Monday, 6 October 2014

A post-holiday fuelled rant entirely unrelated to worlds

I know, right? I have no business writing about non-worlds things right now. But needs must.

Carriage. What is carriage? Carriage encompasses a lot of things, and is a little hard to really pin down and squash into a precise definition. For me, carriage is holding yourself correctly. Poise. Fluidity of movement. Grace and elegance in limb and head movement. It is utter awareness of everything your body is doing. It is long lines. Excellent posture. It is toepoint, attention to things like fingers. It is not expression or ability to dance and it certainly is not artistry as a whole.

It's important. A gymnast with good carriage makes for a pleasant viewing experience. It's something you see straight away, they either have it or they don't, it tends not to be something you only pick up on over time or after watching high quality videos.

Russian gymnasts have good to excellent carriage as a whole. It's emphasised in their training from a young age and it shows instantly, coming across even in photos. Chinese gymnasts have it more often than not. Romanian gymnasts don't have it more often than not. Americans with good carriage are thin on the ground and tend not to rise to the top. Kyla Ross whilst showing gorgeous long lines and form, does not have it. She is very stiff in her upper body. I'm not picking on her because I'm not a fan of her, but because her lines tend to mask this so she makes a better example than Simone Biles who also does not have it.

Having good carriage is great. It sets a gymnast apart straight away and makes them worth watching. It's one of the things the Soviets were so excellent at and is one aspect of that training that lives on in Round Lake today.

It is not everything. It's not even everything when we think about artistry. Expression, dance ability, choreography and performance are HUGE aspects of artistry. A gymnast who holds herself like a Bolshoi ballet dancer and moves accordingly is of no interest if she flops around with pathetic arm waving or has deplorable tumbling technique. Or numerous other significant faults. Carriage does not carry these things. Give me Claudia Fragapane and her complete lack of carriage and even lines thanks to her height rather than a dull, arm flailing spectacle complete with breathing like a bull in the corners and shoddy tumbling any day.

Here's what I mean.


Good carriage and lines. But she may as well be sleeping for the amount of performance quality and expression on display here and her dance is extremely lacklustre as a result. I have zero interest in watching this again. There are better examples and I'm sure I could find one with more time.


See how she glides, exudes bundles of Soviet goodness and elegance with every movement AND expresses. And dances. She would still be great without the carriage. It lifts her, but she has a lot of other positives going on.


General lack of carriage and lines going on here. And yet, it's wonderful. It's artistic. She is so into her dance and performs it so well. The music goes with her, it's not a totally unrelated background noise. This is WHY the overemphasis on carriage at the expense of other vital artistic components is so irritating.

Who cares so much about carriage? Some factions on the gymternet hold it in high esteem. Well and good. It is a great plus to someone's gymnastics. It is when its importance is inflated and gymnasts who don't possess it are completely denigrated when it becomes a problem for me. Look back to the glory days of gymnastics all you want. I love doing that. Prefer one style of gymnastics over the other all you want. But running other great gymnasts down and in a constant fashion, however impressive, however otherwise artistic because they don't hold themselves in a certain way sucks. I don't respect other opinions when they don't offer the same courtesy.

In other news, I flew back last night and highly resented getting up at 6AM this morning for work. I'm sure that came across here nicely.

Have you noticed this attitude too? The athletic gymnastic slandering and utter forgiveness of bad routines once the particular gymnast is elegant? When am I going to get a chance to watch the prelims streams back?

17 comments:

  1. It's about class. Carriage (having it, caring about it) is a more reliable way to signal being an insider, because it's subtler and harder to "fake". The people who care about it aren't looking for a compelling performance; they're looking for something elevated, which will distinguish them from the common folks.

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    1. Yes, although I don't have an issue with people seeking it or preferring it. The overinflation of its importance superseding all else is annoying but it's those corners of the internet that relentlessly belittle/insult gymnastics that doesn't fall into line with this that is my real problem.

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  2. Essentially...gymnastics has moved on. By all means, prefer the past. But it is not okay to constantly hate modern types of gymnastics and voice that all the time. It gets old fast.

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  3. It is incredible what these athletes are capable of doing. I feel like it is pretty difficult to be participate in gymnastics, requires very talented individuals. I think that all sports will likely change with time and there will be people who all have differing opinions.
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  4. I agree with you. I studied at the Colorado Academy of Ballet for 10 years, as well as jazz, tap and modern dance with a modern company. So I believe I know dance. Rarely, very rarely, do I see a gymnast who actually incorporates artistry - and that's fine, because that's not the point of their sport. But when they do incorporate it - from a dance experience, it's usually not the gymnasts the gymternet claims are "artistic" based on their long lean lines and dainty poses. Instead, it's the feeling, the power, the look. I love Fragapone (spelling?) and Afan from 2012. Those ladies have artistry. Lyons does as well. The worst this year in my opinion is a Russian - Sosnitskya (spelling?) stands out as incredibly poor. But that's picking on an individual when so many of them do not. I agree with your rant.

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    1. I'm quite honoured you agree with me with a background like that! :)

      Yes, I feel in a way it can be summed up by 'Is she enjoying this? Does she love what she's doing and seeks to connect to her audience?'. Because they're at nothing if they can't draw an audience in. So many routines prized as artistic and/or great dance (Alicia Sacramone is one culprit here) are characterised for me by having the gymnast look like they're in a different room or contemplating lunch.

      Sosnitskaya, yes, I'd agree.

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  5. What do you think of Ilaria Kaeslin? I find her presentation so enjoyable compared to some other routines of today

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    1. She's quite lovely, I was annoyed she didn't qualify to AA. I'd love to see her or Noemi Makra get the Longines prize but she didn't qualify either so neither are in the running. I'd love to see some upgrades from these two.

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    2. Makra has been working big, big upgrades (full-in beam dismount, Nabieva on bars, DTY) but they're not really ready yet. Hopefully she can put it together!

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  6. God, I could not agree more. I was wondering when someone was going to address this. Many a fans - well, to be more specific, Russian fans in particular - put an inordinate amount of emphasis on things like grace, line and carriage, with failing to understand that, as wonderful and aesthetically pleasing as those things are, they are really more of a compliment to artistry than anything else, instead of artistry itself. As if these things were the be all end all of artistic gymnastics.

    I wish to introduce another concept that fits perfectly into this discussion: body bias. To some, a gymnast like Simone will always be behind gymnasts like Aliya or even Iordache in terms of artistry no matter how hard she tries (and she tries hard) because of her body type. To give a microcosmic example of this, I was on a video of last year's World Floor Final. One of the comments went something like, "Larisa was great. Biles was ugh. She has no grace whatsoever." So, Larisa is suddenly graceful? Why? Why does a gymnast like Larisa get credit for being a graceful artistic gymnast and Biles does not when there is actually little difference in how they move and present themselves? It's because Larisa is slimmer, leaner, more traditionally feminine. Biles is compact, muscled, and more athletic in her build. And as such Larisa is much less likely to have her artistry scrutinized than Biles. It's ridiculous, and this crap logic is everywhere on the gymternet. It's the reason I think Komova, a beautiful gymnast with great carriage, is still overrated in the artistry department. But hey, she's a tiny waif with excellent toe point, so she must be artistic, right?

    I hate to call out specific blogs, but I'm going to. Rewriting Russian Gymnastics is one of the worst offenders of body bias - or bias in general - of the entire gymternet. And it's a shame because they have some great stuff when they aren't lamenting about how artistry is dead, except for the Russians, and how American gymnastics sucks a** and is comprised of overly-muscled acrobats. They don't put it in those exact words, opting for a more psuedo-intellectual approach, but at the end of the day that's what they mean. I've looked pretty extensively through their articles and comments and it really is astounding how much self-awareness and lack of open-mindedness they possess.

    Honestly, these athletes, whether they be a balletic Russian or an athletic American or what have you, deserve better than what fans and bloggers are giving them.

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    1. These rants seem to be hard to predict :p There's definitely a body type one at some stage. Because that is exactly it, and the perfect example that you used. I completely see and understand that some body types are just more aesthetically pleasing to watch. It is of course when it's used to cover flaws of one gymnast while picking out flaws in another simply because of body type that it's a problem. Larisa and Simone ARE very similar on floor. Strong, clean tumbling. Exuberant, energetic, charming performances. Enjoyment in evidence. Blasting the one who's more muscly is nonsenical. Neither have carriage or grace, but they do have artistry.

      Certainly there are Russian fans guilty of this but they're not alone. It seems to affect all fandoms, but we are more exposed to Russian as they have a huge number of English speaking fans. I know myself that there are a sizeable number of Chinese fans who are repelled at athletic body types. This if of course borne of the fact that they still filter for it so it's much more shocking for them. Even so, it is vile to hear about vile comments.

      I posted a while ago about what makes me a fan of a certain gymnast. They need to have more than one thing going for them, it's essentially a checklist. If you have carriage and nothing else then it's the same, it's just not enough.

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    2. THANK YOU for the discussion of body type bias. I feel like I see this ALL the time, and it's especially bad for the gymnasts of color whose bodies are less traditionally "feminine" (a European/Western concept of feminine body shape, at that).

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    3. God bless you Catherine you have said what i have been trying to say for the longest about artistry, but was not able to explain as eloquent as you just did. I have said it about Komova, Ross, Amanar, Luikin, and i can continue with endless of gymnast who have amazing "carriage" but are the most boring performers that ever existed. is great to have amazing posture and balletic lines but they mean nothing if the expression and the body awareness to the performance is not here. give me Produnova,Shushunova, Biles, Weiber, Cheng fei, Douglas any day over some boring gymnast with great Carriage as you stated but an empty shell while doing gymnastics. and to explain about gymnast with amazing carriage and great artistry you have Miller, Khorkina, Sui Lu, Yang Bo, Huilan, Silivas, Boginskaya, Lysenko, Podkovayeva, Mustafina

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    4. Exactly. I have no problem with people being predisposed to certain types of gymnasts. I can totally see why one would. I, myself, am neutral when it comes to nations and styles and approaches, with some individual gymnasts that I like over others. But I don't let that blind me. Unfortunately, personal preference has been willfully mistaken as absolute fact. It's become a dogma among many. The comments about young gymnasts like Biles sicken me with their ignorance and meanness. If I have to read one more comment about Biles being a body builder who moves like an elephant I'll scream. And apparently, being an American gymnast also resigns her to the "not artistic" bin as well.

      Yes, I know it's more than just Russian fans, I only call them out because they are the most numerous, vocal and vitriolic, and the above mentioned blog epitomizes much of what I believe to be wrong about their views. If you prefer classical elegance with supple lines and graceful carriage, good for you, but why does that automatically mean that other gymnasts who are not like that not worth anything? I just don't get this close-mindedness.... These people are missing out on a lot of great gymnasts when they think like this.

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  7. I agree with the comments above about body bias. I have been guilty of it myself. I was (am) a huge fan of the golden era of Soviet gymnastics and the sport will never have the sheen and mystique it had for me then. Part of the allure I think was the sense of the Soviet gymnasts as 'other' - almost a different species from the ordinary, lumbering Western gymnasts who for years and years seemed incapable of reaching such transcendent heights. In contrast, a lot of the leading gymnasts today look like ordinary (albeit exceptionally fit, strong and flexible) young women. Gymnastics has always been a very ideological sport. It says: this is what we (we Soviets, we modern day Americans, we communist Chinese etc) believe to be the pinnacle of physical perfection. And while I will always feel drawn to the image that Soviet gymnastics projected, what the heck is wrong with us when we look at someone like Simone Biles - who in any objective sense is the best gymnast in the world right now by a wide margin - and find her undeserving of her success? She's exactly the kind of gymnast I used to dismiss as the 'wrong' kind of gymnast - but maybe having a daughter now I see things differently. I think Biles is a much better role model for young girls than, say, the uniformly underweight Chinese, notwithstanding their beautiful lines. Biles exudes energy, good health and atheleticism. So she’s got a muscular build – who says women aren’t allowed to have a muscular build? Who says they have to be thin and waif-like and perpetually pre-pubescent? In the 1980s we thought only tiny, waif-like gymnasts were capable of performing top level gymnastics. We were wrong.

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  8. I love gymnastics from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but I also appreciate and love today's gymnastics. What I love about the earlier era of gymnastics is the purity of form and the emphasis on perfect basics, the virtuosity of the exercise, and the originality because it is different from what we see today (ex. UB, love me some belly beats!), and there was more variation in the routines as opposed to today. The best gymnasts of the earlier eras shared this exemplary execution, and I love that purity of movement. I loved compulsories because it was execution taken to the max and the simplest of moves are often the most beautiful when performed to the max. Even so, I loved many different gymnasts with different body types - I love Shush and Silivas, Boginskaya and Zmeskal. I appreciate the differences between them because they're all exceptional, and they brought their own kind of special to what they did.
    There are definite "artistry" stans who prefer the Soviet days because of perceived balletic ideals of artistry. I prefer the earlier golden eras of gymnastics because of the focus of perfect execution with adequate difficulty. And while I can appreciate Komova's beautiful execution, she is not a favorite of mine because of how detached she seems from her routines. The only time I've actually enjoyed her on floor was in the 2012 Olympic AA. Otherwise, Grishina, Afan, Biles and Iordache any day and twice on Sunday.

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  9. Interestingly enough, considering how much you enjoy her, I find Makra to be one of those gymnasts like you exemplified with Fedorova. Lovely, clean presentation and lines, but I think she looks like she's sleepwalking through her routines, especially floor. Too bad, considering her execution is near perfect.

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