It was the late 70’s, and a young girl in Brazil wanted to be like her older sister and do gymnastics. Bibiana Pinto was born in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul (south of Brazil), and fell in love with gymnastics at the age of five and then embarked on a 12-year long career as a Rhythmic Gymnastics (RG) athlete.
In the early 80’s, RG was a completely unknown sport, just starting to make its first appearances in the national scene. Little did Bibiana know at that point, that rhythmic gymnastics was the sport that would become her passion.
“Looking back, I realize that my team was responsible for establishing the group culture in the sport that is known today. We conquered the first international silver medal for Brazil in the Pan American Games in Cuba 1991. I competed in two world championships: 1989 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and 1991 in Athens, Greece”, Bibiana told me.
After three intense years of competing on the RG Brazilian national team, Bibiana retired from the sport at the age of 17 and went to college to study civil engineering. She then married a young Brazilian man and the couple immigrated to the U.S.
Decades passed since Bibiana did anything with or about RG, but nostalgia hit when her daughter was born in 2012. In 2015 the family moved to Greenwich, CT and Bibiana wondered if there was anything that could possibly be similar to rhythmic gymnastics in the area. When her daughter Amanda was three and a half years old, she found a program in Stamford, CT.
“Stepping again in a gym, handling the apparatus and watching my daughter take her first steps into the world of RG, the gymnast in me started to come out in another role: that of a coach. I was interacting with the little gymnasts and each day I realized that RG was still a huge part of me”, Bibiana said.
Some time in 2016, while participating in a fundraiser for the 9/11 victims, Bibiana felt the urge to give back to the community in return for the many wonderful opportunities that this country gave her and her family.
H.O.P.E, which stands for Humanitarian Organization for Physical Education was created as a non-profit organization a few months after that event with a small group of five girls, all her daughter’s friends. Bibiana found a space available at a local church and decided to send e-mails to other moms asking if they were interested in bringing their daughters to a free RG trial class. The program quickly grew to 15 girls. Then 50 girls. Then 70 girls.
More girls, more classes, more hours; bigger operations, a new space, bigger responsibilities and most importantly, bigger challenges.
The biggest challenge of all, is the unfortunate unpopularity of the sport when compared to Gymnastics Artistic Olympics. Names like Nadja Comaneci, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles immediately come to mind for the sport. What names do we associate for Rhythmic Gymnastics? What do we know about it?
“In the state of Connecticut there are all but three clubs. The vast majority of RG clubs in this country are confined among the Eastern Europeans communities where coaches teach in Russian and parents understand the sport perceiving it as a serious competitive activity and not a girly little dance with a ribbon”, Bibiana explained.
Rhythmic Gymnastics is a sport developed by women for girls; it involves ballet, dance, gymnastics and feminine movement. Because the appeal of RG is more feminine, unfortunately the sport attracts little sponsorship and therefore doesn’t appear often on prime-time TV, making it very hard for rhythmic gymnasts to reach the professional level. Without the necessary recognition, there is no demand. Without demand we cannot have children being stimulated to participate in a serious sport. Girls end up playing soccer, basketball, running track, and other mainstream sports.
Up to this point, the Rhythmic Gymnastics community in the USA has made very shy attempts to expand RG programs nationwide. Most of these efforts never succeeded because the officials in charge never tackled the root of the problem: in order to expand, RG needs more exposure to the American public. The sport needs a competitive structure with more public appeal and excitement. However, taking the sport in this direction would counter the current culture of RG in this country, appealing mostly to Eastern European girls and pressuring them to sacrifice their childhood in pursuit of rhythmic gymnastics.
Against all odds, Bibiana steps into a gym full of girls four times a week and every single time, she reaffirms her commitment to be the vessel that brings the right attitude and sets the right example to the girls who look up to her as a role model. In these classes, she teaches cooperation, team spirit, kindness, respect, and effort. “My girls love H.O.P.E. and they are proud to wear their team jackets. They are aware they’re part or something much bigger than themselves”, Bibiana said.
If you are an organization looking to know more about the work of H.O.P.E Gymnastics or are a brand looking to participate in social change through community services, and help unprivileged children to participate in sports through need-based scholarships and affordable classes, I highly encourage you to get in touch with Bibiana Pinto and get on board! Your interest could be the next step toward making this sport a force for girls and teenagers to do good in this country and around the globe.
To get in touch with Bibiana Pinto:
e-mail: [email protected]
Tel: (203) 990-0098
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