Sep 14, 2014

The strange world of competitive calisthenics

If you are a female who grew up in Australia, chances are at some stage you tried your hand at Calisthenics.

I have dim memories of doing calisthenics for a very short time, and very clear memories of my mother's annoyance at being told off by a team official for having sewn sequins in the wrong way on a pink headpiece.  In those days when "all" mothers were home (and the rest were assumed to be), mothers were given patterns and had to sew all the costumes themselves.

These days, thankfully, this is not expected at most clubs, though the costumes are still made by someone. In our case, it's the mother of the calisthenics coach, who has made all the approximately one million costumes used by the team.

Calisthenics, for non-Australian readers, is a competitive team sport that combines elements of floor exercises, ballet, rhythmic gymnastics and marching. It requires concentration, balance, control, flexibility, strength and rhythm. It's practiced in the competitive sense only in Australia, and is currently 100% female (so I learned from Wikipedia).

My daughter M has been doing calisthenics for about six months. She does it because her friends do it, and I'm happy with it because it is very cheap for a kids' sport, it fits in perfectly with A's weekly karate lessons (which are NOT cheap), and because M is a little accident prone and the balance and co-ordination can only help her.

M is in a 7-10 year-old Sub Juniors team (known as "Subbies").  This weekend marked the end of the 2014 competitions with the Victorian State Titles. 8 Sub Junior teams competed in 10 events, and I will not shy from admitting it was a LOOOONG day.

It was also my day for helping out in the dressing rooms as a rostered mum, along with two others. Though I initially thought I had drawn the short straw being rostered to the biggest competition that went from 9am to 3.30pm, in fact it was the best, because (a) better than sitting in the audience watching every team perform every event for all those hours and (b) with so many teams there was plenty of time between each event so it was easy to get the girls get ready in time. Plus, being the last comp, the girls all knew the drill and mostly dressed themselves anyway. My chief duty was hanging up costumes in the girls' dress bags after each change.

I will insert a short plea here, if you are the parent of a calisthenics competitor, please do use an easy-access dress bag, and you know what? Don't bind all the coat hangers together with a rubber band. That is seriously annoying, and no one is going to steal your coat hangers.

Anyway, it was kind of fun, or at least a different way to spend 6 hours. As with every comp, we got up at 6 in the morning to do M's leg tan and then her hair. The hair takes the longest, needing to be gelled and scraped into a high bun, attach a "wiglet" and secure it all with a thousand hair pins. Makeup is minimal in our club, just foundation, then at the comp the coaches add eye liner and pink lipstick.

As we don't have a car right now, my friend MN (mother of M's friend V in the same team) drove us all there and back. She had done two girls' hair because N the mother of the other friend G, can't do it, so N made us all large cafe-quality coffees to drink in the car. Quite a good way to start the day when it has to be started that early.

The comp venue was a lovely theatre attached to a college, and it was a beautiful sunny day, so the constant walking back and forth between dressing room and theatre (via the outside), was no strain.

I spent my free time either watching some of the events, sitting outside in the sun or chatting with others in the foyer.

The events were Marching, Clubs, Rods, Free Exercises, Aesthetics and Song and Dance.
My favourite event is Marching, followed by Free Exercises. My least favourite is Song and Dance, which is like cabaret for kids.

I like the Marching because M's team does an AWESOME routine with quite complicated choreography to a rousing Irish tune, and it's great to watch.

Free Exercises is where you see the backbends, leg lifts, splits, headstands and cartwheels. Some of the girls who have been doing calisthenics for years are amazing in this event. It's quite incredible what they can do. It's like a mixture of pilates and cheerleading.

Club swinging is difficult but frankly a little boring to watch. I shouldn't say that, because our team placed first in the Clubs event yesterday. But, it's not my favourite thing.

Rods: think, baton twirling. It's also difficult, and looks good when done well.

The Aesthetics is very pretty. All the girls wear long floaty dresses and do graceful slow dances to beautiful music.  Unfortunately our team's song was 'When She Loved Me' from Toy Story 2, which has always, and I mean ALWAYS made me cry. It's so freaking sad!!!

Fortunately, watching this song performed over 4 rehearsals and 4 competitions, finally got me to the point (about a week ago I guess) where I could safely sit through it without my nose turning red and my eyes blinking furiously, so by the day of the last competition I was fine.

My daughter was SO beautiful up on stage, standing apart from the team in her very own spotlight, in her long blue dress, her hair piled up on her head over her beautiful long neck, and making the kind of graceful, controlled movements of which I could hardly believe she was capable.

Taking photos at competitions is strictly verboten, but here is a snippet of M at her first rehearsal:

I still find Calisthenics a somewhat weird activity. I'm not really sure how much M actually likes it, or whether she will continue. She doesn't hate it, and she has improved her flexibility and balance since she started, and she gets to spend more time with her friends. Plus it's a cheap activity and other than having to help out backstage for one competition every year, it's no hassle for the parents. So for all that I'm happy with it.

What is/was your favourite/least favourite kids' activity?


  1. This is a truly lovely post.
    I never did callistenics, and as an unco klutz it could only have helped. I did ballet for a while after foot surgery - and hated it. Judo which I liked and gave up because it was seriously uncool. A mistake.
    My parents didn't come to any of the events. Too busy? Not interested? I don't know, and it is too late to ask.

    1. Thanks EC. I didn't do a lot of activities, I mostly wasn't interested. I did calisthenics for such a short time I barely remember it, Girl Scouts for a couple of years, tennis and self defense - I think that's it.

  2. I still have nightmares about leg tan, 40 years on. I think my mother does too...

    1. I have more anxiety about the hair than the leg tan, but M says the leg tan feels 'slimy' so she doesn't like it much.

  3. I didn't try Calisthenics, I didn't try 99% of things on offer. I did try out for the marching girls once and the trainer said I'd be really good and sent me home with a list of uniform and boots items I'd have to get. And that was the end of that. If there was money involved, Dad wouldn't pay. So for me it was library and run-around-on-the-beach when I wasn't in school.
    Your daughter looks gorgeous in that floaty dress!
    Leg tan? Stand me in the sun for 5 minutes....

    1. Thank you! I think she does too :)
      Your childhood activities sound pretty good to me - I'd rather beach and library than marching any day!

  4. Damn, I've just watched that video and now I'm mopping my eyes.

  5. What a sweet little girl in her pretty dress.



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