Team competes in ribbon, ball, hoop, clubs
The sport of rhythmic gymnastics may use a pretty ribbon, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Just try to keep a ribbon floating or a ball balanced while completing a twirling move, all while keeping your toes perfectly pointed.
A group of girls known as the San Diego Rhythms tries to perfect this challenging art of rhythmic gymnastics daily at the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito's Polster branch in Carmel Valley.
The Rhythms, according to Coach Sofia Minevich, are one of the most well-known clubs in the country.
Minevich, a Carmel Valley resident originally from Russia, coaches the younger girls while a more advanced group is coached by Maria Charsky, who is 24 and competed on the Russian National Team.
Both have long histories with rhythmic, a sport that is a combination of ballet and gymnastics.
"It makes the girls flexible and strong," Minevich said. "It's a very healthy sport."
Charsky said it's a sport that involves a lot of coordination, knowing how to work with your body and the apparatus. She said it's a very artistic sport, almost like dancing.
"This sport combines all of those, and it's just beautiful to watch," Charsky said.
The girls compete in the apparatus of ribbon, hoop, ball, clubs, rope and the younger set also does a floor routine. They do tumble but not in the way traditional gymnasts do - when performing they must keep one leg or arm on the floor, so there are no all-out flips.
In levels designated by skill, the Rhythms compete against international teams, most recently in Los Angeles, where they matched up against more than 300 teams, some of which included Olympic champions.
"I like the floor because I can't drop anything," said Grace Lee, a fourth grader at Carmel Del Mar.
Lee ended up finishing strong in Los Angeles, sixth all-around a fourth place in ball, which made her feel "happy and proud."
Several other Carmel Valley athletes performed well in L.A.: Christine Li placed second all around in level four and first in ball and Stacy Proshkina was fifth all around in level six.
Nicole Minevich, a 15-year-old sophomore at Canyon Crest who competes in level 9, finished sixth in hoop and ribbon and seventh all around.
Four days a week, in four-hour sessions, the girls work out at the gyms at the Boys and Girls Club or at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
They'll start a practice out doing cartwheels or jumping rope, warming up their muscles before working on their routines.
"Jumping rope is my favorite," five-year-old Michelle Itkin said.
The girls are gifted with grace and tremendous flexibility. Some can curl up into a move called the "sushi box," where their bodies are folded up belly down with their toes touching their head.
Another move, appropriately called "elbow crushers" involves balancing all their weight on their elbows as they extend their legs back over their heads.
"We do conditioning that a grown man couldn't do," Nicole Minevich said.
Two hours of conditioning in the summer can typically include around 500 leg kicks, and "killer" leg and abdominal holds, she said.
While rhythmic gymnastics is popular in other countries, traditional gymnastics is still number one in U.S. The U.S. team failed to qualify for Beijing Olympics last year, although 32 international teams were accepted.
The San Diego Rhythms only hope they can change that in the future.
To learn more about the San Diego Rhythms, visit