Ballet and gymnastics — How do they do it?

Many years ago, the editor of the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen asked me to write a review of a ballet company that was coming to town. Me? I’d never seen a ballet, didn’t know anything about the art. I didn’t know the difference between a plié and pas de deux.

“That’s OK,” he said. “Just write about your impressions of the performance.”

So I agreed to do it. I went to the performance armed with a notebook and a pencil, fully expecting to make copious notes about the dance. I never wrote a single note during the performance. I was so fascinated by the pure beauty and athleticism of the company.

I remember I was especially amazed at the body control of the “ballerinos,” the male dancers. Most of them were pretty small guys, but they could leap high in the air and perform graceful twisting movements. They also seemed able to do amazing lifts of the ballerinas. It was the first ballet I’d ever seen, and I was enthralled.

I remember going home and sitting down to write the “review” (in those days, I wrote with a pen — no computer, and we didn’t own a typewriter.) I stared at the paper for a long time before I was able to find an angle from which to approach the task.

I finally settled on writing about the ballet in terms of something I knew something about: sports. Michael Jordan was the biggest star in the basketball world, so I ended up making comparisons to his athleticism and body control. Jordan could take off from the free throw line and after some amazing twisting motions, slam home the basketball. He seemed able to control his “flight” to the basket like no other player before him.

The male dancers in the ballet, too, seemed to be able to levitate and perform elegant graceful moves that to me seemed impossible.

The ballerinas were fun to watch also. Their spins and leaps were graceful and fluid. Amazing.

I was reminded of my amazement with their athletic ability and their grace as I watched the women’s U.S. Gymnastic Championships in Kansas City last week. Has there ever been a better athlete than Simone Biles?

Simone Biles is the first woman in history to land a triple double on her floor routine. I have seen that move at least 20 times since she first accomplished it, and even in slow motion, I find it hard to count her twists and turns.

She appears to defy the laws of physics with this epic tumbling pass. It’s called a “triple double.” That means she rotates around an axis going through her hips twice while at the same time rotating about an axis going from head to toe three times. Got that? Don’t try it at home.

She gets up so high in the air, but she’s already twisting and turning before she hits her apex. She ends her parallel bars routine with a similar triple-twisting dismount. Absolutely amazing.

All of this just goes to show that there are people in the world who have abilities I can never hope to have, but, boy, do I ever appreciate watching them.