Aesthetics and symbolism in artistic gymnastics: from martial discipline to ritual practices embodied in performance

David, Torevell, Palmer, Clive Alan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9925-2811 and Rowan, Paul (2022) Aesthetics and symbolism in artistic gymnastics: from martial discipline to ritual practices embodied in performance. In: The Body in Training, Sporting and Religious Perspectives. Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society . Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 111-125. ISBN 978-1-032-12330-1

[thumbnail of Clive Palmer Body in Training Gymnastics chapter March 2022 ACADEMIA.EDU.pdf] PDF
Restricted to Repository staff only


Official URL:


This chapter discusses the bodily aesthetic and symbolism performed in men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics. Notions of gymnastic conduct, discipline, and respect for both opposition, coaches and judges, contribute to formal competition protocol, all helping to define the visual spectacle that is artistic gymnastics in the modern-day era. However, much of this aesthetic material stems from a bygone age in the activity of gymnastics. That is to highlight that gymnastics has been deployed for significantly different reasons by
numerous adopting countries and communities in its long history. These aesthetic features of being a gymnast and performing gymnastics may be understood as surface, traditional aspects of what defines artistic gymnastics, as compared to, say, athletics or swimming. For example, the actions of marching, saluting, presenting and signalling a performer’s readiness to perform are the more obvious features of the display that viewers may recognize, and these will be explored in this chapter. This is as a means to appreciating the deeper, more socially entrenched aesthetic of performance traditionally associated with gymnastics, features such as control, balance, strength and flexibility in well-defined actions. Nuanced body shape, gesture and accenting within a given performance are also aesthetic details, or personal performance attributes, that are brought to the fore when gymnasts demonstrate their ability to execute the formally recognized and graded actions within the rules of artistic gymnastics. These ‘extra’ performance
attributes can reveal aspects of identity (national and/or personal), which may influence the judges and sway an audience but in ways clearly beyond the rules. While this chapter cannot account for the personal aesthetic choices of the judging panel at major gymnastics competitions, it does explore some examples of cultural aesthetics in artistic gymnastics from the point of view of its heritage, bodily performance and the varied interpretation of the rules, as a comment upon the use of symbolism performed through the body on the international sporting stage.

Repository Staff Only: item control page