Isabella Ivanova gave artistic gymnastics, ballet and contemporary dance a chance, but they didn’t resonate with the youngster.
About nine years ago, Ivanova and her mom discovered what was happening inside the La Luna Rhythmic Gymnastics Academy in Kirkland. It changed everything.
“The minute I stepped into this gym, I knew I was going to love rhythmic gymnastics, and from then on, I’ve never stopped,” said Ivanova, now age 15 and a student at Juanita High.
The Level 10 gymnast and 2019 elite qualifier for the national championships next month in Ohio thrives in the sport, which features athletes performing with ribbons, hoops, balls, clubs and ropes. According to La Luna owner and program director Arzu Karaali from Bulgaria, only 25 percent of gymnasts achieve Level 10 status.
Ivanova favors the hoops and clubs, especially the latter, which she enjoys mastering and taking hard risks to reap success.
“Getting to express myself in my routines, having awesome routines choreographed by coach Arzu and by coach Lyudmila (Polivanova) and getting to make them harder and harder each year and of course going around the world to competitions is always really fun,” Ivanova said.
If she had a tough day at school, the welcoming and familial atmosphere at La Luna turns things around.
“I always come to the gym with a positive attitude because I know it’s gonna brighten my day,” Ivanova said with a smile.
Region 2 champion Glika Mitro, 15, is a Level 8 gymnast, Junior Olympic team member and has captured many state and regional titles. She studies in the rigorous Cambridge Royal Program at Juanita High and has notched a 4.0 grade-point average.
For five years, Mitro performed in the ballet and rhythmic gymnastics realms simultaneously, but now she focuses solely on the latter sport.
Mitro loves the adrenaline that comes with performing in front of crowds, especially with the clubs and balls apparatuses.
“It made me a better person and it really changed me,” Mitro said. “Coach Arzu and coach Lyudmila and all the coaches I’ve had, they’ve just really inspired me to become what I am today. I’ve definitely become more mature and become more focused. I know when I want to earn something, I try my hardest to do it, so I really want to reach my dreams. Every competition is one step into improving.” She added that her goal is to strive for first place in each competition.
Other top rhythmic gymnasts at La Luna are athletes of the year from the 2019 Region 2 championships, Katrine Sakhnov (Level 8), Anhui Ang (Level 7), Mia Pomato (Level 6), Anna Ionitsa (Level 5) and Mitro; Region 2 Junior Olympic Team members who qualify for nationals, Deanna Georgieva (Level 8), Sofiya Monastyrska (Level 8) and Ang; and Classics and Regional Team Championship performers who qualify for nationals, Anna Braginskaya (Level 9), Cady Xia (Level 9), Nicole Babadzhanova (Level 10) and Ivanova.
At the 2019 Region 2 Championships, La Luna received six gold medals, seven silver medals and four bronze medals.
Karaali established La Luna in 2007 and the academy has been housed at its permanent location in Kirkland (11251 120th Ave. NE, Suite 150) since 2010. Coaches have trained more than 1,000 gymnasts since the academy’s inception, and currently they train close to 200 gymnasts. Artistic adviser Shawnene Hersey has been a pivotal academy member since the beginning, Karaali said.
In 2017, Karaali welcomed Polivanova on board as head coach. The 2016 Olympic head coach for Uzbekistan said that La Luna possesses talented gymnasts and they have big plans for the future.
“I have a very strong system, very strong discipline,” the coach said through Karaali’s translation. “We are working on very high technique. They need high technique and understanding.”
Karaali was coach of the year several times and was looking for even higher standards for her gymnasts by bringing Polivanova into the fold. It’s taken massive hard work to introduce rhythmic gymnastics to the Kirkland and Eastside areas.
“It’s beautiful, this Olympic sport. It just makes them a better person for the future, and we are proud to serve this in our community,” Karaali said.
The academy will showcase its rhythmic gymnastics talent at La Luna Kiss ’19 at 6:30 p.m. June 23 at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center Theatre. For information, visit www.lalunagym.com.