Competitive gymnastics used to be off-limits for most Orthodox Jewish girls above the age of bat mitzvah. Regulation leotards, mixed with male judges and male spectators would compromise the modesty standards for many of these young women. In addition, most competitions are held on Shabbos.
All of this has changed now that there is an Orthodox Jewish girls’ Gymnastics competition with around 120 girls ages 6-16 participating from teams throughout the Tri-State area, as well as Cleveland and Miami. A whole generation of frum girls are getting to experience the excitement of trying for a medal, while keeping to their religious standards. Devra Markowitz is the owner and director of Flipping Forward, a recreational and competitive program that has participants from the Passaic/Clifton, West Orange, Elizabeth/Springfield and Bergenfield/Teaneck communities. Flipping Forward’s unprecedented success at the Spring meet, which took place in Monsey last week, is a thrilling surprise to Markowitz. “In every competition since winter 2017, we have won first place team all-around. We keep winning!”
Because the girls have the ability to express themselves competitively, they have gone much further than Markowitz had dreamed. In their very first meet, they won first place as a team and one of their athletes won first place all-around. Last spring, the meet in Staten Island had the Flipping Forward Level 3 team winning first place again. This past winter, the Miami gym hosted the meet in Fort Lauderdale, where they won first place in both Level 3 and 4. “This past week in Monsey, Flipping Forward tied for first place in Level 4 all-around and level 3 won second place all-around and many individual awards were won as well.”
The competition consists of routines on the uneven bars, the balance beam, and floor. “We only have two competitions a year, but our girls don’t have the flexibility in their schedule to work out and practice 25 hours a week either.” Whatever small lack that may create is more than made up for by what the girls get out of the experience, without compromising their values. “The girls have outlets to do things they would never have before.”
At first, Flipping Forward was just recreational classes held at a karate studio with 30 girls. Markowitz didn’t see how the transition to a competitive track could work but they had a tryout anyway. She utilized the female coaches she hired who were trained in this area of expertise. Their competitions base their approach off of the USAG rules of competitions. They compete at Levels 3, 4 and 5. “We started on Level 3 because they had more advanced skills such as roundoff back handsprings.” Flipping Forward now practices at US Gymnastics in Leonia. “They have all the apparatuses we need.”
While she initially thought she would go into Jewish education, Markowitz is able to use her love of teaching and channel it into gymnastics. “I hired coaches from other gyms who were working on competitive teams. I was able to use them to coach our team as well.” Markowitz keeps close track of each girl’s progress. “I grew up with gymnastics as a kid but only did it recreationally. I know what every girl is working on and…[the coaches] help them with all the stuff I never had exposure to.” As she grew in her yiddishkeit as a teen, she stopped participating actively. “Having an opportunity where we can have our own space, without fathers, or male coaches, opens it up to anyone who wants to do gymnastics.” Parents abide by the rule that mothers can video their own daughters (to show their fathers) while keeping all the other girls out of frame. The girls are less self-conscious and are able to achieve more accordingly. “The kids can have their friends and don’t have to worry about being in an environment they aren’t comfortable in.”
The opportunity this affords other Orthodox Jewish women as gym owners is also a point of pride. “These women are running businesses which are creating success for them and their athletes.” From moms with little kids to single girls back from seminary, they can pass on their love of the sport to the girls of their community. “These parents would never have sent their daughters to a regular gym, but now they have another options besides academics where they can feel confident. They have found a new sense of self-[esteem] that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
If you are interested in Flipping Forward, or for more information on Orthodox Jewish girls’ gymnastics competitions, please contact Devra Markowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.