Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Very Young Gymnast

In today's New York Times, there is a long article about Stephanie DePierro, the ballerina that was the subject of Jill Krementz's book, A Very Young Dancer. DePierro had been 10 when Krementz chronicled her life, from family to school to dance, for an installment of the A Very Young series.

While I don't recall the particulars of this book--I read it about once and no more--this made me think about A Very Young Gymnast, also by Krementz, which was about Torrance York, a gymnast who lived in New York City. (Those of you who know about high level gymnasts know that very few of them end up coming from NYC).

Anyway, I took this book out from the library dozens of times until I had committed the text to memory. Once or twice, I contemplated "losing" it so I could read it forever. I wished to be like Torrance--gifted, in high level training. I was insanely jealous that she got to meet Nadia Comaneci and Bela Karolyi when they visited the U.S. I also really wanted a green leotard like the one she wore on the cover of the book.

Today's article got me wondering-- what ever happened to Torrance York? Did she stop doing gymnastics young as Ms. DePierro had done with dancing? Did she feel undue pressure to continue in the sport because many young, aspiring (and maniacal) gymnasts looked up to her? And finally, who will pay me to investigate and write about her?

UPDATE: Reader and commenter Tanya S. googled Torrance and provided the link to this bio about the adult York, who is an award-winning photographer. She explained her work and its connection to gymnastics in an interview:

What I found satisfying as a child--achieving the exact form required on the balance beam--is now reflected in my fascination with the specificity of the GPS system. Practicing, refining and reworking to get the time and nuances of my childhood gymnastics routines just right is not unlike my current photographic process--the effort to get the precise image I want and the many revision made to print it as I envision it should be. The perfectionism nurtured through the sport can be daunting in everyday life, but has a useful role in my photographic work. 

As someone who also entered into a field where being painstakingly precise--writing--is also an asset, Igree with York's assessment of how gymnastics training and perfectionism can be useful in certain types of future endeavors, such as photography (and writing) that require so many hours of practice and dozens of iterations (or drafts).

She also had some interesting observations about the photographic representation of gymnasts that is particularly insightful:

While taking the course "The Camera and the Body" at the Rhode Island School of Design, Torrance observed how the news media would reduce the image of gymnasts to the simple elements of a competitor's name, age, height and weight--just the surface facts representing the whole person. She likens this to her use of the GPS system to identify her exact position in relation to the environment she is shooting. The GPS coordinates are a label, but the place, like the gymnast, is more complex. The resulting photographs express her experience in that place, on that point.

I find this particularly fascinating because one of the most salient points about gymnasts (and more generally, athletes) is spatial awareness, awareness of where your body is in space. Of course, the media cannot be expected to keep track of a gymnast's relative position throughout her performance. But I do find it interesting that a former gymnast devised a GPS system in her photography to best represent position in space.


Tanya S. said...

Apparently Torrence York became a photographer:

Dvora Meyers said...

Thank you! I will update the post with this information.

Amy said...

This was great. I adored both of these books. It seems everyone got a fit of nostalgia because there's not a copy to be found for under $50!

Winda Tiodang said...

i am a new fashion blogger from indonesia living in singapore :) i really like your blog. i will really appreciate & it will be an honor to have u as my blog member.

and of course i will folback!:D also, u can mention me anytime on twitter @tiodang if you want me to check out your latest post & leave a comment ^^ ,please list me on twitter, so i will know u're my follower!! ;)

i've just recommend your post to google!u can check it! that's what u got if you keep in touch with my blog too!! hope u will do the same ^^
(u can add me on facebook and contact me at :

Dvora Meyers said...

@Amy I know. I have a friend who is a librarian at an elementary school on the Upper West Side. She has a copy in her library. I keep begging her to steal it for me.

@Winda Your blog looks really good. Have you checked out the Man Repeller's site? It's a really good fashion blog. No problem on the follow. And my Twitter handle is @gymnick83 Also, the site I blog more at these days is called The Anti-Girlfriend,

Kim Herbert said...

Torrance is my godmother and her photography is amazing! Anyone who gets the chance should look up her work, it is breathtaking.