Gratefully copied from the FIG website
It all started….
…. about 3,500 years ago in ancient Egypt, where aesthetic expression of the human form was encouraged and beauty elevated to cult status. Evidence of this can be found in the depictions on ancient Egyptian pottery, graves and tombs and even on the facades of some of the pyramids. Photographic records of these relics can be found in the FIG archives.
|Documents produced by the FIG in 2004, during a visit to the Tombs of El Minya in Egypt.|
These ancient Egyptian depictions remain the oldest recorded evidence of gymnastic exercise, revealing, in particular, group exercise sequences performed by young women with spheres, not unlike those used by modern rhythmic gymnasts. Such pursuits were essentially recreational rather than sporting, and they continued to be practised through the ages, developing all of the ingredients of a dynamic and artistic activity with a very pronounced feminine dimension.
Hence, a form of rhythmic exercise was in existence even before the Ancient Greeks formalised gymnastics, a term which derives from the Greek word ‘gumnos’, meaning ‘naked’.
It is well documented that such pursuits as were practised by the Egyptians were not favoured in Ancient Greece, where they were interested solely in physical culture and expression of the male form.
Sport historians may have varying theories on the exact origins of Rhythmic Gymnastics, but all are agreed that time, and time alone, has shaped this form of physical expression. What nobody seems able to agree on, 3,500 years down the line, is whether it is ‘sport’ or ‘art’.
The modern era
A brief word on several key figures in the development of Rhythmic Gymnastics: first there was Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), regarded widely as the founder of classical ballet, who developed the concept of the human body as a vector of expressions. Then there was François A. Delsarte (1811-1871) – a seminal figure in the development of modern dance, who originated the idea that physical gesture had a spiritual dimension. He wrote several publications – most notably Principles of Aesthetic Science – setting out what were, in essence, the rudimentary principles of Rhythmic Gymnastics.
As we noted earlier, Rhythmic Gymnastics is essentially all about the female form. And here, we need to acknowledge the seminal contribution of Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), who revolutionised the concept of dance, acknowledging the legacy of ancient times. The iconic American ballerina was responsible for modern dance as we know it today. She broke all the taboos, giving due importance to natural movement, beauty and freedom of expression (all themes that were cherished by Maurice Béjart and which he would go on to explore through his own company, first in Brussels and later in Lausanne, with both female and male dancers).
We should also mention Emile-Jacques Dalcroze (1865-1950), a musician and teacher whose ideas were inspired by a mixture of music and dance. The institute that he founded in Geneva continues to teach Rhythmic Gymnasts using the eurhythmics methods that he first pioneered.
In the 1920s, Dalcroze’s theories found a ready audience in the newly established Soviet Union, and Moscow’s Institute of Physical Culture even opened a dedicated eurhythmics department. In 1946, this activity became a new sport in its own right, practised exclusively by women and known as Khudozhestvennaya Gimnastika, which can be translated as rhythmic sportive gymnastics.
Thus it was that RSG was born.
FIG comes on the scene
The progress made by female gymnasts from the Soviet school caused a real stir in Europe, particularly in Bulgaria and other East European countries. The FIG, which was then still very male-oriented (women were not given their own world championships until 1934), was initially reticent, but eventually capitulated in the face of the persuasive rhetoric and campaigning of two female trail-blazers, Berthe Villancher (1908-2000) of France and Italy’s Adreina Gotta (1904-1988). Along with Jeanine Rinaldi who came later, this pair are widely recognised as the architects of women’s gymnastics as we know it today, and they were the ones who laid down the basic principles of modern-day Rhythmic Gymnastics.
Suffice to say, the current world and Olympic Rhythmic champion Evgenia Kanaeva (RUS) and her contemporaries owe them a huge debt of thanks.
Rhythmic Gymnastics official pictogram
Updated January 2014