TORONTO — In one of the first competitions of the season, Jewish athletes from the Aspirals Rhythmic Gymnastics Club captured four of the club’s six medals and took the first step toward the provincial championships in early June.
Performing in the 2008 Aspirals Valentine Classic, seven-year-old rookie Sasha Garber finished second overall in level 1B, in which she demonstrated her abilities with rope and in a free routine. (The free routine is the execution of rhythmic body movements without the use of one of the sports’ hand apparatus – rope, hoops, balls, clubs and ribbon.)
Katerina Shimansky, age nine, came second all round in level 3A, working with hoops and in a free routine.
Ilana Enoukov and Ella Gutman, both 14, finished second and third, respectively, in level 5A, working with rope, ribbon and in a free routine.
Ayelet Reiss, 13, finished ninth overall in level 4A, working with a ball and performing a free routine.
The Valentine Classic, which was held at Bur Oak Secondary School in Markham, is an annual event hosted by the Aspirals. This year, it attracted 120 athletes from nine clubs in southern Ontario, including London, Burlington, Newmarket and Markham.
Reiss’ accomplishment was noteworthy in that she is Orthodox and cannot compete on Shabbat, putting her at a disadvantage to other girls. “She’s a really, really dedicated girl,” said Sima Studin, president of the Aspirals club.
Dedication and hard work are necessary qualities for all top performers in the sport, she continued.
To excel in rhythmic gymnastics, athletes must possess “high flexibility, technical skills and good eye-hand coordination.” Equally important is that performers “must be driven” and should possess a good measure of aggressiveness, Studin said.
“You have to be able to present yourself in front of judges,” she said. “When your name is called and even before you step onto the carpet, you’re competing, by the way you hold your head. Even before the music starts, you should look like a winner, and you should fight like a winner.”
Top athletes combine all these characteristics while manipulating one or two apparatuses. The sport combines elements of dance and acrobatics and requires good balance and presentation. Competitors are judged for leaps, balances, pivots, flexibility, apparatus handling and artistic effect.
About 25 per cent of the Aspirals club – which holds some of its lessons at the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre – consists of Jewish girls, Studin said. A good number are children of immigrants from eastern Europe.
Most enjoy the sport as a recreational activity, but others are more competitive. Many parents like the atmosphere at the club, which keeps the girls busy, provides a sense of accomplishment, creates lasting friendships and assists in maintaining discipline and good time management, Studin said.
Studin is confident that the Aspirals’ girls will perform well at the RG Provincial Championships and RhythmFest, set for June 7 in Markham.
“Absolutely the girls can make it to the championship level,” she said. “Technically, our girls are very good, and they show very interesting combinations.”