymnastics, my husband always feels like he has to do a check-in with me. It is, after all, his job to make sure he defends my right to dream and to pursue all of my interests. He's told me that he's afraid that I'm so connected to acrobatic gymnastics because I missed out on the opportunity to do it myself.
I'm not altogether sure he is wrong about this. I do feel like I missed out on the thing I probably wanted the most at one point in my life. But admitting that to anyone other than my husband would be the same as saying that I blame my parents - and I don't. It's not their responsibility to provide the brass ring for me, no matter how much or how little money they had when I was growing up.
What my husband misses is the fact that I see my work as his wife and the mother of our children as a dream that I've realized, as well. We have far surpassed my parents in material resources, but I also think we have a much stronger connection than my parents ever could. They were so busy worrying about the roof over our heads and food in our bellies that I'm not sure either of them ever knew who the other was.
As we were leaving the rhythmic gymnastics show in Italy, a rush of gratitude came over me. I'm so happy that I can talk to my husband about my dreams and that we are returning to two happy, well-fed children. If I had to talk about the dream that means the most to me, I would have to say it's this one. I've helped choreograph a life dance with ribbons of conversation between my husband and children. I am always dancing to keep us fluid.