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A Chat with Gymnastics Champion (and Singapore Coach) Bianka Panova

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Did you know we have a nine-time gymnastics world champion living (and teaching) right here in Singapore? If your kids are keen, mama, here’s how to keep them moving in the right direction

Mamas, do your little ones have big athletic dreams? Are they brimming with grace and confidence? Were they born with a passion to perform?

I think it’s time to get them started on gymnastics! and give them the opportunity to train with Guinness Record holder and nine-time Rhythmic Gymnastics World Champion Bianka Panova at the Bianka Panova Sport and Art Academy right here in Singapore. I recently met with the academy’s Director, Daniela Michaely, and Bianka herself at their facility on Henderson Road. Read on for excerpts from my interview with these lovely ladies…

What was it like growing up as a gymnast?

Bianka: I was born in Bulgaria. My mum was the first person who saw and felt my passion for movement and motion. It seemed almost natural that I should learn Rhythmic Gymnastics (RG). After about a year of trying out different clubs, my mum finally settled on a club where I started RG lessons twice a week. I was a young 8-year-old at that time. A couple of years later I was recognised as “high potential” and at the age of 14, I started competing for the national team of Bulgaria. It was an amazing feeling to project the work of so many people (coaches, ballet teachers, musicians, actors) into my routines. I felt proud and scared at the same time. I didn’t think about potential errors or flaws – I was solely focused on giving my best on the carpet. Training was very hard and perhaps sometimes too strict for that age. I genuinely believe that children should be treated in a very special way, and that’s what we aim to do at our academy here in Singapore.

How did you fit school and other activities in your schedule whilst training to be a professional gymnast?

Bianka: It wasn’t easy but the sports discipline helped me a lot. Some evenings I had to study until very late to complete my homework for the next day. But in the gym I’ve been taught that if you have started something you have to finish it, and I never allowed myself to go to school unprepared. My motto has always been that if you can do something it’s best not to procrastinate. If you can be good at something, don’t stop there  – try to be perfect!

It’s rare to find a World Champion residing in Singapore. What brought you here? 

Bianka: I was living and working in London. One day, I received a message from a lady in Singapore by the name of Daniela Michaely. She told me that she had read my autobiography In the Name of the Great Goal – a look behind the scenes, and that my life story was very inspirational. She shared that it was her dream to open a world-class gymnastics academy in Singapore and that she thought I was the right person to transform this dream into reality! I was also deeply curious and interested to explore the Asian culture and work with people in Singapore since my previous work experience was mainly across western countries, so I decided to go for it. Somehow, I felt it was meant to be and as the saying goes… the rest is history!

Did you always have dreams of opening your own academy, or how did that come about?

Bianka: I was dreaming about it for years, but for some reason, it never really materialized until I met Daniela. She gave me the courage, and the belief to make the impossible – possible. I moved to Singapore in May 2015 and after a lot of preparation and many sleepless nights we opened the academy in November 2015.

What was it like going to the Olympics?

Bianka: The Olympic Games are the most important event in the sporting calendar. Almost every athlete is dreaming just to participate, let alone win a medal. During the Olympic celebrations one can truly feel the power of sports. In my view, sporting participation is the best teacher in life – where one learns to respect one’s rival, compete fairly and salute the winner.

What’s the best advice you could give young gymnasts and their parents? 

Bianka: Trust your children and their instincts. Our children do not always understand the long-term benefits of certain activities, but generally they can feel it. If the kids are happy to stay in the gym, if they like to listen to music, dance, stretch – that’s a good sign that your little ones may love Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Daniela: The best advice I can give, as a mother, is to recognize the potential in your kids and support them, make them believe that nothing is impossible (and that is not just a cliché!).

What kinds of classes can kids take at your academy?

Daniela: We offer 3 main classes with different levels and spectrums of body skills (from age 4 onwards):

  1. Recreational Group – Suitable for beginners to develop basic muscles and other body skills. Classes run Monday to Thursday, 3:30pm – 6:00pm (45 mins per session, minimum once a week).
  2. Advanced Group – Suitable for children with 1 year experience in Gymnastics/Ballet to develop advanced motion qualities and basic apparatus techniques. Classes run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, between 5pm – 7pm, and on Saturday and Sunday between 10am -2pm. (2 hours per session minimum twice a week).
  3. Elite Group – A competitive group that participates in worldwide Rhythmic Gymnastics events with the opportunity to win medals and certificates from various international competitions. Classes run from Monday to Sunday, 2:30pm – 9:00pm (4 hours per session, min 3 times a week).

What differentiates your academy from other gymnastics classes in Singapore?

Daniela: We feel like a big warm family living in a very inspirational environment, privileged to be trained by a world champion with a very unique personality. We believe that every child is different and needs a different approach to learn new skills. We also encourage friendship and mutual assistance between the gymnasts, which plays a role in enhancing their social skills.

Bianka: We feel responsible not only for their physical development but also for their emotional and cognitive skills. We believe that whatever one learns at an early age – will shape them for the rest of their lives. We teach them respect, discipline, and perseverance. We encourage them to discover and pursue their dreams and never give up.

Any last words from you both?

Daniela: We feel our mission as women is to strengthen our girls’ confidence and self-esteem and to develop strong young girls who believe in their ability to do anything they want and not be afraid to dare!

Bianka: Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, work hard, and believe in miracles!

Thank you Bianka and Daniela! Make sure you check out the video below to see a Bianka Panova Academy class in action, mama!

Bianka Panova Sport and Art Academy, 2 Bukit Merah Central, #01-07/#02-03, Singapore 159835, Tel: (+65) 6274 3822, www.biankapanovaacademy.com.sg

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