Tips for Choreographing a Competitive Gymnastics Floor Routine
Cori Cunningham from Atlantic Gymnastics in NH shares her Tips on Choreography. Cori has choreographed routines at the JO level, Elite Level and NCAA level.
After 25 years of choreographing floor routines I have developed many strategies for creating choreography that fits the style of the gymnast, maintains the artistic quality of women’s gymnastics, and allows the gymnast to be competitive at their level.
#1 – Music Choice
- I allow the gymnast to choose a musical piece that excites them. Often times their parents or other coaches are concerned that the music style may not match the gymnast’s style. I have found that when a gymnast is passionate about a piece of music they will be passionate about the routine we create when it comes to performing it. My job as a choreographer is to create dance combinations that match the music but also look good on the gymnast doing the dancing.
- I very rarely tell a gymnast no when it comes to their music choice. Their ownership over that choice is very important as they are the person who will need to go out on that 40×40 floor in front of an audience and perform a solo.
#2 – What the gymnast/coach should tell the choreographer once music is chosen
- List the dance skills that the gymnast is proficient at
- List the dance skills that the gymnast is working towards
- List the tumbling passes from previous routine that the gymnast is proficient at
- List the tumbling passes that the gymnast is working towards for this routine
- identify any particular strengths that the gymnast displays (i.e. very flexible, very bouncy, strong tumbler, strong at leaps and jumps, knows how to project)
- identify any particular weaknesses (i.e. not flexible, lacking in endurance, not comfortable showing off) We want to showcase their best features!
- ask the gymnast if she has any ideas she wants to contribute (i.e. has she been playing at home with dance that goes to the music, has she seen dance from other routines that she admires, does she have parts of her old routine that she loves doing and wants to work into the new routine
#3 – What the choreographer should do once the music is chosen
- LISTEN TO THE MUSIC over and over again. The music should lead the way when it comes to creating a routine. The music will have parts that “sound” like a tumbling pass or “sound” like a toe turn. Ask yourself,” what movement does that sound bring to mind and how can it be expressed in motion?”
- After mapping out in general terms where a tumbling pass or toe turn could go listen to the music for places to create dance combinations. I will often create parts in the middle of the routine where the music makes me “feel” like dancing a certain way before I move onto the beginning.
- Do some research regarding the style of music you are working with. If the music is Eastern Indian or Swing the style should be honored by trying to incorporate some of the basic dance moves that define that style. If it is a more general style like hip hop or jazz there is a lot of different ways to interpret the music that can be viewed and spark ideas for the choreographer.
- Before meeting with a gymnast to teach them choreography I map out 95% of the routine and videotape myself doing it so that I can remember the more intricate details.
#4 Things to consider when teaching choreography
- Try to stay within the comfort zone of the gymnast. If the choreography I have created makes them uncomfortable in some way ( too intricate, too many hip or shoulder movements) the gymnast may have trouble learning and retaining what I am trying to teach them. They may also be unable to put 100% into eventually performing the routine because the choreography causes them stress.
- Introduce and then demonstrate a combination around ten times with the gymnast. After doing it together ten times watch them do it alone around five times, once they can perform it alone try to add the music to the combination. If you get stuck on step one and the gymnast is still unable to manage the combination it is time for the choreographer to change gears and create something on the spot that the gymnast can handle. I do always remind my students that it took me between 15 and 20 tries to master each part and I made it up….it should take them a few more tries at it than me!
- My choreography and ability to dance is very different from every gymnast I work with. I have a vision of how I want the dance to fit the music but as a choreographer I have to leave room for the personal style of the gymnast to show through. As I teach a routine I use my basic framework that I mapped out prior to choreogaphy and change it based on the needs of the gymnast. She may feel more comfortable performing poses on the other side, she may not be able to do more intricate work, she may pick it up on the first try and already be bored, she may have ideas of her own – my job as a choreographer is to work together with her to meet those needs and create choreography that will be challenging and fun to work on for the next year or two.
#5 Once the Choreography is Complete
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
- The exercises we use to practice choreography in our program are as follows:
-watch yourself in the mirror for a full body dance through
-arm routines in the mirror (only arms and chin and face perform a routine)
– leg routines in the mirror (only legs and feet perform a routine)
-teach someone else your routine (works well for people trying to remember their routine
because they are forced to explain it to someone else)
– have a partner walk through the poses and fix them for certain qualities (fingers, head
position, foot position, show off qualities)
– performance quality routines where they have to make eye contact with a group of
people stationed around the floor. Once they make eye contact the person around the
the perimeter sits down until the performer has made contact with all of them.
– routines with arm weights on to remind them of exactly what their arms are doing
-routines with leg weights on to remind them of exactly what their legs are doing
This is an older video (2008) but illustrates what Cori is saying