By Dan Plouffe
They sported sparkling gold sequin tops, ruby red jackets and cardinal capes, they handled rainbow ribbons, bright-coloured umbrellas and shimmering sheets and scarfs, and they dazzled with their dance, jumps, tricks, flips and lifts.
Diversity was the name of the game for Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club’s gymnaestrada team, evident in their routine’s variety of music styles, dance and movement forms, equipment and apparatuses, and the performers themselves.
And when the group’s 15-minute performance at the July 7-13 World Gymnaestrada in Austria came to a close, all 24 Kanata athletes were waving Canadian flags.
“We wanted to make sure at the end of our performance that people do know we’re from Canada, and also to celebrate that we’re from Canada,” indicates the team’s co-coach Sharon Fryer. “Gymnaestrada really has the whole mix, and diversity was definitely something we were looking to highlight, so we’re glad that shone through.”
The World Gymnaestrada is a non-competitive event celebrating all forms of gymnastics.
It’s held every 4 years and features opening ceremonies with a parade of nations, similar to the Olympics. This year’s 16th edition brought together more than 18,000 participants from 65 countries.
Bunking together in school classrooms in their host town of Rankweil, the Kanata team was part of a Canadian delegation that numbered roughly 600.
“It’s one of my favourite memories from my whole life,” reflects Brianna Lu, one of two returning members of Kanata’s 2015 World Gymnaestrada team that went to Finland.
“You’re with your whole gymnastics family and you’re surrounded by so many people who love the sport.
“It’s really cool to see people from different ages – from a little 5-year-old to a 90-year-old still doing gymnastics – and so many different countries coming together for the love of gymnastics. It’s a really cool experience.”
The trip to the worlds was a long journey. On top of their regular competitive rhythmic gymnastics training as individuals, the group worked together 2 hours a week for 2 years. It started with selecting music and costumes and learning choreography, followed by plenty of practice, repetition and polishing.
“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” underlines Fryer, whose team qualified for the worlds through last year’s Canadian Gymnaestrada in Richmond, B.C. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work.”
On top of the skills required in the routine, the 15-minute performance length provides a solid test of stamina as well, adds Fryer, who begins every practice with 15 minutes of skipping.
“Especially when you’re doing a performance, you’re really going full-out, doing more expression and going bigger,” highlights 2-time World Gymnaestrada participant Britney Han, noting it’s non-stop even in the moments some are off-stage since they’re getting into different costumes or finding equipment. “It’s super tiring. Very exhausting.”
‘A second family’
Han, a past provincial champion, was part of a smaller Kanata Charms team that went to France last October for a World Cup aesthetic group gymnastics competition under the direction of Irina Shivrina, the gymnaestrada group’s choreographer.
The diversity theme rings true for the team’s coaches as well. Shivrina moved to Canada from her native Russia over a decade ago to instruct dance for the March-Kanata Skating Club, while Fryer is a living example of the collection of streams available at Kanata Rhythmic. She was first introduced to the club on a “bring-a-friend day” at age 8, later joined the competitive ranks and became a 3-time provincial champion, started in the club’s coach-in-training program at age 14, and remains in the role of coach today.
“They’re from various streams of our programs, so here they come together with people they wouldn’t normally train with,” Fryer says of the gymnaestrada group. “They’ve made new friendships and have got to bond a little differently.”
Through their diversity and differences, the team has also discovered abundant similarities.
“All the people I’ve got to meet is really amazing,” details Lu, whose career began 11 years ago after her mother saw a newspaper story on a provincial champion from Kanata Rhythmic.
“Some of the girls I’ve known since 7 – pretty much my entire life,” adds the future McGill University life sciences student. “At the provincial level, we were training 15 hours a week, so it was basically a second family.
“Everyone was kind of like-minded and put a lot of emphasis on sport and school. It’s nice to be around so many driven people.”