- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
- Buy A Single Issue
- Give A Gift Subscription
Why Today's Gymnastics Routines Insult Dance
Simone Biles at the end of her gold medal-winning routine in Rio
Gymnastics have been my favorite part of the Olympics ever since I was a kid. Particularly the floor exercises. I was never a gymnast myself (I don't count the year I spent falling off a balance beam in elementary school). But while growing up in the 80s and 90s, this event was the closest thing I had to watching dance on prime time TV.
Today, though, the sport seems to be growing further and further away from dance.
Just like in most sports—and even dance itself—the level of virtuosity in gymnastics seems to rise every year. The athleticism and power on display in Rio right now is jaw-dropping. Personally, I'm convinced that Simone Biles is superhuman. How else could a body jump that high and turn that many times in the air—and then land on two feet flawlessly?
But as the flips have become more stupefying, the dance moves have become more perfunctory.
That's largely because, in a controversial move, the points system was overhauled in 2006 to emphasize more difficult acrobatic skills, and decrease the importance of artistry. The sport is technically still called "artistic gymnastics." But the value placed on elegance and grace has all but disappeared.
Laurie Hernandez, photo via nbcnewyork.com
Out of the Americans, Laurie Hernandez is by far the best dancer of the bunch, with her sassy, musical moves. Rather than just going through the motions to show off skills that help her rack up tenths of a point, she actually grooves. Still, I wish she would point her feet more articulately. I wish her movement was slightly less jerky.
The quality of the gymnasts' dancing is grating not because I'm spoiled by watching professional dancers. What bothers me is how obviously little attention is paid to the gymnasts' dancing, even though the sport still feels the need to include it. The way it's used is offensive to the art of dance. Rather than incorporating dance and tumbling together as cohesive choreography, gymnasts and their coaches now treat dance sections as a time to rest. So most gymnasts simply hit a series of awkward poses with little attention to the music.
It's not the athletes' fault. Points are awarded based on whether a split hits 180 degrees or a turn is fully completed. The system leaves little room for nuanced movement. Athletes can be deducted for a lack of musicality, interpretation or expression, but judges rarely take off points for something so subjective. They focus on more obvious markers of skill instead. Valorie Kondos-Field, a gymnastics coach and former ballet dancer, told Slate in 2012, “Sometimes you want to put in a jump on the floor that isn’t a 180 split, that sort of between a step and a leap—but if you do that, you’re going to get deducted because you didn’t hit 180.”
What's doubly insulting, is how, as Roslyn Sulcas pointed out in a blog for The New York Times during the London Olympics, only female gymnasts are asked to dance. Men are allowed to approach the sport as straightforward athletes, while the women are decked out in sparkly leotards and makeup, and are expected to "perform" in a pretty, feminine way, with smiles on their faces—that is, until they start a tumbling sequence, a.k.a. the serious part of the routine.
To the International Federation of Gymnastics, I beg you: If dance is going to continue to be part of gymnastics, really incorporate it into the sport. Have men show off their bravado, too. Give the gymnasts more serious ballet training, and coach them on how to perform their dance sections well. Or take dance out of gymnastics completely. Stop insisting that it be included as a superfluous side show to the floor routines. Aren't these gymnasts doing enough already without asking them to briefly shake their hips in the corner, too? Let the athletes actually rest for a second, catch their breath, then turn around to dazzle us again with another brilliant tumbling pass.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.