Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Aly Raisman's Passover Quickstep

Before Aly Raisman headed to her Passover Seder, she performed a quickstep on her second Dancing With The Stars appearance #dancing2dayenu

And it was way better than last week's. While I enjoyed seeing some of Aly's personality last week, I wasn't a huge fan of her hip and rump shaking. Not that I have a problems with these moves in general, but I don't think that Aly quite pulled them off. Perhaps it's an age thing, but I don't think Zendaya, who is younger than the Olympic gold medalist, would do a more plausible job with these sort of movements.

Anyway, since gyrating has no place in the quickstep, Aly did much better with this dance even if she took Mark Ballas' advice about looking over her left shoulder a bit too much to heart. (Or maybe she was just thinking about leaning left at the seder. Or of the opening lines to Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." To the left, to the left...)

A dance requiring a very stiff and controlled upper body carriage seems like it would be a better fit for Aly. And she did a good job with it--at least according to my very untrained eye. (Those with greater ballroom expertise, please weigh in!) And her dress was miles better than last week's pink disaster. It was actually flattering and made her seem shapely. Last week's costume was so shapeless and ugly.

I know that this sort of statement demonstrates my ignorance of ballroom fashion. But I'm just not a huge fan of pageantry--be it the pageanty side of gymnastics or the shows likes DWTS or beauty pageants. I don't particularly enjoy this style of performance.

So what did you think of Aly in Week 2? Better or worse than Week 1? And how do you think she stacked up against the competition (I didn't see the rest because I was at a Seder and only bothered catching up on Aly's performance.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Simone Biles' Near Perfect Vault

Simone Biles, the gymnast who won my heart at the recent American Cup, just won the all-around at the Trophee Jesolo meet in Italy. And she did it with a perfectly stuck Amanar vault.

I am nervous about going overboard in my praise of her because when it comes to gymnastics, I'm a highly superstitious person. But I just can't contain my excitement at her potential. Can't wait to see more from here. (Including a triple twisting Yurchenko? Or a triple twisting double back on floor? Pretty please!)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Passover: The OC Disorder (Don't Call It That)

Passover is my least favorite Jewish holiday. I start dreading it weeks before its arrival and there's nothing about it that I enjoy. I hate the food (or the lack thereof) and I especially revile matzah. I sort of starve for seven days.

But it's the preparations, more than anything else, that are the worst part. Thankfully I live in a 325 square foot studio so even a thorough cleaning won't set me back more than a few hours.

It wasn't always that easy. In my latest Ballabuster column for Jewcy, I write about some of the OCD-ish ways Jews get ready for Passover:

But Passover took it all too far. I’m a naturally anxious sort of person and holiday prep exacerbated it. One teacher told us to unscrew the receiver on our phones to find crumbs that we might’ve spit while talking and I spent an hour trying to figure out how to disassemble our phone until my mother caught me. I spent hours reading the miniaturized list of ingredients of the family’s moisturizers, deodorants, and to ensure they didn’t included chametz ingredients. I verified these lists against the the annually updated guide written by Rabbi Blumenkrantz. 

You can read the rest here

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Corner Flamingos

One of the changes that has been made to the 2013-16 Code of Points has been the "corner rule" on women's floor exercise. In an attempt to prevent gymnasts for hanging out in the corner indefinitely as they catch their breath before the next tumbling pass, the new Code stipulates that "more than one stationary position on two feet" will incur a .1 deduction. Additionally, an excessive pause of more than 2 seconds will result in a .1 deduction.

One of the ways that gymnasts are using to get around the first rule change is the "standing on one leg maneuver," which I first saw at the American Cup. Basically, they're standing like flamingos. (And the American women, clad as they are in pink, bear an even stronger resemblance to those birds.)

This guy knows how to do it.

She does it, standing tree pose style.

Even this little girl can do it.

Now you're ready for the corner rule. If you need a little more guidance, check out this master cut of all the single leg stands from the recent English Championships.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Aly Raisman's "Dancing With The Stars" Debut

Last night, Aly Raisman, Olympic gold medalist and Queen of the Jews, danced her first dance on ABC's Dancing With The Stars, now in its 16th season. (What do you think DWTS' Super Sweet 16 would be like? I mean, the show is already fairly over the top. What more could they do?)

I was disappointed when I heard Raisman signed on to participate in the show. Like most serious gymnastics fans, the only place I want to see gymnasts is in gymnastics competition. She is so physically strong and has been relatively lucky when it has come to injuries, I believe she has more potential in the sport and I want her back in training to best realize that. (Also, DWTS is so old, demographically speaking. Is this really the best thing for a young athlete's image and platform?) But I get that there isn't a tremendous rush and one year off in this four year slog may not matter in the end if the goal is Rio in 2016.

I was definitely curious to see how Ms. Raisman fared in her first ballroom dance because as a gymnast, she was never hailed for her artistry. Even as a fan, I could never credibly make that sort of claim. Her "Hava Nagila" routine worked for her because of clever choreography and a catchy tune that the audience could get into. It was also wise that she was given this routine more than a year before the Olympics because she needed time to grow in it. But how will Raisman do when she is given new dances to learn every week?

Well, she didn't do too badly. On the pro side of things--she showed vastly more personality and enthusiasm than she ever has while doing gymnastics. She really seemed to have fun or at least put on a good show of it even if she was wearing something that looked like it came from the Nastia Liukin collection of ballroom dance wear. Seriously, how do we kill this hot pink thing? Why won't it die?

Her footwork wasn't as difficult or light as country singer's Kellie Pickler's was. (Interesting to note--she was discovered on one television competition show, American Idol, and now she's trying to maintain her relevance by competing on a second.) And Mark Ballas was kind when blaming her weaknesses on her gymnastics dance training--calling her movements "sharp," which can make her appear robotic. This is certainly a criticism Raisman has heard often during her gymnastics career.

The judges, while enthusiastic, also noted that she needs to work on her musicality. Raisman's routine wasn't so much about dancing as emoting. The expressive aspects were great but the movements were not always in time with the music. That said, she'll certainly survive next week. There were so many weaker dancers in the pack, including a downright dreadful D.L. Hughley.

Zendaya, who apparently is a Disney Channel star, gave the best performance of the night in a contemporary style. DWTS has added just added "contemporary" to their dance roster because apparently they felt they were losing ground to So You Think You Can Dance in the hotly contested "dances about unrequited/unreturned love" market. This style was a bit better suited to her strengths and background as a hip hop dancer. (Of course, she is also a pop star and actor, a little mini mogul in the making. Soon she will rule us all.) It'll be interesting to see how she does next week when she has to partner dance in a more traditional ballroom style.

In case you missed it, here's Aly and Mark's first dance. What do you think of it?

And a drinking game idea for next week--every time Aly breaks her wrist angle--the gymnast flicked wrist--do a shot. Or might that kill us all?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Poetry: Vanessa Zamarripa on vault

Here is 5th year senior Vanessa Zamarripa on vault on Senior Day at UCLA. She flairs her arms on her Yurchenko full, ala Kim Zmeskal, and I love it!

The judges did, too. She scored a Perfect 10.

Can't wait for the NCAA post-season!

The Four Daughters of the Passover Seder

My family used to have me read from the part of the Wicked Son at the Seder. (And they also made me sing "The Four Questions" way beyond an appropriate age because I remained the youngest long after I ceased being a child.) So transposing that to daughters and Girls, I guess that would've made me a Marnie?

This is what happens when you get bored while searching for jobs--you imagine what would happen if instead of the Four Sons at the Passover seder, there were Four Daughters, and what if those daughters were the four main characters from HBO's Girls.

I couldn't really use wise because none of these character have achieved wisdom just yet so I had to revise and make Hannah the smart aleck.

Special thanks to E. Fink for tech expertise. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gymnastics Fail: Fierce Five Off the Podium at the American Cup

Cross-posted from Gymcastic

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the American Cup was held at Madison Square Garden to a near capacity crowd with former champions—Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and inaugural winner, Nadia Comaneci—in attendance. Bela Karolyi had emerged from his between-the-Olympics hibernation to mutter indecipherably for the cameras. Gabby Douglas, in a sign of things to come, unofficially won the all-around competition, beating the favorite and defending world champion, Jordyn Wieber.

Fast forward one year to the 2013 American Cup held this time in Worcester to much less fanfare. The “Fierce Five” were arguably the biggest story coming out of the London Olympics yet none of the stars competed. Can you imagine Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl and not playing on opening weekend the next season? We might’ve seen the frontrunners for Rio, but the Olympic team’s absence from this year’s American Cup illustrates why gymnastics will only be popular in Olympic years, even as it tries for greater multi-year popularity.

As a longtime fan of the sport, it pains me to admit this. When I was a kid, I’d search the TV Guide for gymnastics listings, which, if they ever appeared, came right after “golf.” According to my recollection, golf always seemed to be on. I couldn’t understand why the networks preferred to broadcast a bunch of white guys putting over girls in leotards flipping. (I probably never will.)

But as I watched the competition, I understood why other sports not oriented towards one specific competition that takes places once every four years have more of a shot at year-round popularity.

First, there is the lack of continuity. After the Games, many athletes retire or take time off. Though Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman were present for press and fans, they did not compete. Douglas announced that she is set to return to training in Iowa in May; Raisman would not put a date on her return to competitive form. Certainly it won’t happen before her run on DWTS ends. Kyla Ross had originally been slated to compete, but withdrew with a bruised heel (she performed an exhibition routine after the meet concluded).

What does this mean for any of the new fans that the sport accrued during a very successful Olympics? It means they have less incentive to tune in if their favorites aren’t competing. Imagine the type of press the meet would’ve received had Douglas or Raisman competed. (Maroney, perhaps the most popular Olympic team member, is still recovering from two leg surgeries.)

Also, every four years the rulebook of gymnastics changes. Spectators who might’ve come to understand the scoring by the time the competition in London ended will have to learn a new set of requirements if they wish to follow the meets in the next quadrennium. That’s a big investment of time and energy. Only the hardcores are willing to go that extra mile.

Other popular sports thrive on sameness. I watch exactly one football game a year—the Super Bowl—and yet I know what’s going on each time I tune in. A touchdown, a field goal, a first down—they’re all as I remember them from the previous year (and worth the same number of points). The game appears unchanged to the untrained eye. And for other popular team sports, all you really need is an untrained eye to follow what’s going on.

And though every year brings some new rookies, enough of the older players remain so fans aren’t expected to learn a completely new roster each year. There is continuity—both with the rules and stars—from year to year.

This lack of continuity isn’t the fault of USA Gymnastics or any of the individual athletes. After years of intense training, it is understandable that the gymnasts would want to take time off and enjoy all of the opportunities that come their way. The window for gymnasts making money off the sport is very limited so they must take advantage of it immediately. They might also need this downtime in order to let their bodies recover from the brutal Olympic preparation process. Nearly every gymnast is competing with some form of hurt.

The gymnasts can take a break, comforted by the knowledge that this year doesn’t actually matter, in the Olympic scheme of things. And therein lies an additional problem—the fact that one year in four has drastically lower stakes than the rest. Without stakes and drama, you lose excitement and quite possibly, the audience too.

Even the athletes acknowledged the lowered stakes in their post-meet interviews. All seemed particularly focused on testing out new skills and routines for the coming years. Competing them perfectly, while desirable, wasn’t their top priority. In gymnastics, 2013 is sort of like a year-long preseason.

Will Ohashi and Biles be in Rio in 2016? While I would love to see both girls (and especially Ohashi’s dimples) in Brazil, looking towards the Olympics in the year after the previous Games is like trying to pick an Oscar contender in March. (In that case, I would’ve gone with 21 Jump Street.) It’s not exactly the right time to be placing bets.

The greater question is how can a sport that is arguably the most popular during the Games transcend the Olympics and become popular in its own right? Or is gymnastics virtually nothing without the Olympic Games at the end of the four-year tunnel?

Aly's DWTS Rehearsal

Aly Raisman, who is soon set to start a stint (hopefully victorious) on Dancing With The Stars, is already in rehearsals with Mark Ballas (who coached Shawn Johnson to victory in 2009).

Here's a snippet of her rehearsal where, in addition to learn to dance, she attempts a faux British accent, which she apparently picked up this summer in London.

Is her accent better or worse than Madonna's?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Article Round-Up

Sorry for the lag in posting. I've been fairly consumed with my job hunt (hire me, maybe?) that I've neglected this site.

This week was a big one, publishing wise, on the interwebs for me. I was at the American Cup last weekend and wrote a few articles about it. The first was for Deadspin and featured two exciting up-and-comers, Simone Biles (adore her) and Katelyn Ohashi (love her dimples). Check it out here.

I wrote another piece about Aly Raisman's just announced stint on Dancing With The Stars for my Ballabuster column at Jewcy. I'm a little unsure about how I feel about this announcement, but that might be due to my dislike of the show (everyone takes their self-tanning cues from John Boehner) and my desire to see Raisman back in the gym instead. Nevertheless, I'll be rooting for her. Here's the link to my un-expert analysis.

And last on the gymnastics front, there's this piece I wrote for Gymcastic (we give you a podcast and the written word--we're too good to you), positing some reasons why gymnastics may never emerge as a popular sport during non-Olympic years. (Also, I've resurfaced on this week's episode of Gymcastic so give it a listen if you want to hear me ramble aimlessly.) The link to the article and the podcast.

And now a little something for my Jewish readers--a fun little takedown of David Brooks' utterly insipid column in this weekend's Times. It seems that Brooks' is on the payroll of Pomegranate, an upscale kosher supermarket in Midwood, Brooklyn, and decided to use a visit to it as occasion to write a naive ode to Orthodox Jews. Check out my response here.

If the Times is interested, I can also write press releases.