Calisthenics form a category of physical exercises closely related to, but not a part of, gymnastics. The name of the discipline is Greek in origin, a combination of the words kalos, 'beautiful' and sthénos, 'strength'.
In the United States, calisthenics are exercises consisting of a variety of simple movements, usually performed without weights or equipment, that are intended to increase body strength and flexibility using the weight of one's own body for resistance. Repeated motions of calisthenics done over an extended period of time builds muscle endurance. The history of calisthenics is linked to gymnastics. Disciples of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn brought their version of gymnastics to the United States, while Catherine Beecher and Dio Lewis set up physical education programs for women in the 19th Century. Organized systems of calisthenics in America took a back seat to competitive sports after the Battle of the Systems, when the states mandated physical education systems.
The primary calisthenic exercises are:
In Australia, calisthenics is a competitive performing sport, mostly for females (males can participate also, up to the age of 12 but exceptions occur). Girls as young as three participate. Calisthenics is composed of march, clubs, freearm (similar to rhythmic gymnastics, without apparatus), rods, aesthetics (a graceful form of dance with long skirts), song and dance, spectacular, rhythmic (similar to ballet), calisthenics revue.. At the most elite level, calisthenics requires competitors to have high levels of flexibility, strength, balance and control. Precision, standard technique, good deportment and a high level of choreography are also required. Girls wear beautiful costumes often designed and sewn especially for the year's competition items. The make-up is over-the-top, to emphasise expressions on stage. Team competition is the main form of competition, however a solo competitions called "Graceful Girl" and/or "Solo and Duo" is regarded as the ultimate ambition for calisthenic girls. Calisthenics were first pioneered as a sport in the 1890s. In 1903, the Royal South Street Society introduced calisthenics as a section in its famous eisteddfod in Ballarat. Calisthenics is now a competitive sport in all Australian states except Tasmania.
Girls are grouped into six sections based on their age as at 31 December in the year that the competition is held - Tinies (7 and under), Sub-juniors (9 and under), Juniors (12 and under), Intermediates (16 and under), Seniors (16 years and over) and Masters (mature aged members).
There are a number of items performed from which the aggregate is awarded:
A team of over 8 displays intricate figures and patterns, while highlighting good deportment and team work. Similar to that seen of 'Marching Girls' rhythm and precision within the team must be identical and is a basic requirement. A well choreographed set will display many complex patterns and be very entertaining.
Club Swinging is the most difficult skill a calisthenic pupil will learn. It requires no special physical attributes, just pure determination and lots of practice. A team of 8-10 pupils are required to execute complex swings in unison with perfect rhythm in a planing action.
Rhythm is a very important aspect, as each arm and club swing independently of the other, so exact rhythm is extremely important.
Advanced routines include moving through various patterns and executing leg movements.
An excellent performance of club swinging can hold an audience breath-taken and a single murmur will not be heard.
Commonly reffered to as 'freearm'. Probably the most physically challenging and impressive to watch. This item is performed with no apparatus, strong gymnastic style movements, great flexibility and control make up this exciting routine. Younger sections start with simple basic movements, that must be correct in detail and uniformity. As the item progresses through the age groups, it becomes more challenging depending on the girls strength and abilities.
Commonly known as 'rods', this is a challenging item. Based on similar movements to 'Freearm' with the added challenge of manipulating a long rod constantly and effortlessly.
The rod itself is made of metal, 3/8" to 5/8" diameter. The length is taken from the centre of the chest to the end of the middle finger when the arm is in side raise position.
Although the rod is the focal point, the manipulation of this apparatus while demonstrating flexible use of body and legs, highlights the concentration and co-ordination required by the performers.
There are 2 types of grips used. In Under Grip, the rod is gripped firmly with the back of the hands turned towards the body. In Top Grip, the rod is gripped with the knuckles turned outwards.
Aesthetic exercises is performed by a team of 8 to 16 pupils. This is a graceful flowing performance to interpret music with a variety of facial and body expressions. Music chosen is often classical pieces and should suit the age group to allow interpretation to be expressed. Movements should be soft and flowing while maintaining poise, strength, and at times demonstrating flexibility. Arm and feet positions are taken from Classical Ballet with a softer feel. Elevation is not permitted. Meaning that both feet are not to be lifted off of the ground at the same time, unless a team lift is being done, in which case, the judge must decide whether the amount of girls lifting is subsequente to the weight of the girl being lifted.
This item is predominately seen in the older sections. Combining singing with modern dance, it is important to make sure the theme of the song is carried through to the style of dance steps, and costume choice. Equal weight is placed on both the singing quality and correct dance technique. Overall presentation, facial expression and style, also play a key role in presenting a successful Song and Dance.
Performed in the younger sections, an alternative to Song and Dance, involving singing and acting to tell the audience a story. Using props and colourful costumes, pupils sing age appropriate songs with singing the most important aspect of the item.
Performed in the younger age groups, pupils learn and perform basic steps of a traditional national dance from all around the world. Pupils must display with correct technique and appropriate costuming and music must be followed.
Reffered to as 'spec', the performance involves all aspects of calisthenics from gymnastics, flex, singing, dancing, comedy, acting and often costume changes. Rules state that the item must have 50% dance and 50% physical value. All to bring to the audiences what could be described as a mini production.
This item is performed by the younger sections and is much the same as the 'calisthenic spec' though it does not have the restriction of 50% dance and physical value. Elaborate costumes and stage props make this item very entertaining and great item to finish a competition or display. The coach is offered the challenge and freedom in choreography with 'stage presentation' and also the 'spec'.
Public classes began in the 1880s. By 1903 the Royal South Street Society introduced calisthenics to its famous Eisteddfod in Ballarat. The competition in Ballarat is still the focus for many clubs in Australia. Calisthenics was introduced into Victorian State Schools in the 1930s.
The sport became so popular that calisthenics clubs spread rapidly, mostly in Victoria and South Australia. It achieved national attraction when Victorian and South Australian coaches began moving throughout Australia.