By Karen Billing
Rhythmic gymnastics has come to the Ocean Air Recreation Center with San Diego Rhythmic Gymnastics Academy (SDRGA). Team coach Alla Zubkis teaches the sport that combines ballet, gymnastics and various apparatus, a merging of creativity and physical skill.
Zubkis founded SDRGA in 1997 with her mother Valentina Baigoulova and aunt Galina Aksutchits. Aksutchits founded the first rhythmic gymnastics school in Siberia in 1949 and Baigoulova was one of her first students.
Zubkis also competed for 10 years in Russia before moving to San Diego 20 years ago.
The team splits practice between Nobel Recreation Center and Ocean Air. The sessions are three hours long, with gymnasts working on their flexibility, strength and their routines in the apparatus of rope, hoop, ball, clubs, ribbons and floor routines.
“The girls get in really good shape,” Zubkis said. “They feel confident with their movements and bodies and express their feelings in their own way. Their body is their instrument, they play music with their bodies, it’s amazing.”
On Feb. 19-20, the Ocean Air Rec Center played host to the San Diego Rhythmic Gymnastics Academy International Rising Stars Cup. The cup featured 170 gymnasts from the U.S., Russia and the Philippines.
Nicole Pustilnik, a Carmel Valley resident, won the level 5 cup. Zubkis calls Nicole, 8, “our future star.”
Last Friday, Nicole was hard at work, her body folded into a seemingly impossible position. Her mother Anna said that gymnastics has become a passion of hers—the first thing she does when she wakes up and the last thing before bed is to watch youtube videos of famous gymnasts.
With SDRGA, Nicole practices four times a week in addition to taking private lessons.
“Rhythmic gymnastics training is extremely demanding. It requires long hours of rigorous practice which can be exhausting at times,” said Anna Pustilnik. “However, all the girls’ efforts pay off when they put on their competition leotards, their names are announced and they bravely march out all alone on their tippy toes to the center of the competition carpet.”
It’s in competition when the gymnasts have the opportunity to showcase the results of all their hard work.
“The girls are wearing their shining leotards and they feel so important and their parents look at their daughters so adoringly,” Zubkis. “It’s not just beautiful, they’re doing very amazing things that they’ve been working very hard on.”
Zubkis said that she is always proud when the girls grow and improve, like Polina Muntzer, 9, who has “blossomed from an inflexible beginner into a graceful young lady and competitor,” said her mother Evelina.
That once inflexible beginner now has her sights set on the Olympics.
To learn more about the San Diego Rhythmic Gymnastics Academy, visit