A Guide To Watching Rhythmic Gymnastics

Rhythmic Gymnastics is a complex sport. Sometimes it’s hard to know what separates the best from the rest.  So here’s a quick guide on how to watch RG!

Oh so many skills

Every rhythmic routine, whether individual or group, is made up 3 main types of skills: Body difficulties, risks and dance.

In individual routines, gymnasts also perform apparatus difficulties.  But in group routines, gymnasts perform exchanges and collaborations, no apparatus difficulties.

The composition (or choreography) of rhythmic gymnastics routines is governed by a set of rules – each competitive level (XCEL, Interclub, Provincial, National) has their own rules, but these are all variations of the International rules found in the Code of Points.

So let’s take a quick look at each of these types of skills.

Body difficulties

There are 3 types of body difficulties: balances, pivots and leaps/jumps.  The number of body difficulties required in a routine varies with each competitive level. There are rarely limits on the types of body skills a gymnast can do at a particular level (XCEL being the exception).  But in general, gymnasts who are stronger, fitter, more flexible and train more hours are more likely to do harder skills.

Balances require, well, balance – there’s a lot of flexibility and strength required to hit (create the right shape) and hold these positions.  A balance has to be held for long enough for the judges to see the ‘shape’ (the shape the gymnast creates with her body has to match the ‘ideal’ skill in the Code of Points). 

A sneak peak from the Code of Points of just a few of the Balance skills a gymnast can choose to do!

Pivots are basically balances that rotate.  Generally, the minimum rotation for a pivot is 360o or a single turn.  As gymnasts become stronger, you’ll see them hold the same shape or even change the shape while rotating multiple times.  Just like balances, pivots require great flexibility and strength.

Leaps and jumps are dynamic and explosive – they require flexibility to create the right shape, but also strength and speed in the legs.  Gymnasts can perform a variety of different types – taking off and landing on one leg (hop – Cossack), taking off one leg and landing on the other (leap, like a split leap) or taking off on two feet and landing on both or one foot (jump).  Sometimes there’s a preparation – a step or a chassé – to help the gymnast generate distance and height in her leaps.  Sometimes gymnasts add a rotation.   Could you imagine the fuss NBA players would make if they had to add a full split and pointed feet for their slam dunks to count?

A look at the points awarded for a few different kinds of leaps – more complicated leaps involving more flexibility and more strength – score more points.

These skills are complex and require a lot of different body parts to work in sequence.  But, since this is RG, we’ve decided that’s not hard enough, let’s add some hand-held apparatus that bounces, rolls or wraps just to make things more interesting.

The apparatus as an extension of the body

For some gymnasts, they make it look like the apparatus is stuck to their body, like a magnet.  Check out this video of Italian gymnast Alice Taglietti competing her ball routine!

In each of the body skills, gymnasts have to show mastery of the apparatus – the apparatus can’t just sit in a gymnast’s hand, she has to be able to throw, bounce, rotate or roll the apparatus with EVERY body skill.  And, just to make it trickier, she can’t repeat the same type of skill – if a gymnast rolls the ball across her chest in a balance, she can’t repeat that same roll with a different body skill.

The goal of every rhythmic gymnast is to make the apparatus look like an extension of the body.  This is most evident in dance series and apparatus difficulties.

Dance is, well, dance with the apparatus.  It has to be varied, change directions or levels, change steps, match the tempo and theme of the music.  The apparatus has to follow and be an intricate part of every step the gymnast takes.

Apparatus difficulties are exactly that, difficult.  At least 3 types of movement must happen either simultaneously or in sequence.  These require a lot of precision and timing.  

Risks are large throws where the gymnast takes her eyes off the apparatus, does a minimum of 2 rotations (front rolls, cartwheels, walkovers, etc) under the throw and then manages to be in just the right spot to make an impressive catch.  NHL goalies are celebrated for making the occasional spectacular catch – rhythmic gymnasts do that everyday!  Don’t believe us, check out this video of cool apparatus tricks!

Exchanges are when all the gymnasts in the group throw simultaneously or in quick sequence.  Throws have to be a certain height.  Collaborations can involve throwing, but often incorporate small passes, bounces, rebounds (off another gymnast) – all the gymnasts in the group have to participate in a single collaboration, but they don’t all have to do the same movements.  Check out some of these cool group moves!

But all rhythmic gymnastics routines are more than a collection of skills, the best routines tell a story.

Putting it all together

How skills, dance, and expression are woven together into a single routine is basically an art in and of itself.  The best routines have seamless transitions from one skill to the next all in an attempt to create a theme or story that links the gymnast to her music.

This one is oldie, but a goodie from Maria Petrova in 1994.

So how do you watch a Rhythmic Gymnastics routine?

Basically, now that you know a bit more about what you’re watching, just sit back, enjoy and marvel at the skill, complexity and beauty that goes into each and every routine.   They are all unique because each gymnast is unique.  Some weave a spell so barely realize that time has passed.  Others leave you on the edge of your seat with breathless excitement.

And of course, gymnasts are performers at heart – they love the sound of applause.  So go out and show your enthusiasm for what they do, the work gymnasts and coaches put into each creation.  Lift them up and cheer them on when things don’t go as planned.  Cheer wildly for those breath-taking moments.  

So where can you watch Rhythmic Gymnastics?

The individual competition kicks off with the qualification round on Thursday August 5th, follow this for more information on how and when to watch the individual competition.

Upcoming schedule and past results - CBC Tokyo 2020

The group competition will begin on Friday August 6th with the qualification round, here is the link for more information! 

Upcoming schedule and past results - CBC Tokyo 2020

Both event finals will be held on Saturday August 7th, so get ready for 4 days full of mind blowing Rhythmic Gymnastics and intense competition! 

October 19, 2023