[Hooping.org's Editor Philo Hagen reflects on rhythmic gymnastics 2012 and public perception.]
by Philo Hagen
Did you watch the Rhythmic Gymnastics competition at the 2012 Olympic Games? While some are celebrating Yevgeniya Kanayeva triumphantly defending her Olympic title, others didn’t really seem to even get the sport at all. Every four years brings the excitement, along with some of the usual hoopla we’ve come to expect. Easily the closest relative to hooping, many find rhythmic gymnastics performances exhilarating and awe inspiring, while others fail to see the point, and still others have never heard of it.
The New York Times interviewed Hooping.org’s Natasha “Hoopsie Daisy” Young this weekend. wanting to know why rhythmic gymnastics hasn’t caught on in the United States. “It’s very popular,” Young explained. “But here in the United States, it’s much more of a niche sport. Most Americans only see it every four years during the Olympics.” Even then, the sport may not receive much television time in the U.S. “Many artistic gymnasts cite seeing Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton or other gymnasts on television as their inspiration,” she said. “With very limited television exposure, how do Americans even learn about rhythmic gymnastics in the first place?”
Furthermore, those who do stumble upon it don’t always seem to get it. Magda Pecsenye at Moxieville writes, “Rhythmic gymnastics. Really? I was all over Facebook this morning complaining about how it’s either horse dancing without the horses, or Knicks City Dancers without the basketball game… But here’s the thing: My burlesque teacher (performance artist Howling Vic) was doing an act five years ago in which she did craaaazy things with a hula hoop to Nina Simone while also taking her clothes off, over her head! So why is burlesque not an Olympic event if rhythmic gymnastics is?”
Mandi Bierly at Entertainment Weekly writes, “Every Olympics, there are inevitable debates about why certain events are deemed a sport, let alone one worthy of medals. Pitching an article idea to her editors about rhythmic gymnastics, their responses were, “What qualifies as a sport? The Olympics has some doozies. Why isn’t ballet an Olympic sport? What about ballroom dancing? Both seem to be on par with rhythmic gymnastics.”
Burlesque? Ballet? Ballroom Dancing? If we are going to include other things in the Olympic competition roster in the future, then we have to ask, why not include hooping itself? Does Rhythmic Gymnastics serve as a truly representative sport for hoopers? Magda doesn’t think so. She writes, “There are women toiling away in obscurity doing amazing things with hula hoops all across this great country of ours who will never make it to the Olympics. Doesn’t anyone feel for them? How can we celebrate rhythmic gymnastics when there are so many more excessive things that we could be doing with hula hoops? If we’re really celebrating the human spirit, then we need to go higher, faster, stronger with hula hoops. It’s our destiny.”
Here here! And while it may in fact be our destiny, someday, what about the men who are toiling away with their hoops as well? Will they get to compete, or like rhythmic gymnastics will it be for women alone? When it comes to Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics, don’t expect to see it as an Olympic sport either any time soon. “As of now, I would highly doubt men’s rhythmic is moving toward the Olympics,” J. R. Roughton told the New York Times. As Executive Vice President of the Josephson Academy of Gymnastics in Culver City, California, which has competitors in both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, he said, “The sport [for men] is essentially nonexistent outside of Japan. While some other countries participate in Japanese meets, these are essentially interested individuals who happen to be from the U.S., Canada, etc.”
And while some may hear the rallying cry for the guys to be able to compete, American rhythmic gymnast Julie Zetlin is not at all supportive of that ever happening. The only American rhythmic gymnast to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, Zetlin stated, “I think it should stick to a women’s sport. I think that in today’s society, there are lots of different things for men and women, but I think it’s still better just for females. I think it’s just unique like that. I think rhythmic gymnastics should just stay a girl-power sport.” While I’m all for girl power, isn’t gender equality more important? And if there are guys indeed guys who want to compete, how would allowing them to do so hurt in the slightest?
In the end, however, the majority of the hoopla surrounding rhythmic gymnastics competitions probably has more to do with a warped public perception regarding the degree of difficulty than anything else. Most people watching it on television don’t believe spinning a hoop on your hand or your arm is all that hard, and while they may not be able to fathom personally tossing it into the air and catching it on their ankle, few tend to think doing so would take a lifetime of practice. For them it appears to be just a sparkle pony showcase. If you’ve never tried it for yourself, you really couldn’t know.
In the end, you could say the hoopla surrounding rhythmic gymnastics is quite similar to that of hooping itself. While hooping in the park the other day a friend who didn’t know I was a hooper wandered by. She stopped and asked what I was up to. “Hooping”, I explained, adding, “I’ve been working on a new move that has me so frustrated right now.” She smiled and said, “Can you spin two hoops around your waist at the same time? That would be pretty cool.” For those of us that are reasonably experienced hoopers, we know that spinning two hoops of the same size around our waist at the same time is almost as easy as spinning one. But to those who have never been able to keep a single hoop going, doing so is akin to climbing Mt. Everest.
So unless you’ve walked a mile in a rhythmic gymnasts shoes, it’s quite challenging to really know just how hard it is, not to mention how much their toes and feet must hurt. Poor rhythmic gymnastics. People don’t take it seriously, and just because these women aren’t insane enough to hurl themselves at a vault or do aerial flips while standing on a tiny elevated wooden plank doesn’t mean what they’re doing isn’t difficult. On the contrary, it is because of the sheer Olympic mastery of their art that they convince us that doing so really takes no effort at all. Those of us who are hoopers, however, know better.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003.