When you are competing on beam and floor, here are some tips to improve your dance, style and overall general impression.
1. Have fun!
Many gymnasts perform as if they do not understand that the judges and audience can read their emotions just by looking at them. Nearly 70% of communication is by non-verbal means, like body posture, inner attitude and facial expression. Put yourself in a good mood and everyone will like you and your routines better.
Regardless of the importance of the competition and the subsequent pressure you might feel, your real job is to perform to the best of your ability, at the particular time and place of the meet. This is your opportunity to show everyone what you have been doing in the gym for months and years. People love gymnasts who go all out to put on a show for them, regardless of their actual skill level, mistakes and competitive success. Put on a real show for them and they will love you.
Science has shown that smiling changes your emotional attitude to a more positive one. Before you start and when you salute the judges, smile. Even if there are some places in the routine that call for determination or where you must concentrate, there are also certainly also places where you should choreograph in a smile.
4. Head up and eyes looking up.
Having your head and/or eyes down conveys to the judges and spectators a lack of confidence. If you have to look down at your feet temporarily while you dance or tumble, as soon as you are stable, lift your head up, look up and you will look more like a confident winner. If you cannot make eye contact with the judges and the spectators, they will assume you don;t have the confidence to be a winner and your scores will reflect that.
5. Arch. Arch. Arch.
When I spend time with my favorite Elite and National level FX choreographer as she is teaching and coaching routines, the most common comment I hear her make is “Arch!” That is because almost all dance skills look better when the back is arched, and a forward bend almost never looks balletic. Olga Korbut made her reputation off her signature overly arched postures, skills and stick positions. It may seem like too much arch for us today, but it got her noticed and gave her a noticeable and distinctive style.
6. Foot Positions.
Nothing in dance is worse than seeing a gymnast with one or both feet turned in on a dance skill, prep or landing position. Turned in feet make you look crippled. Make sure that every move you make is one of the 5 ballet foot positions and that your feet are turned out or at least straight, never turned in.
7. Knock the walls down.
Gymnastics meets are always held in large (or huge) gyms. The floor exercise mat is large. Gymnasts have to remember that when the judges and audience are looking at them, in relation to the floor and the gym, they are tiny. To overcome that, gymnasts need to make every movement huge, even to the point of exaggerating it to some degree. Kathy Johnson used to call it “knocking the walls down” with each dance move. By that she meant that gymnasts should make every movement so large that the building was not large enough to contain it.
8. Arm movements.
There are 5 ballet arm positions. You should know them. Even without always formally using ballet arm movements, try to let your arms flow fluidly while you dance. Arm movements should also be large in relation to your body and the gym. Many gymnasts have a tendency to keep their arm movements in too close to their body and to restrict their arm movements. Avoid being too choppy, stiff arms or being too vague with your arm movements. Arms have a lot to do with balance, so always keep them under control.
9. Dance fingers.
Really excellent gymnasts have elegant fingers even in the middle of difficult tumbling skills on beam. Judges and the audience tend to focus on a gymnast’s highest or most extended point. In handstands, this will be toe point, but in most other movements, it will be the hands that are the final focal point. Make sure they are choreographed and look graceful and elegant.
10. Dance to the music.
The best gymnasts and choreographers have carefully matched the music and the choreography to the gymnast. When it comes time for gymnasts to perform, they need to really listen to their music and feel it as they dance. Hitting the right notes with the right choreography is one of the signs of a top level gymnastics performer. This is where you can show your emotions, interpretation of the music, and and really connect with the judges and the audience.
11. Mirror and video practice.
Before you do too much practice of whole routines, you need to make every skill look good on you. While coaching can help with this, the best and fastest feedback training systems are to do lots of mirror skill work and to video your skills and watch them during practice. See what you look like and make yourself look good. Once you have mastered your skills, do the same thing for your routine. Then, at that point, you can spend more time on your style and performance.
12. Vary your head positions.
The most common errors on routines is to see gymnasts with their head in the same position all though the whole routine. Most often their head is down and they are looking down throughout the whole routine. Head positions should be choreographed and there should be a great deal of variety of head position perfectly matched to the skill and the music.
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