How to Thoughtfully Incorporate Acrobatics Into Competition Routines

June 28, 2024

Many of today’s versatile competitive dancers can highlight a choreographic phrase with a thrilling tumbling pass, kip-up, or aerial. But when it comes to acrobatics in competition routines, there’s a fine line between a captivating performance and a highlight reel of tricks. Finding the sweet spot between demonstrating a dancer’s skill and entertaining an audience—and the judges—is key.

Play the Long Game

When choosing acro elements in a routine, choreographers should consider not only the dancers’ comfort level with the material, but also the physical demands it will add to performing across an entire comp season. “Dance floors—especially competition stages—aren’t built for hard-core tumbling,” explains Meghan Sanett, a judge and faculty member with Tremaine Dance Conventions who choreographs competition routines across the country. “Over time that can really affect a dancer’s body, and ultimately their career longevity.”

a teacher dressed in all black wearing heels talking into a microphone on stage
Meghan Sanett. Photo by Nicole Smartt, Courtesy Sanett.

If the choreography does include acrobatic elements, dancers need to train for them consistently. Ashley Thompson, competition director at Angelic Academy of Dance in Bonita Springs, Florida, requires dancers who tumble to attend acro class—which has a big focus on conditioning—weekly. “We mostly push for cleanliness in the tricks our dancers can already do, like aerials and front aerials, and only allow a dancer to attempt something new if they’ve developed the proper strength for it,” she says. “I never want a dancer to feel more nervous than they should be because their solo has certain tricks in it.”

Similarly, Krystal Aguilar, an instructor at both Danielle Peyton Dance Company in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, and Sublime Dance Company in Guttenberg, New Jersey, reviews routines with the studio owners to help ensure the dancers’ safety. “Collaboration is key,” she says. “I’m always checking in for feedback on students’ progress with skills in their other classes.”

a teacher posing with four dancers against a World Dance Championship backdrop
Krystal Aguilar. Courtesy Aguilar.

Make It Seamless

According to Sanett, the transitions into and out of acro moments are crucial parts of the artistic whole. “When you’re watching a dancer performing very stylized movement, and then suddenly they go into a huge hurdle and an aerial, it can totally throw off the vibe of the whole number,” she says. “Finding creative preparations and landings is the easiest way to integrate acro into the rest of your choreography.”

Don’t Overdo It

Will judges deduct points for routines that are too “trick-y”? Not necessarily, according to Aguilar, who also judges competitions. “But I would be more forgiving if, let’s say, a dancer puts their hand down on one aerial, versus someone with a solo full of tricks that aren’t executed well or detract from the performance aspect,” she says.

Thompson will often choreograph an entire number before going back and adding in acro components. “The dancers learn and practice a wide variety of tricks, but that doesn’t mean we need to include them all in every number,” Thompson says. “If there’s a big musical cue, I may plan for an acro moment, but otherwise I only like to sprinkle in tricks when there’s a part in the storyline that really needs something extra.”

a female teacher huddled together with students in a hallway
Ashley Thompson. Courtesy Thompson.

Let the Dancing Take Center Stage

Remember that acrobatic elements rarely make a significant difference in a routine’s score—and that, ultimately, the score is less important than artistic integrity. “I feel like sometimes teachers overemphasize the ‘winning’ aspect of competing, and dancers these days think they need all these crazy tricks to win,” Sanett says. “I really appreciate all the hard work dancers put into learning difficult tricks, but I’d rather see movement quality, musicality, and emotion showcased onstage.”