In Conversation with Eleni Kelaiditi, Marina Fateeva and Ralitza Vladimirova
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Today I have something very exciting to share with you. It was my great pleasure to interview several members from Greece's national team in rhythmic gymnastics - Eleni Kelaiditi (gymnast), Marina Fateeva (coach), and Ralitza Vladimirova (choreographer and ballet teacher). I have asked them questions on various topics in rhythmic gymnastics (training process, qualities needed in an athlete, artistry in rhythmic gymnastics). Their answers represent a unique opportunity to see the sport from within, and understand it from various perspectives - those of a gymnast, coach, and choreographer. I have also provided a brief introduction to each of them before I continue with the questions, so hopefully through this article you can briefly get acquainted with Eleni Kelaiditi, Marina Fateeva, and Ralitza Vladimirova. 🌷
Individual Rhythmic Gymnast in Greece's National Team
Eleni Kelaiditi is from Cholargos, Greece. She began training in rhythmic gymnastics when she was 6 years of age. She competed first in the junior division in 2014-5, becoming Greece's individual all-around junior champion twice and competing internationally. She entered the senior division in 2016 and has taken part in World Cups, European and World Championships. She was the silver all-around medalist at the 2018 Mediterranean Games. I have asked Eleni a few questions about her experience of being a rhythmic gymnasts. You can read her answers in the text below.
What do you love about rhythmic gymnastics?
EK: Many people think that rhythmic gymnastics is ballet, acrobatics or some kind of dance. They see an athlete on the carpet dancing, wearing a sparkling leotard and that is what enchants them. But they don't see what is hidden behind the scenes, they don't see the endless work, effort, sweat, tears. All the magic is there. This is how you learn to respect and appreciate yourself and the people who are by your side every day in this unique journey. These are the moments I will remember and if I could, I would relive them again and again. This is what I love.
What motivates you to train every day and stay disciplined?
EK: Nothing can stop you, when you have set a goal! I try to overcome myself every day and that's a good motivation to keep going.
What is the hardest thing about being a rhythmic gymnast?
EK: We have learned to be disciplined, to try our best, to persevere and to be patient. I think the most difficult part is to overcome my limits and myself. That's the only way to succeed and reach the top.
Who introduced you to the sport?
EK: At the age of 6 my parents took me to a club, just to try (rhythmic gymnastics), and the coaches said that I was talented. I didn't like it at first, I wanted to go home, but then it was fun. Now, after 15 years in this sport, it's a way of life and I love it.
What are your hopes for the future?
Like any athlete at this level, I would like to participate in the next Olympic Games, which are in 3 years from now (33rd Olympiad in Paris 2024).
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time I usually go for a walk in the mountains, I like nature. I used to play the piano when I was younger. I wish I had more time for this. I have only one day a week that I am free and I want to do so many things!
Marina Fateeva Rhythmic Gymnastics Coach in Greece's National Team
Marina Fateeva was born in Volgograd, USSR. She is an accomplished coach in rhythmic gymnastics first in Russia, and since 1997 - in Greece. During her time as their coach, Greece earned the bronze medals in the group all-around at the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000. Currently, Marina Fateeva coaches Greece's national team. She has agreed to share with us some of her professional insight into what qualities matter for an athlete in the sport of rhythmic gymnastics, and about the process of making an RG routine.
What qualities are the most important for a competitive rhythmic gymnast? And what qualities do you look out for in a gymnast?
MF: I will not be speaking of physical qualities. Far more important is how much the gymnast loves her sport, and what she is ready to sacrifice in the name of it. To perform many hours of training every day, you need self-discipline and sacrifice, ability to find motivation daily to complete the training plan. Also having respect for the team that works with her (coach, choreographer, doctor, masseur, judges, etc.). To me, this human factor (people skills) matters a great deal. What else? The ability to pull yourself together, concentrate in the right moment, not give up in the face of difficulty. Every mistake is an opportunity to ask yourself where you need to work more. But the most important thing is that she loves what she does, loves rhythmic gymnastics.
How would you describe the creative process behind a new RG routine?
MF: The most difficult thing is the music choice. We need to find 4 different characters, 4 different routines. We listen to a lot of music from different genres – Rali, Eleni and I. We discuss, make suggestions, even argue. And when we have overlapping ideas, then we have found it. In parallel, we look for elements, risks, masteries, connections, details that embellish the routines. When this preparatory work is done, we move on to the construction stage. We start with the skeleton – so to speak – of the programme, and later in the process of the work we add more fitting elements and details that will polish the character and idea of the composition. But I need to mention that we change things all the time, as we always want the routine to be more beautiful, more full.
Original interview with Marina Fateeva in Russian can be accessed in the PDF below.
Choreographer, Ballet Teacher in Greece's National Team
Originally from Varna (Bulgaria), Ralitza Vladimirova started dancing classical ballet when she was 5 years of age and later trained at the National School of Dance in Sofia. She graduated from the Choreography School in 1991, and worked at the National Music Theatre in Sofia. She completed degrees in 'Ballet Pedagogy' (BA) and 'Ballet Staging' (MA) at Bulgaria's National Academy of Music. She has been living in Greece for the past 12 years. Ralitza works with the Greek national team in rhythmic gymnastics as a ballet teacher and choreographer. She has agreed to tell us more about the artistic side of rhythmic gymnastics in the text that follows.
How did you start working in the field of rhythmic gymnastics?
RV: It happened by chance. A colleague of mine invited me. She said that Eleni Michopoulou (the president of RG club ‘Armonia’) was looking for a choreographer to work with rhythmic gymnast Eleni Kelaiditi. I work with a team of great professionals, led by Mrs Marina Fateeva. I like the teamwork and the trust they have in me. I have the freedom to do classical ballet exercises, as well as to develop the choreographies together with Mrs Marina Fateeva. As an artist, I need freedom of expression and working with these girls (the gymnasts) has given me this opportunity. It is also a big challenge for me.
What challenges did working in RG bring to you?
RV: There are two things in general. The rhythmic gymnasts have bodies that are built differently from the classical ballet build. I had to work a lot not so much on the legs, but with the torso and coordination between the head and the arms. Gymnasts’ weakest points are the torso, shoulders, and pelvis where they need a great deal of centring in order to have stability during their pirouettes and jumps. They have a great deal of lower back flexibility which needs to be supported with muscle strength. This is the technical part.
From a choreographic point of view, this has been a huge challenge. The girls are constantly at their maximum, in the crescendo, like a bow that is constantly drawn out. Whereas classical ballet exercises are about experiencing feelings. From the plié which can be sad and nostalgic, to the jeté, which can be very joyful, to the grand battement which is explosive. When children go through these exercises, they do not understand they are going through feelings, too. They think these are just physical exercises to train their legs and their body. But in reality, without being aware of it, this is their first lesson in experiencing feelings through body movement.
As an artist yourself, how do you think musicality and artistry should be taught to gymnasts?
RV: First, I think it is a responsibility of the family. Then, it is up to the coaches, teachers, and the whole training environment. It is our responsibility to open this door to them, and to challenge them. To me, the biggest gift we can give the gymnasts is a challenge. This includes introducing them to various musical genres, for example. Afterwards it becomes a gymnast’s own responsibility to want to develop musically, to want to know more about the history behind music. Eleni (Kelaiditi) asks me questions all the time – what is this melody called? Who composed it? What inspired the composer to write it? This is how Eleni won me over – because she is interested and she asks questions. She also plays the piano, therefore she has musical sensitivity and understands music.
My teachers at the ballet school always told us that a person who is empty inside cannot fill the stage. They taught me that the stage is unforgiving because it exposes everything in you. That is why we were encouraged to see art exhibitions, go to the theatre, read books, paint – to get in touch with various forms of art. This is because everything is interconnected, no art exists by itself. That is why we had to become cultured and artistically-aware, before we even went on stage.
In this sense, my generation and myself really have benefitted from so much art and culture. This is what I try to pass down to my pupils who are mostly spending their time on the Internet. They need to be challenged in this way. They need to learn about art from us, who were in this fortunate position to have received so much of it back then. This is my wish and my blessing for rhythmic gymnastics – that we can work more in this direction. As teachers, we have the responsibility to support our girls to be multi-faceted individuals and to get enriched culturally.
What is the most beautiful thing that you find in your day-to-day job as a choreographer and ballet teacher?
RV: It is lovely when a gymnast lets you in her world. This only happens when she trusts you. Then she is true, honest and artistic; and I feel like I am in a duet with her, we are having a connection, and this is an amazing feeling. The whole process is so beautiful and unique, while the final product is like a blossoming flower. This process of a seed that grows up is not visible to the audience, but it is so beautiful.
This is perhaps another wish – for the audience to be able to see the entire process of development of a rhythmic gymnast. Just a single moment in her training can carry so much meaning, such as the moment when she stands in first position and holds onto the barre, ready for plié. This single moment is so powerful and carries so many emotions: ‘I am tired’, ‘I am fed up’, ‘I am sad’, ‘I am happy’, 'I am here to overcome myself, to fight and to win'. It can say so much.
What kind of artist is Eleni Kelaiditi?
RV: Eleni is a lyrical performer. As we know in ballet also, some performers are more feisty, others are lyrical. Eleni is Juliet, or Odette (as an archetype). This is why we need to work with her in this way. She can perform Kitri, too, but her heart sings a different song. Even her surname Kelaiditi comes from the Greek word ‘kelaidao’ (κελαϊδάω) which means ‘to sing like a nightingale’.
Original interview with Ralitza Vladimirova in Bulgarian can be accessed in the PDF below.
It has been a pleasure speaking to these three very interesting women, and I have learnt a lot from their answers. I would like to express my thanks to Eleni Kelaiditi, Marina Fateeva, Ralitza Vladimirova, as well as to Eirini Aindili - vice president of the Greek Gymnastics Federation, for this collaboration!
I have had great fun putting this material together for other fans to enjoy reading it, too. If you liked this article, press the little heart icon (❤️) at the end, and consider sharing it with others.
See you next time,
Photographs are from personal archives, with permission to publish.