Hoop Dreams

North Shore Rhythmics, based in Glenview, is the home base of some of the country’s most elite athletes. Its head coach, Natalia Klimouk, is a star in her field. So why has no one heard of it? As rhythmic gymnastics struggles to overcome invisibility, one local team strives for the ultimate validation.

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The scene inside the Glenview Park Center does not immediately call to mind Olympic glory. It is quiet, even mellow. A dozen girls are working out, mostly stretching and holding Pilates-like poses in a mat-lined gym that is only provisionally partitioned from the basketball court next door. Above their heads, a few senior citizens make their way slowly around the second-floor jogging track.


… the other one. Popular in Eastern Europe, rhythmic has been around for nearly 50 years.
A brief history

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A single coach—tall and lean, with the elegant posture of a ballerina—calls several of the young women together and, with a few words, starts them on the routine that will occupy them for the next hour: tumbling and tossing ropes back and forth to one another in an intricately choreographed pattern. They repeat each sequence of the routine ten times, keeping count themselves, matching their pace to a musical soundtrack playing only in their minds. The complexity of what they’re doing is almost mind-boggling: Moving together in a straight line down the length of the mat, the girls simultaneously keep five ropes in the air, catching and tossing them to each other in rapid succession—it’s five-person juggling with complicated, synchronized dancing thrown in. The longer one watches, the more impossible it seems. But, more times than not, they get it exactly right. Then they count off and do it again.

Meanwhile, another girl, 14-year-old Marlee Shape, is tossing a similar rope on her own, throwing it high in the air and executing a complicated series of poses before lying down on the mat, knees bent, and catching it, seemingly effortlessly, with a single, outstretched arm. Occasionally, the rope gets caught in the rafters of the high ceiling, where the basketball backboards have been cranked up. Unfazed, she grabs a plastic hoop from the corner, throws it upwards, and dislodges the rope on the first try.




7 years ago
Posted by Anya Z

I loved it! It was both funny and inspiring at the same time. I am a gymnast myself, and I've heard of Lisa wang but never seen her. I was totally fascinated.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Thank you so much for such an indepth look into such a beautiful sport! The writer captured so much for us readers :)

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

YES, excellent overview of USA rhythmic.
I am an American that follows elite rhythmic gymnastics internationally (photographer). I learned a lot (blush) about my own country in rhythmic gymnastics, reading this overview. Only the writer missed mentioning Ukraine among the rhythmic powerhouse countries. Yet so many parts of this USA overview were right on. The words "struggles to overcome invisibility", describes exactly the long-time situation in USA. Many people I meet here, will also exclaim those exact words, "the thing with the ribbons". The writer, Debra Pickett, excellently conveyed the dedication and passion you have to have to be a rhythmic gymnast in our North American culture. For journalists even, it is really hard (mainstream USA gymnastics magazines are dominated by artistic gymnastics and rarely will cover rhythmic). On Olympic years, just NBC Sports carries it briefly at the end of the Games. Thanks so much.
Tom Theobald
San Diego, California

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Thank you so much for this amazing article. It is a great depiction the obstacles rhythmic gymnasts need to overcome in a continent with such little recognition. The hard work and talent needed to succeed in this sport is extraordinary.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Wow, what a great article! It's SO nice to see articles about rhythmic gymnastics in American magazines and newspapers. thank you so much!

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