When Mayela Mathews first came to FSU in 1995, it was as a student in the College of Health & Human Sciences. After her second graduation ceremony in 2004, Mathews held two degrees: a BS in Child Development and a BFA in Dance. Today she puts both degrees to use as director and head coach of Mayela Rhythmic, a rhythmic gymnastics studio in Tallahassee. In honor of National Gymnastics Day (September 17), we spoke to Mayela about her journey from child athlete to head coach of her own studio.
Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Mathews began her rhythmic gymnastics training at 11 years old. Rhythmic gymnastics is where sport meets art. A blend of ballet and modern dance, athletes perform to music while executing skills with handheld apparatus: hoop, clubs, ball, ribbon and rope.
Mathews competed and won at the national level before moving to the US to attend FSU.
“I was a gymnast in childhood and had taken some ballet classes,” Mathews said. “But serious training in modern dance and circus arts were brand new to me. The two non-major courses I took in my first term at FSU changed my life.”
Throughout those first four years in college, Mathews continued to take dance classes and even ended up joining the FSU Flying High Circus for performances. Rhythmic gymnastics, with its emphasis on balance, flexibility, leaps and originality, ended up lending many relevant skills to circus performances. But it wasn’t until Professor Jack Clark (BFA Dance ‘82, MFA Dance ‘84) encouraged Mayela to audition for the School of Dance that she considered pursuing her passion academically.
As a full-time student in the School of Dance, Mathews learned many lessons that she carries on in her own studio today.
“The professors taught me not only to be a performer, but to be a teacher as well,” she said. “I still remember putting a dance class together with Professor Tom Welsh and how nervous I was those first few times teaching the college kids. Experiences like that gave me the learning tools and the confidence to start my rhythmic gymnastics program.”
She also credits Emeritus Professor Lynda Davis with teaching her the importance of creativity in movement and dance.
After graduation, Mayela first considered opening a dance studio in Tallahassee. However, after her collegiate experience, she decided rhythmic gymnastics brought together everything she had grown to love in childhood and adulthood: dance, gymnastics, acrobatics and circus performance. As a professional coach and club member of USA Gymnastics, she teaches recreational and competitive programs, with her gymnasts competing at the state and regional level. She didn’t have to go far to teach her students either— Mayela’s rhythmic gymnasts train at the FSU Circus complex on campus, where her partner Chad Mathews also serves as Director of the FSU Circus.
“The School of Dance is still a big part of me. It is with me in every class I teach,” Mathews says. “From warm up, to movement and choreography, it’s all FSU Dance. I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers I had. Every one of them gave me knowledge which I now bring to my classes.”
Learn more about Mayela’s studio at mayela-rhythmic.com.