USA Gymnastics September Rhythmic Squad Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY
Rhythmic gymnastics is both art and sport. The USA Gymnastics 2023 September Rhythmic Squad Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY, provided three days of intensive training for young athletes striving to hone both their artistic and technical skills. These gymnasts and their coaches traveled from across the country for this unique training opportunity. Each athlete earned their spot at camp through their competition results. These young girls are rising stars in the sport, representing fourteen clubs from Southern California, to New York City, to Florida and cities in between.
Eager faces entered the gym on day 1, ready for a week full of ballet, apparatus technique, creativity and performance workshops, jumps training, nerve activations, and a carefully crafted warm-up.
This Rhythmic Squad Camp was led by a passionate, experienced group of staff. Caitlan Maggs, 22-year head artistic trainer for Cirque du Soleil, taught on creativity and performance! Rounding out the impressive group of clinicians were Christina Brown, beloved ballet teacher who is superwoman with her physical therapy background, Amanda Till, our camp PT who can also closely connect with the gymnasts using her dance background, and Karina Lykhvar, 2016 Olympian in rhythmic gymnastics. Galina Burns and Natalia Linnyk also stepped in for body waves and jumps sessions. Three of these ladies have a physical therapy background in addition to their dance/gymnastics experience. This is so important for our program as they understand the body and ensure correct positioning and healthy physical development in every exercise. They can explain to the gymnasts and coaches why each exercise is important and how it translates to rhythmic gymnastics. The professionalism in this group of staff was unmatched as they devoted themselves to the gymnasts all week!
Prior to their first session in the gym in the morning and afternoon, the athletes started with nerve activations and soft tissue mobilization to gently get their nerves flowing with the muscles and prepare the bodies for the training to come.
Ballet for Rhythmic Gymnastics
Ballet is an important base for rhythmic gymnastics. Christina has a gift for teaching young rhythmic gymnasts in a fun and effective way. “Jucy plies” are the way to her heart! During each ballet combination, Christina focuses on correct alignment and technique. Progress was clearly visible throughout the week as the gymnasts worked on combinations both at the barre and in center with their extended ballet time.
When asked what she learned at camp, one gymnast said, "I learned how ballet progresses from barre and then center and all of that technique can be applied in our routines on balances, leaps, and pivots." YES! This is why we focus on ballet. Another gymnast said, "I learned how to do correct juicy plies, correct tendues, and correct degages." When given a chance to express what they planned to focus on after camp, one gymnast stated, "I want to focus on always remembering my ballet technique during my routines." Another said, "I want to focus on good plies, which include not turning in." Multiple gymnasts mentioned that they learned about spotting during pivots from Christina and plan to work more on that going forward. Yet another future focus from an athlete was, "I would like to focus on lifting my arch, keeping my ribs in, and using plie." So many great take-aways from ballet for these young athletes!
Creativity and Performance Workshops
Caitlan led creativity and performance workshops for both gymnasts and coaches throughout the week. Her specialty is helping athletes become artists! This is so important for rhythmic gymnasts as artistry becomes increasingly important in our sport. Caitlin helped the girls learn to understand that expression is so much more than the face. It comes from the core of the body! Her exercises allowed the athletes to practice this and be free and creative in their movement. One of my favorite exercises that Caitlan did with the gymnasts was having them sit in a circle and using the simple action of opening their hand to convey different emotions. It was amazing seeing the lightbulb moments the gymnasts had as they understood that the movement quality of any body part can contribute to character and expression. As the gymnasts were learning to make their character believable during improv, Caitlan encouraged them to capture the audience’s ATTENTION with their INTENTION what a great nugget of wisdom to hold on to!
When asked what they LOVED about camp, so many gymnasts noted Caitlan's workshops! They said working with Caitlan "improved their creativity", "let them be free and express different emotions", "helped discover how to express different emotions with different music", and allowed them to "use their face". Another gymnast said she loved Caitlan's workshop because "it will help me show more artistry in my routines." What a privilege it was to have Caitlan join USA Gymnastics for the Rhythmic Squad Camp!
Rhythmic Gymnastics Basic Apparatus Technique
Camp is a great time to focus on the basic apparatus technique that is oh so important, but often overlooked as a main focus in everyday training. Karina patiently worked with the gymnasts on improving their body positions under throws and developing stronger technique on basic apparatus elements. They even engaged in creative exercises like replacing rhythmic apparatus with tennis balls and using double apparatus to enhance coordination. This strong base will allow the gymnasts to successfully perform harder and harder difficulties. One gymnast eloquently summarized what she learned in Karina's apparatus sessions, writing "I learned the proper technique for tosses. Legs together, arms from the side upwards, no arch in the back."
The warm-up taught at camp was carefully crafted to include exercises targeting parts of the body most used with the current code of points for rhythmic gymnastics and adding in specific strengthening for areas often subject to overuse injuries. This warm-up packed in great variety in a short amount of time! It combined elements of floor ballet, yoga, and physical therapy exercises, as well as waves and other traditional rhythmic gymnastics stretches.
Jumps Sessions at the Rhythmic Squad Camp
The jumps sessions at camp were anything but standard! They started out with ingenuitive exercises created by Christina, Amanda and the rest of the rhythmic high performance team (shout out to masterminds Elizabeth Darling and Jenna Tegtmeyer!). These initial exercises from a physical therapy perspective prepared the muscle to jump and land properly. The gymnasts then moved into more traditional rhythmic gymnastics jump exercises, but with a flare: adding artistic arm positions of the gymnasts’ choice!
Preventative Physical Therapy and Strengthening in Rhythmic Gymnastics
Amanda and Christina used their combined physical therapy and dance skills to assist the gymnasts during ballet, warm-ups, jumps sessions, HIIT, active recovery, and with modifications wherever needed. In the gymnasts' own words, here are some take-aways that they learned from Christina and Amanda.
- "I learned what my asis is and some new terminology."
- "I learned about how to keep my core."
- "I learned...the importance of core strength."
- "I learned about improving slowly, not so fast, taking it easy, and stretching after rolling out."
- "I learned about the importance of being square."
- "I learned how to use my plie and core for different things."
- "I learned how to stabilize my pelvis."
Coaches at Camp
The athletes personal coaches at camp were learning right alongside their athletes while supporting them in this information packed three-day camp. It was wonderful to see all of the personal coaches making corrections for their own athletes and others, recording teaching to review later, and even trying out exercises themselves! A couple coaches at camp roasted and ate their first ever s'more during the campfire activity night! Thank you, coaches for the hard work you put in with your athletes everyday at the gym!
A big thank you to all the staff for their hard work and expertise as well as USA Gymnastics for inviting me to manage the camp and photograph these moments.