By Kristina Houck
At 6 years old, Michelle Siemienowski of Carmel Valley began rhythmic gymnastic training to improve her poor posture. Now 11, the Torrey Hills School sixth grader is the Rhythmic Gymnastics California State Champion in level seven.
Siemienowski credits the coaching she receives at San Diego Rhythms, a rhythmic gymnastics school that offers classes at the Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito’s Leonard Polster Branch in Carmel Valley.
“It’s because of the coaches I’m putting in 110 percent in practice every day,” said Siemienowski, who also placed fifth all-around — the highest score among athletes from the region — at the Junior Olympics in June. “I really like the competitions because you have to practice a lot, and it’s all worth it if you win an award.”
Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics, ballet and modern dance. It is choreographed to music and performed with balls, clubs, hoops, ribbons and ropes.
Siemienowski practices 20 hours each week, including ballet classes and private lessons.
“We teach them to work hard,” said Sofia Minevich, program director and head coach of San Diego Rhythms. “They work really, really hard here. Nothing in life scares them. It prepares them for life really well, I think.”
Minevich, a Carmel Valley resident originally from Russia, opened the school in Carmel Valley in 2002. The school’s six coaches and ballet teacher currently train roughly 90 students in Carmel Valley and at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
“I know everything about my kids and I know all their parents,” said Minevich, a former artistic and rhythmic gymnast and figure skater, as well as a Junior Olympic coach. She is the reigning Region 1 Coach of the Year, a title she has held for three consecutive years.
“We’re like a big extended family.”
Although she considers all of her students her “kids,” Minevich actually works alongside her daughter, Nicole. Nicole Minevich was a level 10 gymnast, who competed in rhythmic gymnastics for 12 years.
Now a 19-year-old political science junior at UC San Diego, Nicole Minevich works as a competitive team coach at San Diego Rhythms.
“Most of these kids have been around for a while and it’s shocking,” said Nicole Minevich, who began coaching and choreographing routines when she was a senior in high school. “You look at them, you look at the little kids and you ask yourself, ‘How? How did that happen?’ I must have blinked.”
Emilia Montenegro, 10, started at the school when she was just 4 years old. Montenegro is the Rhythmic Gymnastics California State Champion in level five in her age division, and Region 1 Champion and Athlete of the Year
“It’s a great experience and this is one of the biggest clubs in the country,” said Montenegro, who was recently invited to USA Gymnastics’ Pre-Elite Training Squad along with Siemienowski. “There are great teachers and lots of friends.”
“I like that they train you harder than other clubs,” added 10-year-old Iris Tang, a sixth grader at Sage Canyon School. Tang is the Rhythmic Gymnastics California State Champion in level five in her age division, and Region 1 Champion and Athlete of the Year.
San Diego Rhythms offers a variety of programs, including “Littler Stars” for children ages 4-5, beginner classes, a developmental program, and Junior Olympic and Elite programs.
Carmel Valley classes are held at the Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito’s Leonard Polster Branch, 3800-A Mykonos Lane, San Diego.
“If you give up, they keep on motivating you to keep going,” Siemienowski said. “It’s a loving environment. Everyone is so nice here.”
For more information about San Diego Rhythms, call 858-945-4114 or visit www.sdrhythmic.net.