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Rhythmic Gymnastics Gains US Following


Immigrants from Eastern Europe have brought rhythmic gymnastics to the United States, where the sport that combines gymnastics and dance is gaining a following. A recent competition brought gymnasts from more than a dozen countries to Los Angeles.

They came from around the United States, and some competitors came from Mexico, Canada, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

To the sounds of music, they stretched and danced, and twirled ribbons and hoops, as a team of judges graded their performances. Alla Svirsky formed the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics 30 years ago, and coached the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics team in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I started rhythmic gymnastics in Russia when this sport was the premier sport, number one," she said. "Every parent, every mother dreamed to put her daughter in rhythmic gymnastics, because the girls looked beautiful. They looked gorgeous, excellent. When the kids walked in the street, everybody turned their head to look at them."

There are about 100 rhythmic gymnastics clubs in the United States, and many of their members are the children of immigrants.

Olga Karmansky, 19, is the top ranked U.S. rhythmic gymnast. An immigrant from Moldova, the Brooklyn college student loves the music.

"It's also cool because it's not only dance. It's also the equipment, and there's a lot of risk, and it's really fun learning new tricks and stuff," she explained.

Tanya Garber is manager of the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics, which hosted the recent competition. She says this is a European-dominated sport.

"Most of the European athletes [are] from Ukraine, Russia Belarus medal in most of the Olympic games. Therefore, they have a much larger following in the European countries," she noted.

But the U.S. audience in growing, and U.S. rhythmic gymnasts are holding their own in international competitions. Former Olympic coach Alla Svirsky says the sport makes an impression on those who see it, and those who participate.

"Music and flexibility and dance and grace. You cannot ever forget this," Ms. Svirsky added.

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