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Bianka Panova Sport & Art Academy: “We consider rhythmic gymnastics as education, preparing young talents for real life”

Bianca Panova Academy (BPA) is a rhythmic gymnastics school in Singapore, set up by two interesting and passionate Eastern European women: Bianka Panova and Daniela Michaely, who share the same passion for dancing and gymnastics.

The remarkable story of the school started when Daniela, Managing Director of BPA, moved to Singapore and was searching for a gymnastics class for her young daughter. When she was not able to find what she was looking for, she decided to open an Academy for young talents in Singapore.

The infamous Bianka Panova was the perfect partner to do this with. Nine-time World Champion in rhythmic gymnastics (RG) and part of the so-called Golden Girls of Bulgaria in the 80s. She is the first rhythmic gymnast featured in the Guinness Book of Records for achieving full 10 marks for her performance in all her routines at a 1987 World Championship in Varna.

In 2015 Bianka Panova Sport and Art Academy was opened with the vision of developing a rhythmic gymnastics world class platform in Singapore for young and upcoming gymnastic talents.

CEEC: Bianka, prior to moving to Singapore, you have been living and teaching gymnastics in different European countries before (Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK to name a few), what inspired you to come to Singapore and what are the similarities and the differences in teaching in Europe and in Singapore?

Bianka: The main reason for me to come to Singapore was Daniela. She realized the talent and the potential of the Singaporeans girls in RG and invited me to open the Academy together. The move came at the right time in my life, when my son was starting his studies abroad and after discussing it and with the approval of my husband, I decided to move to this part of the world. I am very happy to be partners with Daniela in creating Bianka Panova Academy. It has always been my dream to build a brand with my name, but I couldn’t do it alone. Daniela had the vision and did an amazing job in putting together all costumes, medals and apparatus to build a brand.

In terms of differences, Europe is more developed in RG than Singapore. However, we see a lot of potential for RG here. Singapore thrives to be an aesthetic and organized country and we think a sport like RG can be representing these qualities of Singapore such as: excellence and beauty.

When I first came, I was impressed how proud the Singaporeans are to be living and growing the country, and that’s what convinced me that it is the right place to create and develop an Academy. We now work very well with Singapore Gymnastics Association and we manage to implement many new things on the local landscape.

CEEC: What does competitive sport teach the young gymnasts that help them in their daily life?

Daniela: Bianka always believed that RG is a way of living. RG comprises a lot of things that the girls are learning from a very young age. Not only the technical perspective but also their mind set: solving problems, dealing with difficult situations, finding a way to cope with failures. In addition to musicality, coordination and body culture, the girls learn to work hard to achieve goals and to work in a team. Here at the Academy, we believe in women empowerment. We think that through RG the girls can receive good training for their lives, along with the educational side. And in the future, if it happens that one of the girls becomes a champion – it will be amazing.  But we consider this sport as education, preparing you for real life. As Bianka says: this is the ‘Academy for Life’.

Bianka: In life everything is a competition. However, the girls need to learn they need to compete fair and they don’t need to be scared of making mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are a blessing, as only from the mistakes do we learn and grow.

CEEC: Your girls just had huge success at the 1st DGA Cup in September including winning four Gold Medals, what are your next goals for the young talents of Singapore?

Bianka: In these past four years, we have participated in more than 30 international competitions. From almost every competition our young gymnasts are walking away with a medal. Our aim is to give them opportunities to perform as much as possible. That way they will get more comfortable with being on stage and facing the judges. The element of stress will be reduced and when overcoming this stress – they will be able to show their best performance. Since our opening four years ago, we have already 7 Singaporean gymnasts who are members of the National Training Center.

Daniela: For the first time Singapore is represented in Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championship by a girl that Bianka prepared. This is one of the things we didn’t think was possible four years ago but thanks to Bianka’s preparation it is now achievable. We are also recognized as a Center of Excellence and Bianka was awarded “Coach of the Year in High Performance in RG 2017”.

Our goal is to continue to grow young talents. We believe the most important thing is how you enter into a sport. If the girls are passionate and love the sport – they will have a sure longevity in the sport.

CEEC: How do you see the RG developing in Singapore in the next years?

Bianka: There are a several things we would like to see developing in Singapore for RG: strong support of the clubs; availability of venues and professional coaches.

Strong sport nations have strong clubs. We believe supporting the clubs is so important. Currently in Singapore we have the so-called “gym hopping” culture. The girls are changing clubs and coaches often and it is stopping the gymnast’s development. There is a need for some regulations for protection of the clubs and the hard work of coach-gymnast.

Maybe the part we struggle the most with is finding professional coaches in RG in Singapore. So far we haven’t been able to find SG coaches who are willing to dedicate themselves for a full-time career path and recruiting from abroad is limited. In our Academy we have a big demand from girls wanting to sign up for training, and at the moment we keep them on a waiting list because we are not willing to sacrifice quality for quantity.

Daniela: As a further dream, we want to develop Singapore as a Hub for RG in South East Asia. There is no proper central place that provides high quality training in South East Asia and we believe Singapore could become that place. Gymnasts from neighbouring countries like Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia can all come and benefit from a central training if we have a big venue. And they can all train under Bianka’s methodology.

CEEC: How is Bianka Panova Sport and Art Academy different than the other gymnastics academies in Singapore?

Daniela: It is a very exciting question for me. Two words differentiate us from the other clubs – Bianka Panova. Back in the day, I had a dream that my daughter is able to train under such a coach and a wonderful person like Bianka. And I though this could be an amazing opportunity for my daughter, but it could be twice more amazing if other girls can benefit from this.

Our uniqueness lies in that all coaches working in our Academy are trained by Bianka and they all have perspective how Bianka wants to see the girls in the future. No club can do what a world champion has built and achieved with all her experience.

Bianka: With Daniela we believe that we can lovingly convince the girls that they will have to make sacrifices, but it has to be done by their choice. We give the girls the freedom to express themselves and they can share everything with us. We respect their natural flexibility. We are not pushing them and we can proudly say there are no injuries in the Academy from trainings.

Daniela: People often ask me what do you mean by “Sport and Art”? From our perspective we don’t want to focus only on athletics side. We consider RG as a new artistry form of this Century – incorporating Sport and Art together. We are focusing not only on the technical side but also in rhythm and musicality. We have also started acting lessons so in the future the girls will no longer be only athletes, they will be performers. That’s what we want to see. The ones that are meant to be champions, we will train them for that, but we definitely want to see RG on the stage and not only on the competition side. We are the only club that has rhythm and musicality lessons, art lessons, strength and conditioning separately, classical ballet  and different kind of dances.

That’s what we started doing 4 years ago on our Anniversary events. Bianka is choreographing beautiful events with messages that we want to pass to the audience. We hope in the future we can do productions with big audience that will enjoy the performance of RG.

Bianka: It’s a pity that competitive gymnasts are quitting their careers when they are only 18-19 years old. We think they can give more joy and happiness to the audience after that as well, as they are more mature and more expressive. We teach them from a young age to be an artist so they can have a second carrier when they grow up. Show business is not widely developed here. Majority of professionals in Singapore are lawyers, bankers, doctors but we would like to develop sports or arts as a professional path for the young talents.

Bianka Panova Sport & Art Academy will hold their 4th Anniversary Annual Concert on the 17th November and they invite the CEEC community.