Can a 23 Year Old Ballerina Ever Become an Elite Gymnast?

I came across your website when I was trying to get some answers to questions I had regarding gymnastics versus age, (which I did find, thank you so much!). But I also wanted a one on one opinion and possibly advice for my current situation, as it’s a bit interesting.

I was classically trained in ballet for 15 years and two years ago, stopped dancing. When I first enrolled in ballet as a child, I was also enrolled in gymnastics and when I was 8 years old, my parents told me I could only chose one sport, (I started at 6 years old). I chose ballet. Since then, it’s been my life. Hours upon hours of rehearsals, classes, intensives, pain, injuries, defeat, joy, hurt, agony, etc. I’m sure you can understand, as it is very similiar to the kind of physical pressure put on a gymnast, although different in it’s own way.

Since I was a child, I always thought to myself, “What if I chose wrong?” I remember between countless hours of classes and ballet schedules that would make me dizzy, I would always find time to watch ANY and ALL gymnastics competitions, (including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics with the Magnificent 7). I would never tire of watching those women on the screen perform and showcase their artistry. It truly was amazing to me.

I am 23 years old right now and I want to start getting involved in gymnastics…seriously. I understand that time and money and working are in fact, going to play a part in my doing this, since I am older and not a child just starting out. I am willing to make sacrifices. I am willing to put in the hours. I am willing to go back to nights filled with bandages, hot packs, cold packs, muscle relaxers, protein shakes, and intense schedules. I really want to pursue this. I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this at my age… but I want to be great.

I was reading online about older gymnastics competitors and there were even a few women who were in the Olympics in their 30’s. I thought that was amazing! And I thought to myself, “if these women can sacrifice this greatly because they want it this greatly, then why can’t I? I have been wanting this since I was old enough to pirouette, so why not!”

I am fortunate in that I have so much ballet in my corner; I know that my flexibility, balance, training and my artistry in that aspect will definitely give me a leg to stand on. But, for lack of a better word, I’m scared that maybe I’m just being too unrealistic. At the same time though, I am so TIRED of not doing what I want to do…I want to do this. I seriously want to do this.

Do you have ANY advice to give me on this topic? I know I just put out alot on the table, but I wanted you to know where I’m coming from and a bit about my background.

I really appreciate your taking the time to read this and I hope to hear from you soon.

J…

Dear J…,

I know gymnasts who have been successful in international competition at ages older than you, so for me that is not the question. I often get emails of this sort from girls asking if they are too old for gymnastics and I always say it is never too late. So that’s not an issue.

You are asking me a different question, however, I believe. You said you want to get involved in gymnastics “seriously” and you want to “be great.” In my world, that means you want to become an Elite level gymnast and have the chance to compete nationally and internationally.

Because of that I feel obligated to tell you about some of the differences in the physical (and mental) pressures of gymnastics and dance. I do this not to discourage you. If I read you right, that would not be easy to do in any case. I do it so you can best prepare yourself so as not to waste any time.

Beam, floor dance, flexibility, artistry – you will already be way above average. Since I assume you have spent years developing the perfect ballet body, there are significant physical changes you are going to have to make to prepare yourself for success in gymnastics. Especially for bars, but also for tumbling and vault, you are going to need to develop a huge amount of upper body strength. You are going to have to develop enough upper body strength to pick up, hold and control your body in handstands, pirouettes (on your hands on bars and beam), presses and planches. This is no easy undertaking. I have my own very efficient and very high intensity gymnastics strength training program, if you’re interested.

Let’s talk finances next. Gymnasts must not only pay for their training but pay for meet and travel expenses. Figure $7,000 – $10,000 per year. Gyms often need help with their dance program, so you may be able to barter.

There are only a few gyms (currently 19 out of about 3200) in the country actually producing Elite level gymnasts. Not every gym can, in fact most gyms never do, never even come close. If you are not in an area with an Elite level gym, you will need to move to where there is one.

While there have been gymnasts successful at your age, you are likely going to need to get your strength, basic bar, tumbling and vault skills to a certain level before any coach is going to let you on a team and spend any time with you.

The competition system requires you to start at the bottom and compete and qualify to each of the next levels. You will be the only one doing this and may be spending a lot of time with gymnasts much younger than you. There are still ways to skip compulsory gymnastics, but you would have to train to a relatively high level before entering any competitions at all.

Fear is sometimes a factor in the sport of gymnastics in a way it is not in dance. In dance you are afraid of a career ending injury to your ankle or knee, falling off pointe. In gymnastics, you have to worry about completing double somersaults with twists and not landing on your head. Way different fear level to deal with.

That’s it, for now. Certainly a girl who has fought her way through big time ballet can handle this if she really wants it.

I firmly believe that each of us should do exactly what we dream and that when we pick the type of life we want, it is often far easier to achieve than we might have thought if we just sat on the couch thinking of all of the difficulties in our path.

I vote “Go for it” and if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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