Dance is one of the biggest elements of rhythmic gymnastics, as well as ballet. These two disciplines have been compared against each other by a lot of people and for a lot of times. Those comparisons are warranted, as they have multiple similarities. One of those is that RG and ballet are versatile kinds of sports. Although changes to each of their elements could only be done on performances and not on competitions, this didn’t stop a lot of artists from transforming both sports.

This is how the revolution of rhythmic gymnastics and ballet took place.

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Revolutionizing Ballet

Very recently, news has started going around that New York City Ballet’s choreographer Justin Peck has defied all customs when he chose a female understudy for a principal role of his choreographed ballet act, “The Times are Racing,” which premiered on Thursday featuring fusions of tap dancing, classical ballet and hip-hop in an urgent political tone.

Mr. Peck is one of the main characters of the story, and the other is Robert Fairchild, whose double was soloist Ashly Isaacs for five winter performances of “The Times Are Racing.” Although men and women have switched roles in theater since before, this is not commonly done in the world of ballet, and Isaacs will likely appear in two performances in May as Fairchild is already scheduled to be on vacation at that time.

New York Times has had the chance to ask Peck about this. Peck said that, “I don’t know if it’s a first time, but it certainly feels like it might be one of the first that there’s been a gender-neutral principal role at New York City Ballet. She’s stepped in a few times, and she looks great. She’ll get to perform the ballet in the spring.”

When asked if he chose Isaacs for her tapping ability, he said, “Yeah, that definitely needs to be checked off, but also she seems very suited to the role and it’s the exact same choreography — there’s no compromise in what she does when she performs it and I thought that was really cool.”

Aside from having a gender-neutral principal role, Peck revolutionized the sport even more when the same ballet performance had its dancers trade their pointe shoes in for sneakers, taking a cue from Founding Choreographer Jerome Robbins. Aside from the shoes, the dancers also wore T-shirts and hoodies with the words like Unite, Act, React, Protest and Fight written on them, all by Humberto Leon.

The electronic music was by Dan Deacon, the blood-stirring four-movement suite from his album “America.” The album was written in 2012 out of his frustration with the state of the country and the world.

Revolutionizing Rhythmic Gymnastics

In 2015, Russia, the dominant nation in RG, has called for men to be allowed to compete in one of the last women-only Olympic sports—even International Olympic Committee pushed for greater integration across all sports. Russia’s rhythmic gymnastics federation head, Irina Viner-Usmanova, told the media that she is “absolutely behind (men) taking part” in the sport.

Viner-Usmanova is also the Vice President of gymnastics’ world governing body, FIG’s technical committee for rhythmic gymnastics. However, they were unsuccessful in this goal as the organization said that it has no plans for men to compete.

“We all really want to have men’s gymnastics, but the current leadership of the FIG for rhythmic gymnastics doesn’t want to accept it even as a non-Olympic sport,” Viner-Usmanova said.

That movement failure was sad, but it didn’t stop men from joining the sport. Some other countries like Japan and Spain has small competitions for men’s rhythmic gymnastics. Since men are tighter as compared to women, they do their elements more out of strength. It’s hard for them to develop a high arch and pointed toes, so they make up with it by doing acrobatics—backflips for leaps, tumbling for cartwheels. Men’s gymnastics also uses different apparatus. They use two small hoops instead of a big one, bigger pairs of clubs instead of two regular clubs, and a long stick.

Aside from the sport of men’s rhythmic gymnastics, there are also dance groups who incorporate RG into their dance performances, like Japan’s “Tokyo Blue.” The group is composed of all men and who performs their fusion of dance and RG all around Asia. Below is a video of them dancing with different apparatus:

As compared to ballet, RG is obviously still very scared of changes, but both of them are versatile and can be revolutionized. In a few years’ time, it wouldn’t be a surprise if these two sports would be more gender-neutral like other sports!

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