Rhythmic Gymnastics: Why This Intense Olympic Sport Is A Lot More Than Just Dancing With Ribbons

Is rhythmic gymnastics the same thing as ribbon dancing?

When most people that are not really familiar with the sport hear the term “rhythmic gymnastics,” perhaps the phrase “ribbon dancing” immediately pops into their heads. Over the years, this particular Olympic sport has become primarily known for the vast number of ribbon dancing routines used by its skilled athletes.

Rhythmic gymnastics and ribbon dancing routines have also been used and referenced casually and comically in TV shows and movies.

For example, in the 2015 movie Kung Fu Panda 3, Mei Mei performed a ribbon dance to get Po’s attention.

The 2006 gymnastics comedy film Stick It focused on rhythmic gymnastics in a scene where the leading lady Haley (played by Missy Peregrym) referenced the “freaks” of the sport.

“While gymnasts are freaks, rhythmic gymnasts are like our circus freaks. They’re freaktastic.”

Perhaps the most popular scene which poked fun at the ribbon dancing aspect of rhythmic gymnastics featured comedic actor Will Ferrell performing an “original” routine in Old School.

However, the artistic and athletic sides of rhythmic gymnastics go far above and beyond basic ribbon dancing. If you think this sport consists of merely grabbing a stick with an attached ribbon and jumping while spinning it in the air, you are sadly mistaken. That may look great on camera in a comedy film, but that is definitely not what these athletes train so hard to achieve with this Olympic sport.


In order to excel in the world of rhythmic gymnastics, you must focus on enhancing four physical skills — strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. According to the Olympic Games website, the ribbon is just one of five different apparatuses used with this type of gymnastics; balls, clubs, hoops, and ropes are also included.

rhythmic gymnastics
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Which apparatus is used in competition? That depends on the type of competition. For instance, group competitions allow rhythmic gymnasts to use the same apparatus during their opening routines. However, they will need to use two different options for the second routine. Scores are added for each individual routine and then added together to calculate the group’s overall score.

On the other hand, individual rhythmic gymnastics competitions require the athletes to compete using four of the five different apparatuses. Just like with the group competitions, they are scored on each individual routine and those are added to calculate their overall score. Bottom line: A rhythmic gymnast needs to master a whole lot more than dancing with ribbons in order to succeed in this sport or even think about making it to the Olympics.


The artistry and beauty of a well-executed rhythmic gymnastics routine is absolutely breathtaking – especially when you consider what goes into it. For instance, the athlete’s control of their selected apparatus is captivating in itself. In addition to how they are moving their bodies, these gymnasts are also required to keep their apparatuses moving throughout their routine. Each time that they drop it, points are deducted from their score — especially if the apparatus rolls away from them when it falls.

rhythmic gymnastics
(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

As is the case with all types of gymnastics, rhythmic gymnasts are still required to maintain proper form as well (i.e. keeping their bodies tight and toes pointed during leaps and jumps, etc.) As mentioned, flexibility is an essential quality for rhythmic gymnasts — especially ones that make it to the Olympics.

Stretch day at Champion Rhythmic gymnastics! pic.twitter.com/yQkwR4ycSJ

— Sophia Lucia (@MsSophiaLucia) August 9, 2016

Performing 180-degree splits at the very least should be a required element of their routine, in addition to executing other moves that showcase flexibility in the athlete’s shoulders, back and legs.


The “Go Big or Go Home” mentality used in many other sports also applies within the world of rhythmic gymnastics. The judges need to be captivated, entertained, and impressed by a gymnast’s routine in order for them to get the high scores that they expect. Taking risks with complicated catches, risky flips and complex choreography overall will help to achieve that goal and hopefully push the athlete toward victory. This is definitely not the type of sport where underachievement and “playing it safe” will get you a Gold medal.

(Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Another important quality that athletes must have to succeed at rhythmic gymnastics is a positive mentality. Irina Viner, president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation and head coach of the national team, opened up about this quality in a September 2015 interview with Russia Beyond the Headlines.

“Seventy percent of my job is counselling. This cannot be substituted by physical exercises or brilliant choreography. I try to explain what the highest level of skill actually is, try showing them examples of such skill. It is all about a positive attitude, you have to perform with love, get into the so-called ‘flow,’ which is when time has no power over you and you don’t care about any issues of technique.”

According to Viner, even the most successful rhythmic gymnasts need to stay away from the dangers of pride. Becoming too attached to the “grandeur” and “stardom” associated with victory “is bad for everyone and, above all, for the athlete.”

“While you are standing on the podium, you are lovely, you are fabulous… But as soon as you get back down, you have to forget about the triumph and start practicing twice as hard.”

As you can see, there is a lot more to rhythmic gymnastics than just twirling and dancing with ribbons. This is a good point to keep in mind while watching the various gymnastics events during the Olympics in Rio.

[Image Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]