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Dance and Gymnastics: A Pas de Deux!

pole barn studioPoint your toes! Coach or ballet mistress, dancer or gymnast, if you’ve said or heard this once, you’ve heard or said it a zillion times! If only you had a nickel…

The New Yorker’s Katia Bachko describes, in exquisite detail, why mentors in both dance and gymnastics pound the toe point into the heads of their artists:

“In ballet, the pointed foot creates extension from the top of the thigh to the toes; without an emphasis on this stretch, gymnasts curl and clench the toes. When coaches put too much emphasis on strength training, athletes end up with bulky shoulder muscles which compromise the graceful, elevated carriage of the head, which is typical among Carly Patterson, Jordyn Wieber, and other American gymnasts. Pay attention to the way the head position changes as the torso moves. Graceful, fluid neck movement creates dynamic, pleasing movement; a tight upper body gives the impression of tension. These minor, but important differences reflect the influence of ballet training. If they stop mattering, in terms of points and, ultimately, victories, the sport will be the worse for it.”

Every event in gymnastics demands the gymnast point his or her toes — because certainly, male gymnasts are not exempt from this technique to lengthen the leg and please the eye of the fan and judge alike!

However, we see the discipline of dance make its biggest mark in women’s events; most notably, the floor exercise with it’s, well: choreography.

According to the international judging guidelines for gymnastics, “The use of music in choreography utilizes the idea given by the music. All movements must fit perfectly with the chosen music and stay in time with beats / phrases.” 

Historically, athletes from the former Soviet states are best known for their balletic grace on floor and beam and for their long, elegant, willowy bodies. Soviet gymnastics training was built upon a strong foundation in ballet and it served them well in many an international or Olympic competition for decades.

Former Russian gymnast and three-time Olympic champion, Svetlana Boginskaya, in Splice Today says, “From day one, we practiced on a ballet barre for 30-45 minutes. It became, for me, like one of the events in gymnastics. We worked on posture, flexibility and the many other things that made Russian gymnasts stand out from many others.”

It’s that tradition, its beauty, its world of admiration and its case full of medals that instilled the discipline of dance into the competitive gymnastics teams in the rest of the world.

Though, the Soviet Union has long since disbanded the union of dance and gymnastics will never break. In competition a gymnast who doesn’t point their toes in between skills gets docked a tenth of a point. In a recent Facebook thread, one of our customers said her coach used to yell at her for not pointing her toes admonishing her that it was, “Not Soviet Enough!” A few others chimed in that their coaches said that, too!

Today, in America’s gymnastics clubs and gyms, we see ballet being taught as a matter of basic course to stretch and to encourage a long and elegant, upright posture. Ballet movement adds grace and flow to tumbling passes and the choreographed movements in between. Ballet barre training works as an aid in beam technique to assist with gaining and maintaining balance, adding in another layer of core muscle training.

While the Soviets and later the Russians and the Romanians usually stuck to classical music and dance, American gymnasts began to branch out to other types of music and their accompanying styles of movement such as jazz or even country.

However, nowhere are you more likely to put your finger on the pulse of what’s live in music and dance as portrayed through the mashup of dance and gymnastics than at an NCAA college gymnastics meet! 

Of course there are still rules and judges at an NCAA meet, but the vibes is just the same as other competitions be they local club and gym meets or high stakes elite gymnastics.

NCAA collegiate gymnastics is a world unto itself where artistry has a bit more room to grow and flourish and the crowds crave it! College gymnasts are at an age and a time in their life where music and individual expression is a big deal and it shows. At an NCAA meet, you’ll see gymnastics routines performed to a variety of current music styles like Hip Hop, Rock, Pop and Club/Electronic.

Or, even the James Bond theme music!

The one thing that remains constant throughout time and space: that toe point!


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