Origin and history of rhythmic gymnastics

rhythmic gymnastics history Pehr Henrik Ling

Pehr Henrik Ling started the “Northern Movement” in the early 19th century.

Although gymnastics has a notable history in classical antiquity, its first modern appearances date back to the 18th century in Western Europe. Its germ was the theories of the French anthropologist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) on the physical development of infants and its importance in the educational process, which was not part of pedagogical concerns until then.

These ideas were put into practice by the German pedagogue Johann Bernhard Basedow (1723-1790), who inaugurated a current of physical education that would later be followed by many others, including the Swedish Pehr Henrik Ling, initiator of the “Northern Movement” who created the Swedish academy in 1814.

Ling was the creator of “aesthetic gymnastics” that escaped the rigid formats of the military world and physical exercise and allowed students to express emotional content through body movements.

The success of this model allowed its transfer in 1837 to the United States by Catharine Beecher, founder of the Western Female Institute (“Western Feminine Institute”) in Ohio, where grace without dancing was practised, something like “elegance without dance”, a method of female exercise to the rhythm of the music. In 1864, Professor Diocletian Lewis went even further, incorporating different artefacts into the activities: weights, clubs and wooden rings.

Another important predecessor was, towards the end of the 19th century, the French musician and teacher François Delsarte (1811-1871), who worked with actors he taught to use the body more expressively, using exercises inspired by the method of ling. Thus he created a method (the “Delsarte method”) that would be fundamental for creating the Center Movement, a direct precursor in Austria, Germany and Switzerland of modern rhythmic gymnastics.

The Center Movement had great success at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the incorporation of eurythmics (eurythmics), created by the Swiss musician and educator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950), which was a method of teaching music through body exercise.

The greatest exponent of this European dance movement was a student of Dalcroze himself, the German Rudolf Bode, to whom we owe the emergence of expressive gymnastics, the name by which rhythmic gymnastics was then called. Bode founded his school in Munich in 1911, and in 1922, he published the successful book Expressive Gymnastics, laying the foundations for this new form of artistic-sports discipline.

Bode’s work was crucial to the popularization of rhythmic gymnastics in the world and was continued by the German Heinrich Medau, creator of the Movement College in Berlin, in 1929. The media focused on creating a specific method for young and adult women, which would be aesthetic and beneficial for health.

These novel theories and movements were made known to the world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, along with the contributions of other important Swedish and Finnish schools that pursued a more fluid gymnastics, less rigid in its movements.

Although this female sport had been practised for the first time at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games under modern gymnastics, it was at the 1934 World Gymnastics Championships (the first to accept female competition) that rhythmic gymnastics gained actual international relevance. The rhythmic gymnastics schools of the Soviet Union had a lot to do with this, where it was called artistic gymnastics (a name that today is reserved for another discipline).

Then, in 1962, the International Gymnastics Federation was founded, dedicated to standardizing the practice of this sport, and in 1963 the first Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championship was organized in Budapest, whose champion was the Soviet Ludmila Savinkova. Since then, it was decided to hold the championship every two years, thus beginning a worldwide expansion of the discipline. It ended in 1984 by incorporating rhythmic gymnastics as an official Olympic sport.

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