Letter from a Mom : Why I Choose Rhythmic Gymnastics for My Daughters

By Lidia Rozdilsky

I am Sophia's mama, the one that introduced her to the world of exquisite human motion.

Growing up in Eastern Europe "on the other side of the iron curtain," it was a token of nationalism to be proud of our athletes, particularly our gymnasts whom we believed to be unsurpassable. Back then, from an early age on, there was hardly any child of any gender who was not introduced to dancing or music.Years passed and both the country's and the people's priorities and likes changed but the love for the amalgamation of dance and sport in the form of rhythmic gymnastics stayed with me, probably because I left Bulgaria as a teenager and "it" remained part of me in the same token as the "old" Bulgaria still inhabits my memories.

Work, life, and a passion for interacting with different cultures took our family to many countries where on numerous occasions ballet and gymnastics miraculously crossed our path. For instance, in 2008, our family was in the middle of visiting Tokyo when I found out that the Aeon Cup was taking place. Sophia in a sling, I cancelled all plans for the day so baby and I could enjoy seeing Kanaeva, Bessonova, and company in person. I will never forget seeing Vera Efremovna Shtelbaums and throwing myself on her neck virtually screaming how much I loved her, upon which she jumped from joy like a little girl, saying: oй, я такое никак не ожидала... meaning: oh my goodness, I never expected anything like that. Yes, the woman who trained Olympic and World champions never expected that a complete stranger and a nobody like me would put her in a pedestal, why: because Shtelbaums knows that in the final analysis it is not the medals that make a champion but her character and she knows it because she lives it!

Being close to gymnastics and dance has seen me through some of the most horrid times of my life. When Sophia was born, I went through excruciating pain to nurse her so the only thing I could do is stare at the beautiful performances on the computer in order to feed my child what my body makes for her sustenance. Before Sophia turned two, I gave birth to our second daughter Alexandra who is following in the "pointe shoes" of her sister and loves ballet and gymnastics as well. Our family experienced a colossal tragedy as we lost our third daughter Asmara nine days after she was born for unknown reason. One day before she left this world, my friend Iva stopped by to give the baby a gift she was inspired to buy: dancing shoes. We buried her ten days later with them next to her so she can dance in heaven, being taught by "the greatest" like dear Oksana Kostina and Julietta Shishmanova who too left this world very young.

One of the common characteristics that all loss moms across cultures, religions, and other artificial divides exhibit is that whatever "ambitions" for our children we may have had prior to our tragedies, we no longer have them. In the world of gymnastic-crazed hyper-moms many of you may have been left with the impression that Sophia's passion may be the result of yet another woman who sees her daughter as the next Kanaeva. So, please understand, I wrote this entry not because my daughter could not speak for herself during her own video interview but because I truly "get" what the Bulgarian gymnast Silviya Miteva means when she says: my goal is to do the best I am capable of on the carpet. I don't care which place I end up occupying in the ranking afterwards.

Sophia is almost six, but she has never attended a formal gymnastics or ballet class. She has never been to daycare or kindergarten either. Our philosophy as parents about teaching the arts to our children in general is "expose them to the best." We have a high quality projector at home which allows our daughters to see huge images of the world's best dancers and athletes doing what they love to do. When Sophia and Allie want to dance, I turn on the video and simply say to them: do what they do... and stand back amazed at the results.

When they want to paint, they are welcome to just about all professional art materials in our studio. Too often, children give up on art not because of lack of creativity or too much technology but because of being exposed to mediocrity.

I believe that disciplines that embody physical activity and grace teach children so much in terms of character development. Through their interaction with coaches, teammates, and the audience, they learn to show respect, express gratitude, and cultivate their individuality whilst meeting high standards which become their own. They learn perseverance through hardships and joy in self-improvement. Engaged in dance and motion, they become instruments of beauty. And this is why whether my daughters do anything with their passion for dance, beauty, and flexibility is immaterial; because in my eyes (and hopefully in their own) they are already champions because in the "real" world it is all about character development, and there, no one gives trophies.