While acrobatic gymnastics may seem like a fringe sport, Becky Herzfeld does not have to look very far to see how the sport she coaches has crossed over into the mainstream.
Herzfeld, a coach with Emilia's Acrobatic Gymnastics and Cheerleading in Columbia, has recently watched her former athletes appear as part of the AcroArmy performance group on America's Got Talent, while others have gone on to perform with Cirque du Soleil.
"They'll recruit the elite athletes into Cirque du Soleil shows, so we actually now know a lot of people who have retired from the sport but now are performing as part of Cirque du Soleil," said Herzfeld.
Based on Emilia's performance at the recent USA Gymnastics Championships in Greensboro, NC, June 23-28, Herzfeld can expect to see many more of her athletes go on to take their talents to even bigger stages.
A group of about 50 athletes from Emilia's, which was opened by Daniil and Yuri Kostovetskiy in Columbia in 1992, brought home a dozen medals from the national championships, including a national title won by the senior elite women's trio of Lonnie Garrett, Josephina Kievsky and Mila Segel, who is Daniil Kostovetskiy's granddaughter.
"She was born in the gym and has been playing in it since she could walk. They have been together for about three years. They all have been in the sport much longer but they all were in different groups. They actually were the junior elite national champions last year, then they moved up to senior elite," said Herzfeld, who grew up in Ellicott City and attended Howard High School and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "We're hoping they are going to go on to compete at the world championships which is going to be next year in China. They definitely grab a lot of attention when they come in. Some people come into the gym just to watch them practice. They're really impressive."
Emilia's Director and Head Coach Daniil Kostovetskiy has more than 45 years of experience as an Elite-level competitor and coach. Head Choreographer Yelena Arakelyan has been active in acrobatics for thirty years, winning three World Game Gold Medals, four World Gold Medals, and six National Gold Medals (Russia), as well as numerous European and Junior World Gold Medals.
Herzfeld got her own start in the sport at age six at Emilia's. She won four national titles and numerous other accolades before transitioning into coaching full-time in 2011 after graduating from UMBC.
"I've really been coached by Daniil almost my whole life," she said. "When I was in college I was still competing, but it's very time demanding, especially if you're at the elite level. I still just loved the sport and wanted to stay involved. I had always helped with choreography even when I was competing … now I help coach all the levels, mostly focusing on the lower levels. I wanted to keep involved in a sport so unique."
As the name implies, acrobatic gymnastics combines the balance skills of acrobatics, like pyramids and handstands, and the dynamic skills of gymnastics, like throws and flips.
"I kind of compare it a little bit to cheerleading," Herzfeld said. "The elites will do a balance routine, a dynamic routine and a combined routine … they're judged on if their tumbling is in sync, so synchronization is also part of it, and its all choreographed to music."
The competition at the national championships featured more than 1,700 athletes from across the country, and also featured rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling disciplines. In acrobatic gymnastics, teams consist of pairs, mixed pairs, women's trios and men's quartets.
Garrett, Kievsky and Segel earned spots on the Acrobatics Senior National Team with their performance on June 28. Anna Grafov, Caitlyn Kicza and Lauren Pountnay (Junior 12-18 Team) and Sean Butehorn, Daniel Disman, Grant Shields and Sean Shields (11-16 Age Group Team) also earned National Team selections, and will represent Emilia's in international competition during the coming year.
Since nationals, Emilia's has added 15 new athletes to its stable and is still accepting new gymnasts for this season.
"Anyone who is interested should always come by the gym. We have open gym hours five days a week where you pay $5 and you can do whatever you want. A lot of people will come in for open gym and they'll see the acrobats and say, 'Wow, I want to do that!'," Herzfeld said. "It's definitely fun to watch them practice and get their routines. Right now they're learning all their new skills and trying them out, and then some people might want to try it out themselves."
Go to eagcgym.com for more information.
Complete Emilia's results at nationals:
Sr. Elite Women's Group: 1. Lonnie Garrett, Josephina Kievsky, Mila Segel; 2. Savannah Bentley, Hannah Silverman, Nicole Stickley.
Jr. Elite 13-19 Women's Group: 4. Elanor Chang, Abigail Disman, Melanie Vaughn.
Jr. Elite 12-18 Women's Group: 4. Anna Grafov, Caitlyn Kicza, Lauren Pountnay.
Level 9 Women's Group 16+: 5. Olivia Struble, Micah Whiteman, Irina Zeller.
Level 8 Men's Group 14-15: 1. Sean Butehorn, Daniel Disman, Sean Shields, Grant Shields.
Level 8 Women's Group 14-15: 5. Sydney Custer, Nicole Custer, Leila Mammel; 9. Malia O'Neill, Samantha Ruckert, Aadya Sharma.
Level 8 Women's Group 12-13: 5. Maria Grafov, Jessica Kicza, Marie Tutberidze.
Level 8 Mixed Pair 12-13: 1. Isabel Chang, Cade Shields.
Level 8 Women's Pair 16+: 2. Maria Bolgar, Serena Dineshkumar.
Level 7 Men's Group 12-13: 1. Ethan Chang, Sam Lacy, Alex Pavlov, Cade Shields.
Level 7 Women's Group 12-13: 3. Jade Bangoura, Kelis Gordon, Cate Lacy; 7. Chantal Desmarais, Kayla Nemirovsky, Cecilia Rosenberg.
Level 7 Women's Pair 12: 5. Jade Bangroura, Marie Tutberidze; 12. Kadence Chau, Dani Ghine; 13. Leila Mammel, Alicia Ribeiro.
Level 7 Women's Pair 11 and Under: 6. Arianna Nelson, Nina Oliver.