The word that first comes to mind when thinking about my first men’s gymnastics meet is beauty. My friend and I decided to go to the men’s gymnastics meet on a whim. We took a chance and entered Cliff Keen Arena. At first, I was impressed by only the superficial characteristics of the gymnasts: The fact that every inch of their bodies were covered in muscle mass and their impressive flexibility despite the volume of muscle they each carried. However, this was nothing new to me, as I thoroughly enjoy watching clips of gymnastic routines from the Olympics.

It was the University vs. Penn State. I thought nothing of the short and bulky men running across the gymnasium floor. That is, until the gymnasts took to the floor and started their dynamic tumbling and flip routines. I am not exaggerating when I say my jaw involuntarily dropped at the sight of these men hurdling their dense bodies from the bouncy gymnasium floor and spinning themselves around in the air, defying all laws of gravity. It was enchanting to watch the concentration and focus ever present on their faces and the complete control of their dynamic and difficult movements. The way that these men presented themselves with such grace and elegance despite their overbearingly masculine features was captivating. Watching the men’s gymnastics meet not only reminded me that I need to start doing more upper body workouts, but also showed me that there can be art in sports.

Even when I was younger, I got a rush from watching performances. I always felt a surge of reassurance that performing is what I wanted to do with my life after watching a Broadway show or an opera. Any doubts that I had about my place in the performance industry vanished because somehow watching performances made my end goals seem more tangible. I was shocked to find that I got the same rush from watching the men’s gymnastics meet.

The atmosphere of the meet was more of a performance than a competition. The team reminded me of the cast in a show. They were supportive of each other, even when mistakes were made. Both teams had obviously formed intimate bonds with each other, which translated into a strong and genuine support system. The presentation of each of the gymnasts resembled that of a prima ballerina. After every flip and tumble, the gymnast would always go back to a first position footing, as in ballet, and stand with a straight spine, with his head up and chest out no matter how he thought his performance was going.

Looking into the concentrated faces of the gymnasts, I was reminded of how much of performing is a mind game. Here I was, sitting and watching some of the most incredible gymnasts in the nation executing inconceivably difficult stunts, yet after the smallest mistake or fumble, I could see them each holding back a wince of disappointment — a facial expression that is all too familiar to me.

This got me thinking about the tragedy of how difficult and seemingly impossible it is for athletes and artists to step back and admire the beauty in their craft, as outsiders do. We become so involved with the formalities of our sport and our art forms that we lose sight of why we are spending so much of our time and putting so much of our energy into them. It is so difficult for me to accept a simple compliment from someone about my singing, acting or dancing. My immediate response is to blush while an awkward silence creeps in and a list of technical things I thought I did incorrectly during my performance floods into my mind. After a few seconds of this, I somehow manage to squeeze out a thank you with a forced smile. I have seen professional athletes and artists respond in a similar way when complimented on their work.

We have to avoid seeing our crafts under only a technical lens. We have to challenge ourselves to look at what we are doing from an outsider’s point of view: looking for the beauty and the brilliance that we bring to our audiences or sports fans. To any man during the meet who beat himself up for a small fumble, to any artist who allow themselves to be bombarded by the harsh technicalities of their art and to me who cannot accept a compliment on my performance without a surge of insecurity: Take a step back to appreciate the beauty that you are creating because there is always someone out there watching and ready to be inspired by what you are bringing to the table.  

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