Monday, July 26, 2010



I was watching Mattie Larson's Classics floor routine last night and started to get annoyed.  Mattie wasn't the problem.  She tumbled well, pulled out her spanking new and excellent double layout for all to admire. Her chorey is quite decent for the contemporary level of floor work.  The problem was, it just reminded me of everything I hate about the code.
I think most of us probably agree that the dance part of floor exercise and beam has gone downhill somewhat in the past decades. Floor routines just aren't what they used to be, and beam isn't nearly as interesting or attractive either. 

But it's not so much the choreographers as fault as it is the code. 
In the last twenty years the definition of dance in the code has become so prescriptive rather than descriptive

 In the eighties, floor routines were full of exciting and original leaps and jumps where, for the sake of the chorey, legs made crazy, fun, and even beautiful shapes to match the mood of the piece.  What mattered was how the dance presented itself, how innovative and appealing it was, not the individual point value of every. single. move. Though the gymnasts back then often did hit their splits- not all leaps were about that. Dance elements weren't counted and graded individually.
Nowadays all these crappy requirements make floor and beam dance about how many and how high? 

Bogey at the barre (Getty Images)

This is one of the things that have really dragged down the floor routine.  Who else is sick of watching a gymnast waste valuable 'choreography' time taking a long run up across the mat just to ensure she hits that split leap or switch ring because it is required by the code?  Or take seconds to prepare for the turn that is too big and they inevitably fall out of anyway?  Not only does it just look like an gymnast frantically taking vault run-ups all over the mat, it turns dance into an athletic event.  It's not dance anymore.

The other thing is, that it actually doesn't always benefit the dancers either.  Take Shawn Johnson.  Dance wasn't her strength- tumbling and sheer dynamism was her bag.  Because of that, and her quick twitch muscles, she could throw dynamic leaps on beam like her pike jump and hit it hard.  And sure, that was impressive.  But was it dance?  I don't think so.  So, on one hand it is good because the not natural dancers could benefit, but those who could really move were too tackling these athletic feats instead of showing what they can do in the 'artistic' part of gymnastics.

For example, when gymnasts like Comaneci and Turischeva did those small leaps- I want to call them stride leaps, but I don't really know what they are.  All the old gymnasts did them, and it was about a three quarter split- that looked like dance.  They were graceful, and involved great deportment and lovely arms.  That, to me, was dance.
And it's not that I don't like watching a gymnast do a big beautiful Yang Bo or a well executed sheep jump, but I do get sick of seeing how much effort they take for the gymnasts, and I hate seeing the same leaps over and over.  Yawn.


It's great that Nelli Kim said in that article with IG that the FIG will be addressing these messy moments between elements, but the more I think about it, the more I think that would just be treating the symptoms.

Besides, it looks like that because dance elements are no longer integrated with the actual dance.  There is now tumbling, then dance elements, and then choreography, and rarely ever, do the three meet, unless a gymnast is 'dancing' out of an awkward landing.

Wouldn't it be awesome if there was just some sort of stipulation that there must be a certain ratio of dance rather than a prescriptive rule how many and how exactly they should be performed?

At the moment the code is designed only for code whoring, and it is glaringly obvious.  It makes even quite nice floor workers like Larson  look bad.  The problem is, I am getting used to it.  And on most days I wouldn't have even blinked at Larson's routine.  I would have just enjoyed it.  But something yesterday made me stop and think.  Then, as you have found out, it made me rant!

Here is a Svetlana Baitova floor routine.  I haven't included this because I think it is incredible, but because I think it is good example of how leaps, jumps and turns were integrated with the choreography.  Groshkova's choreography was another great example- or even Baraksanova in 1985.  She did take a few runs into big leaps, but she at least danced out of them and integrated her turns into the choreography.




  1. I think USA gymnastics' floor routines has a problem... it's that they don't use their legs... their choreography's are all "poses" moving their arms... but it's more like a photo session than a gymnastics dance...

    Love your blog... since I knew it I'm reading all the post... lucky I'm in 2008 and I've two more years to read yet!!!

  2. PolyisTCOandbannedJuly 26, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    Get rid of dance. Make it the same as men's gym. make it a sport, not an exhibition. Do we have a bunch of female dance junk in women's basketball or soccer?

    And get rid of the 3/8 leaps. What a mess.

  3. a bit OT but is anyone having a hard time opening your blog lately - it takes forever

  4. I know most elite gymnasts spend some time in ballet training, but I wonder what that consists of. Is it all about toe point and body positioning or do they spend time actually dancing? On television they always show barre work or a teacher correcting arm positioning, but I hope that's not it. Full dance training might help with musicality and at least connecting moves smoothly.

  5. I actually think the US would fall back down the ranks quite quickly if they dropped the code. Is it me or are more gymnast power gymnast than anything from the US. The few artistic like Sam, Nastia, or Sabrina Vega always get injured so quickly.

  6. TCO, If you don't think dancing is a sport, go try it and work out like most dancers. It's incredibly hard and challenge and the competitions, especially in Ballroom are extremely competitive.

    I agree with Ana. It's all about the arm poses (same is similar on beam).

  7. Kristy, for most gymnasts ballet does indeed consist of barre work. Actual dance training where the girls step away from the barre and engage in connected dance movements and learn how to express music is increasingly rare, alas.

  8. I just wish that, even if they still insisted on having the leap series requirements, that the dance elements didn't have to count toward your difficulty score. Bye bye ugly Gogeans, turns that take an hour to wind up for, and poorly executed switch ring leaps!

  9. The 1980s is my favorite decade in gymnastics. The tumbling was awesome and exciting and the dance was breathtaking, beautiful. I wish gymnasts could perform with that same seamless integration today.