A brief incident reminded me of a topic that I have wanted to address more fully for some time. I was talking to the parents of a gymnast I have done a lot of private lessons with and spent a lot of time helping, including arranging for her to have her her floor Level 9 floor routine choreographed by one of my favorite choreographers, Erin Carter. Erin makes sure that when she leaves, gymnasts have not only a great routine, but already look great doing it. I have watched her choreograph a lot of routines over the years and she did her usual excellent job on this routine.
After an unexpectedly poor performance at States for this young Level 9 gymnast, her coach told her mother that the reason she got a low nine on floor instead of her usual higher score was that she showed too much arch in her routine. Now this set off all kinds of warning bells in my head. One of the interesting lessons I learned from watching Erin choreograph and coach floor was that many dance skills look much, much better when done with an arch. The vast majority of gymnasts have way too little arch in their routines and it shows in their blah performances.
Now I don’t mean to spend any time really discussing whether that was the real reason for the score or whether the judge misjudge or misspoke. There is an up to 0.3 deduction for Relaxed or incorrect foot/leg/body/posture throughout the exercise. But there is also a deduction, listed under Artistry, for insufficient Quality of gymnast’s movement to reflect her personal style. It is certainly too far a stretch for a judge to determine that “incorrect” body posture involves too much arch on dance moves in an optional floor routine, especially when that makes them look better.
But it is even more difficult to take, considering that the initial explosion of the sport was created by a gymnast known worldwide for her extreme stylish arch. Olga Korbut was responsible through her performances at the 1972 Munich Olympics for the initial huge surge of gymnastics in the United States and around the world. Olga Korbut and her sensational popularity as a result of her Olympic gymnastics performances sent wave after wave of young girls looking for gyms to become the next Olga.
If you are going to a gym today, it may very well only be there due in some part to Olga’s success and fame. And part of her charm and what made her stand out was the extreme lower back arch she displayed on floor, beam and even uneven bars. It was a part of her personal style and the basis for some of her best skills. To deny gymnasts the choice to exaggerate arch or any other characteristic in their optional routines is one of the factors that has led to a decrease in originality and personal style being displayed by gymnasts at all levels of competition.
Olga Korbut on bars at 1972 Munich Olympics
Olga Korbut on floor at 1972 Munich Olympics
Make sure you check out her last pass!
It is my personal belief that originality and personal style are two of the most important characteristics of optional gymnastics and and should be one of the goals of the sport for every gymnast. Anything that interferes with that is bad for the gymnast and bad for the sport. We are all waiting for, or trying to create, the next Olga, Nadia or Nastia (hey, she, in no way, altered the sport the way Olga and Nadia did, but she is currently a role model for thousands of gymnasts worldwide) to come on the scene and show off and share her personal style with us and the rest of the world.
While I don’t have the space in this article to go into it in detail, Olga won the hearts of the the world and created more than one revolution in the sport of gymnastics. Olga was the first to do a back somersault on the beam (a skill which was then banned for over a year from the sport as too dangerous). She was the first woman to do a back somersault release move on the bars. Olga was the first of several new younger generations of gymnasts that did big, exciting skills rather than just “dancenastics.” So arch away, gymnasts, no matter what some local judges might say, and show off your own style and create your own revolutions.