Miki Nomura, 24, Gymnastics Coach

Few people are able to say they’ve introduced a sport to Singapore. But that’s exactly what CLEO Change Maker Miki did: the Singaporean-Japanese brought Aesthetic Group Gymnastics (AGG) to our shores last year.

As you might expect, Miki is well-versed in gymnastics. She got into rhythmic gymnastics at the age of eight, and at 13, was selected to be a part of the national team. She went on to compete at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, but retired from the sport at 17 because she wanted to focus on coaching instead. It was in 2014 that she discovered AGG.

“A coach from Japan attended one of our rhythmic gymnastics tournaments and briefly spoke to us about the sport during the meet,” explains Miki. “I decided to contact her after to ask if I could try it out in Japan. She agreed, so I took a leap of faith and went to train with her for six months.”

What’s Aesthetic Group Gymnastics?

Miki describes it as “synchronised swimming on land”, so it’s actually quite different from rhythmic gymnastics.

“Rhythmic gymnastics involve the use of props like hoop and clubs, and can be performed individually or in a group of five. AGG doesn’t involve props and has to be performed in a group of six to 10 gymnasts.”

The movements are also different. Rhythmic gymnastics revolves around body movements like jumps, balances and pivots that exhibit a high degree of dexterity. On the other hand, AGG focuses on strength, expression, and more natural movements like body waves, swings and contractions.

“I love AGG because it has a lot more artistic elements—choreography plays a very big role and it’s a hybrid of sports and arts,” she says.

Miki Nomura CLEO Change makers
Metal earrings, viscose dress, both by Bimba Y Lola. Lycra turtleneck, Uniqlo. Denim jacket with faux fur trim, Pinko. Leather sneakers, H&M.

The journey to the world stage

Formed last year, the local competitive AGG team is currently made up of seven members. And while the team is relatively new, they have been bold with their efforts—they hosted and competed in the AGG World Cup in April this year (which saw over 500 participants from 17 countries) and then competed in the World Championships in Spain the following month. The world cup takes place four times a year and is the second-biggest competition after the world championships.

But that doesn’t mean things have always been smooth-sailing for the group. In fact, they were up against plenty of challenges when they organised the recent world cup.

“Our greatest struggle was funding. The event was completely self-funded,” says Miki. “Plus, it’s not easy to find like-minded people who share the same goals and can commit to something so strongly.”

She adds that there were multiple changes in group members, and that at one point, they didn’t have enough numbers to form a competitive team. But it all worked out in the end—albeit through sheer grit and a lot of help.

“We were initially promised sponsors, but that didn’t work out and we had no money at all. However, my coach was adamant that we carry on with the plan to host the world cup, so she loaned us money to rent the venue. The cost of the venue was $17,000 and my coach lent us about 60 percent of the sum.”

She lets on that the team was eventually able to pay her back the money by splitting the cost, and that they also split the cost of having the coach here. Plus, by some stroke of luck (and through connections), they were able to borrow costumes from the Finnish team and managed to get the medals sponsored.

What drives her

Given how tough the journey was, it’s hardly surprising that Miki felt like walking away many times.

“There were many times when I felt like giving up. I constantly asked myself why I was doing this. I felt like there were no incentives even though I had sacrificed so much time and money,” she muses.

“But what kept me going was when I watched the rest of the world [keep going in spite of the challenges they faced]. It’s important to have determination. There will be plenty of sleepless nights and rejections, so it’s about how good we are at biting the bullet and pushing through. Passion is not just about liking something. It also involves love, hunger and sacrifice.”

When she isn’t busy training, Miki is a gymnastics competition judge and coach—she teaches rhythmic gymnastics at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ Secondary School, and teaches AGG to both kids and adults at the gymnastics club she co-owns, D’Gymnastique Academy.

And while her passion for AGG involves a lot of hard work, she doesn’t plan to stop spreading her love for it any time soon: “I will continue to grow the sport not just in Singapore, but in Asia. I’m currently an AGG ambassador under the International Federation of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics, and since AGG is still very new in this region, it is my duty to grow it.”

CLEO Change Makers 2019

Read more about the CLEO Change Makers here. For more career advice, money tips, and general guides to adulting, check out our Change Makers digital issue.

Photography: Brendan Zhang
Styling: Cheryl Chan
Hair: Ash Loi 
Keith Bryant Lee
Styling Assistant: Melissa Lee