Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport which has a lot more in common with say, figure skating, than it does its cousin on the balance beam.
The sport combines elements of gymnastics with dance, theatre and yes, maybe even a little figure skating, to produce a sport which is often described as more artistic that athletic.
And for anyone who doubts the athleticism necessary to compete in the sport, Kathy Duplessis and Stephanie Mathers would be more than happy to invite them to one of their Rhythmic Gemstones of London locations to see just how much a sport it truly is.
"You take ballet, dance, an artistic-sized floor and put a routine to it. There's a synchronization of music, of technical and artistic movements," says Stephanie. "You look at figure skating, there's a lot of subjectivity. It's been said it (rhythmic gymnastics) is more art, but we do have a rule book, there are certain elements that have to be done."
While part of the sport is the movements each athlete has to make, just as important is how the participant handles the apparatus they carry.
The sport is competed in various categories with each having its own apparatus, or prop if you will. There is the ribbon, which is the most usual, the hoop, the ball, the rope and the clubs, which Stephanie says is the least known.
"You start trying to manipulate the apparatus, to follow a routine. First is the body movements, that's where you first learn the sport, we ensure you learn that properly," says Stephanie who has been an athlete, coach and judge over the past 20 years. "First you learn the skills, then you build in the finesse."
While Stephanie handles the coaching side of the business, along with a staff of seven other coaches, Kathy, whose daughter has been involved in gymnastics - both rhythmic and artistic (traditional) - for 10 years now handles the business side.
It's her business ability, combined with Stephanie's coaching experience, which brought the two friends together to build Rhythmic Gemstones.
"Kathy had been talking for a year now, but then we got serious. We pulled together a business plan and we formed a partnership in the ownership and management of Rhythmic Gemstone. We just started this past July and we are already up to 56 members, 54 recreational and two competitive," Kathy says. "We love what we are doing. We have a great blend of skills. Stephanie is amazing, the time it takes to take this step. I love administration; she looks after the coaching side."
In the movie Old School, comedian Will Ferrell does his best to make rhythmic gymnastics look easy.
Now while that is far from the case, Stephanie says when conducted at the highest levels, it does look - almost - simple.
"Like any sport, when it is done at the peak of ability, it is made to look easy. But really, it takes a lot of practice, a lot of hand-eye coordination. You can break it down into components, the take off, flight, landing," Stephanie says. "It looks graceful, beautiful, but there is a lot of hard work involved."
That hard work certainly pays off for both Stephanie and Kathy - they are proud to say - when they watch the faces of both the kids, and their parents.
"To see the kids have fun, learning something new. The amount of individuals we have coming back, we don't get a lot of turnover," Stephanie says. "That means our coaches are delivering, that the kids are having fun. And with so many in the recreational side, that's what is important, having fun."
Kathy agrees, adding the parents get almost as much excitement out of the student's performances as the children themselves do. "To see the faces on the parents when their kids have just performed something amazing, they just light up. It tells us we are on the right track."
Kathy and Stephanie also credit Rhythmic Gemstones' fee schedule and multiple club locations for keeping the business on track. Those multiple locations (north, Centennial Central Public School; south, Princess Elizabeth Public School; east, Evelyn Harrison Public School; west, St. Theresa Elementary School and Notre Dame Elementary School), Kathy says, are important as she learned in school the best business approach is to go where the people are.
"I remember a marketing course and how it is all location, location, location," Kathy says. "Parents with competitive kids will travel, but for parents with kids in the recreational program, you can't expect them to do that. So, we thought we should go to where they are."
And when it comes to finances, Stephanie says the partners chose early on to make their program as accessible as they possibly could.
"Part of the reason for the numbers of kids participating is keeping the price reasonable. You never want to see a child, an athlete, not able to participate in something because of price. We want this program to be open and growing," Stephanie says. "We want to grow the sport, we both think there is a lot of potential to develop it. So we didn't want it to be an exclusive club. It's $9 per hour, we have a fall session (14 weeks) and a winter/spring session (20 weeks). There is no investment in equipment, it's pretty much a risk-free trial. And we provide everything for the recreational kids, the competitive kids buy their own, but for the recreational program we want it to be as easy as possible."
The club is open to girls ages 4-20 and while the focus right now is mostly on the recreational side, Jessica Duplessis, 16, and Desiree Mathers, 14, form the competitive side of Rhythmic Gemstones.
While the competitive side might just have two athletes right now, both Stephanie and Kathy agree they have big plans for the future.
"Kathy and I share a vision of having a high-performance rhythmic gymnastics club for the London community," Stephanie says. "Most clubs, recreational to competitive, are in places like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal. Here we saw an opportunity to develop something at that same level here in London."
For her part, Kathy says the long-term vision - and she and Stephanie do have a 5-10 year business plan - involve more than just rhythmic gymnastics.
"My ultimate goal is to see a family centre developed. Something where we have different activities for different family members. Gymnastics, piano, soccer, dance," Kathy says. "We see a lot of families scattering across the city because everyone is doing different things. It would be nice to have a family centre where people can do things together."