Choreography has always been one of my favorite aspects of gymnastics, having done routines for gymnasts at the club, high school, and collegiate level. I recently had the opportunity to choreograph 10 optional floor routines for Spectrum and I had so much fun doing them. Despite my experience, I have never done 10 floor routines at once, so there were moments where I felt like I was in over my head and asking myself, “Why did I agree to do this again?” but I was able to ease myself into a system where I worked on two at a time until all 10 were completed. I spent countless hours moving the coffee table and doing them in the living room of my tiny apartment. When it was time to teach them, sometimes that tiny living room worked against me, because what I had in my head and what worked in a small space did not work on a 40x40 competition floor and I had to make some executive changes, but luckily, everything worked out and I’m really proud of the finished products. So then, I decided to write about my creative process and why I think choreography is so important.
There is nothing I can’t stand more than cookie-cutter routines. I believe that the whole purpose of a floor routine is to perform and show the judges a little piece of yourself. But all too often, I think most floor routines fall flat. There’s a lot of regurgitated music that I’ve heard 1000 times before, and formulaic choreography that I see in every other routine. Once in a while, I see a routine that stands out in the crowd, but I feel like those kinds of routines are too rare than they should be.
In the spring, I scoured the internet for good music and found dozens of selections of varying styles that I had never heard before (and I’ve heard a lot of music). Who wants a floor routine to music that 4 other people in the state have? Nobody! Who wants to go to an optional meet and hear the same selections over and over again? Nobody! Once we leave the compulsory world where everyone has the same music, it’s a relief to enter the optional world where we have the ability to hear dozens of different selections, and choosing a popular or overused song detracts from that experience. I also like making floor music with a simple music mixing program on my computer, because then I know for sure that nobody will have this exact cut except the person I’m making it for.
I had them each choose one of those music selections. I don’t think it’s right for a coach to choose music for their gymnast. If someone doesn’t like their music, they are less likely to perform to it. I believe that a gymnast has to love the music in order to feel the music, do justice to the choreography, and cultivate artistry and performative value.
Capturing the Personality
I was very lucky to be able to create routines for girls I have been coaching for going on three years now, because I know them so well. It’s hard to truly capture someone’s personality through choreography when you hardly know them. All 10 of them chose something different, which is completely fitting because all 10 of them are all different, unique people. I know what they do well, and what they don’t do well. I tried to tailor their routines to highlight their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. I listened to what they wanted. A lot of them have some really cool moves they had thought of themselves, and I tried to incorporate them into the routine. In creating the routines, I tried to showcase each one as a gymnast and as a person.
Thinking Outside the Box
Gymnastics floor routines are often criticized by the dance world as being too heavily reliant on the arms, and I completely agree. If you watch floor routines, 85% of it is all arm movement. But gymnastics is all about using the human body in totality to accomplish amazing things. So why are we in gymnastics settling for just using our arms in choreography when we have an entire body to utilize? When I was creating these routines, I tried to incorporate everything from head to toe. I created choreography with just the fingers, or the feet, hair and yes, even the butt (Aisling’s “butt walk” in her routine is a big hit)! I would grab different parts of my body with one hand and think, “How can I turn this awkward position into movement?” How can I contort my body and transition from one movement to another in a unique way?” When I felt myself doing too much with the arms, I switched and isolated the feet, because believe it or not, judges can deduct on footwork (improper or lack thereof)! I was pleasantly surprised with how all the girls embraced what I had created for them, because it was definitely not easy choreography to learn, and I give them a lot of credit for especially loving all the “weird” stuff I threw in.
Music should not merely be an accompaniment, it should be the basis from which the movement is derived. Choreography should, in my opinion be a physical manifestation of the music; it should be music brought to life. In addition to being a gymnast, I was heavily involved with music growing up, and dabbled in about 6 different instruments. I'd like to think that I have a musically-inclined ear, and I tried to use it when I was creating these routines. I would think to myself, "If this music had a human form, what would that human be doing? How would it move?" There's a reason why the JO team does aerobics once a week, and it's not just for cardio. I like them doing aerobics because it teaches them how to feel the music and to feel a beat. Musicality is a skill that, believe it or not, many children don't have.
I’ve never been a dancer. I’ve always been a gymnast. All the dance training I got was through a gymnastics lens, and most dancers will tell you that it’s not “real” dance. But I’ve found a lot of inspiration from other gymnastics choreographers. UCLA head coach “Miss Val” Kondos Field is known for pushing the envelope in choreographing routines for her team. I took a page out of her book by incorporating “ponytail choreography” into the routine. Elite gymnastics coach, Maggie Haney of MG Elite in New Jersey is another choreographer I idolize, because all of the routines she’s created for her Elites are totally mind-blowing. And finally, this summer when Spectrum coaches attended USA Gymnastics Region VI Congress in Providence, I attended a two-part seminar on artistry with Precision Choreography’s Nicole Langevin, someone I truly respect and admire. It was hands-down my favorite lecture and I learned so much from her.
Routines I Love
I had a great time with these routines, and I got a lot of compliments on them already, which I am so grateful for. I love knowing that people love and appreciate my work and I can’t wait to see how these routines fair in competition!
I’m going to end this with three of my favorite floor routines; routines that I can only hope to mirror someday in terms of creativity and performance!
I love Laurie's routine because the choreography is so much different than what you would see in the stiff and often uptight world of elite gymnastics. Laurie shows impeccable artistry and doesn't do anything halfway. I love everything about this routine, from the music to the tumbling to the way she moves!
Ksenia is the full package to me. She's a beautiful mix of dance and power, and just watch her hands! I love watching her because she always does beautiful things with her hands!
I think this might be my favorite routine of all time. Chayse competes for Oklahoma and her routine is absolutely breathtaking. Her music is "Intro" by the XX which is a song that I adore and would die to be able to choreograph a routine to. The part in the middle when she's on the floor is so beautiful. Take special note of how she uses her feet! There are parts where her feet are flexed and parts where they are completely pointed.
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
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About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!