Steel City Invitational in McCandless highlights rhythmic gymnastics

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:45 p.m.

When most people think of gymnastics, some things that might come to mind are events such as the balance beam, vault and bars.

But in rhythmic gymnastics, events such as those are replaced by a dancing floor routine choreographed to music with items such as a ribbon, a ball and a hoop.

Rhythmic gymnastics will be on display March 9 and 10 at the Kerr Fitness and Sports Center at La Roche College in McCandless for the 2013 Steel City Invitational and PA State Meet.

“Rhythmic gymnastics is a combination of flexibility and manipulation of an apparatus,” the event's co-coordinator Frances Hawbaker said. “It's choreographed to music, so it's completely different.”

The event will host a variety of athletes with 180 participants ranging from ages 6 through 20 and levels 3 through 10. A gymnast's level is determined by the coach, with the more skilled athletes competing at higher levels.

Local club teams such as the Pittsburgh Northstars will be competing with teams from across Pennsylvania and states such as Maryland, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia, among others.

“This is sanctioned as a state meet, which means any gymnast who is wishing to advance to the regional meet (in May) has to be at the state meet,” Hawbaker said.Kamelia Velkova-Dunlevy, head coach of the Pittsburgh Northstars, is hoping for a strong effort out of her gymnasts after long weeks of preparation.

“The girls from levels 5 through 9 come (to practice) four days a week,” Velkova-Dunlevy said. “They have training in strength and conditioning, and they also train their routines, which we have to compete in front of judges.”

Primarily a European sport that recently has grown in popularity in the United States, rhythmic gymnastics typically is an individual sport but also allows for a group of five gymnasts to compete in the team portion of events, as well. Individual competitors are allowed to use only one apparatus at a time, while groups may use two.

One aspect unique to rhythmic gymnastics is that each Olympic year, some aspects of the rules change, leading to an adjustment phase among competitors.

Velkova-Dunlevy, a native of Bulgaria, said she is hoping her rhythmic gymnasts can flourish at the Steel City Invitational under the new guidelines.

“Rhythmic gymnastics just changed their rules, so I'm hoping that they'll finally get the new rules and get ready to compete without any mistakes,” she said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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