Ballet training and gymnastics in the US

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TeamDad

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I am curious to hear feedback on this article from coaches, parents and gymnasts.

"A common perception is that ballet and gymnastics represent two different forms of training. This perspective is in direct contrast to the mandatory classical ballet based choreography training which is required for all athletes in Eastern Bloc development programs."

the full article is linked below

Coaches' Infoservice - sports science information for coaches - Why Eastern Bloc Countries Dominated the Gymnastics Field in Sydney
 
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Tim_Dad

Member
Nov 3, 2008
414
Region IV (Missouri)
I for one will be watching this topic closely specifically looking to read the opinons of Gymnasts and coaches.

Has your formal ballet training had any significant improvements in gym?


Adding an open thought:
A side from formal ballet training, do any gymnastic clubs teach routines to a candence or count? I dont mean just floor -- but ALL 4 areas. Almost ALL dance routines are choreographed with a set tempo defined by score. 5 6 7 8.... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and so on. Could bar/beam/vault also be trained to a pre-defined tempo?

I would imagine this would provide the athlete with audible (or 'on-the-brain') feedback in "connecting" skills gracefully with the goal of being less mechanical going from one skill to the next. Especially in the lower USAG levels.

This of course doesn't address correct body/foot positions or grace as ballet would, but it might serve as a vehicle to better performance scores??

Just thinking out loud...
 
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gymdog

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Former Gymnast
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Jul 5, 2007
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Ballet will probably help increase flexibility and movement awareness, but it's not going to benefit everyone equally. I started gymnastics fairly late but did ballet from before I was even 3 I think. All I can say it's a pretty good thing I moved on because I would have NEVER had the body type or static flexibility. In the early years, I was okay because I have general coordination, and good dynamic/average static flex. But I'm not very graceful and never really got into it...I left at the 8 year old when they started separating people out anyway so I don't know if I would have been put in the "little potential" track or not. They probably would have kept me a few more years but I have friends who were pre-pro and I know I would never look like them in a million years no matter what I did. Gymnastics is a much better fit for my body type.

We did ballet in gymnastics too (team hires a teacher) but my experience was that it was mostly useless in some ways, I think our teacher wasn't very good. They have a good teacher now (trained in Russia) but I don't know that all the optionals will take it seriously no matter what.

Ballet is great for some people, and elements of it should be worked into gymnastics training, but I don't think intensive ballet programs are going to work out for everyone...and "Eastern Bloc" countries no longer dominate. I do think a basic movement foundation is important and a lot of programs are too quick to teach skills over basic movement.

A side from formal ballet training, do any gymnastic clubs teach routines to a candence or count? I dont mean just floor -- but ALL 4 areas. Almost ALL dance routines are choreographed with a set tempo defined by score. 5 6 7 8.... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and so on. Could bar/beam/vault also be trained to a pre-defined tempo?

The difference between dance and cheer and gym is generally getting everyone to do things at the same time versus one person, so a count isn't as necessary. I do teach a rhythm for some things, but it's rarely a standard 8 count, and usually tailored to the individual. Sometimes a target word, clap, or other cue works better, and I don't have to get them to all respond to the same thing.
 
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Linsul

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Sep 19, 2008
876
Pripyat
I LOVELOVELOVE a gymnast who has taken ballet. The concept of pointing one's foot when it's off the floor is typically ingrained, and it's usually a beautiful point. The kind where it's not merely toes forward, but also drawing the heel up. Small difference, but a viewable one. They also are more familiar with their center of gravity, and have ideally lovely extension. My favorite bonus to gymnastics from ballet would have to be arm position though. A gymnast that can hold their arms/fingers in a way that is not stiff, with their elbows up, can make simple things on floor/beam look amazing.

As a former ballerina, I had to choose between gymnastics and dance. Dance schools seem to have a problem with high level gymnastics training concurrently with dance. The problem my school had was that it kills extension, hinders the lengthening of muscles, and they did not like oversplits.

When it comes to tempo and training other events, I find listening helps a lot with vault. Coaches do this without thinking about it often, but telling a gymnast is not wasted effort. They'll learn to hear the rhythym of chopped steps, leaping steps, and what a perfectly spaced run sounds like down the runway.

I have a lot more I could write on this, but I have to go. Yes, ballet + gymnastics is amazing. I've never heard of gyms thinking ballet gets in the way of gymnastics, but ballet studios have been known to balk at high level gymnastics in my experience.
 
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TeamDad

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Hi gymdog,

Interesting and insightful points. I would say that my DD is neither the most graceful ballerina or the most athletic gymnast. She loves both and I feel that ballet has helped her gymnastics and gymnastic has helped her ballet. By combining the two, she is becoming the best gymnast that 'she' can be and also the best ballerina that 'she' is capable of becoming.

I can see how she has benefited in ballet through increased strength from gymnastics conditioning and I also see where her gymnastics has benefited from ballet in her flexibility, beautiful lines, and her dance elements. For us, the merging of the two disciplines has shown improvements in both.

I think when you combine body type, ballet, gymnastics, work ethic, competitive spirit and mental toughness you give yourself a competitive advantage.

While I believe gymnastics needs to be fun, I don't see any disadvantage for giving yourself more tools to use to excel in this sport. It seems as if the merging of the two disciplines would be a perfect blend, I'm just curious why it hasn't caught on here in the United States.

 

Kayleigh

Member
Oct 6, 2007
261
27
Pittsburgh, PA
I know for a fact that ballet has helped my gymnastics... and gymnastics has helped my ballet! I actually get 3 hours of ballet a week at school (I'm a musical theater major at a performing arts high school), and it has helped IMMENSELY. My floor routine this year is composed of lots of dance... chaines, ballet-type jumps... stuff like that that has made my score jump almost 2 tenths from last years. :D
 

gymkat

Active Member
Former Gymnast
Judge
Jun 24, 2008
691
I don't think the problem is at the lower levels of gymnastics or dance, and I'd love it if all of the team kids took a dance class or two (or more)! Dance helps a lot with extension, body alignment, and presentation, and most gymnast/dancers have a better awareness of what their hands (well, arms in general) and feet are doing. I did ballet for 8 years, tap for 8 years, and jazz for 3 years (not my thing!) before I focused on gymnastics and violin. However, there is definitely a difference in technique in leaps, jumps, and turns, and at least from my experience, a lot of ballet instructors dislike how gymnastics coaches teach leaps and turns and like Linsul said, how gymnasts generally have bulkier muscles. As I said earlier, this isn't a problem at a more recreational level, but I can't imagine pre-professional schools being thrilled about their students learning gymnastics technique and their conditioning at the gym. On the other hand, I think most coaches love dancer/gymnasts!

Regarding choreography... it's obviously easier if the kid can hear the beats in the music. However, I'm really not a fan of sticking to counts to determine choreography; I prefer to work more with music interpretation. Maybe I don't fully understand your question because I can certainly hear the beats and measures (thanks to years and years of piano and violin lessons) and certainly don't fully disregard them, but I'd rather teach a routine by having the gymnast listen to music rather than counting 1 2 3 4 in her head. As a side note, I have seen some absolutely hideous routines that were choreographed to counts-- 4 slides to the right, 4 slides to the left, butt shake in a circle for two measures-- so that's not a foolproof method, either. :)
 

gymdog

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Coach
Former Gymnast
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Jul 5, 2007
5,121
Hi gymdog,

Interesting and insightful points. I would say that my DD is neither the most graceful ballerina or the most athletic gymnast. She loves both and I feel that ballet has helped her gymnastics and gymnastic has helped her ballet. By combining the two, she is becoming the best gymnast that 'she' can be and also the best ballerina that 'she' is capable of becoming.

I can see how she has benefited in ballet through increased strength from gymnastics conditioning and I also see where her gymnastics has benefited from ballet in her flexibility, beautiful lines, and her dance elements. For us, the merging of the two disciplines has shown improvements in both.

I think when you combine body type, ballet, gymnastics, work ethic, competitive spirit and mental toughness you give yourself a competitive advantage.

While I believe gymnastics needs to be fun, I don't see any disadvantage for giving yourself more tools to use to excel in this sport. It seems as if the merging of the two disciplines would be a perfect blend, I'm just curious why it hasn't caught on here in the United States.

Well, I think like anything, it is a matter of opportunity cost. 45 minutes six days a week is a lot of time on top of gymnastics training. The above mentioned countries have very different systems than the US which tend to be more nationalized, and the kids who show promise are really the only ones who are picked. Americans have different expectations. I had a Romanian coach my first several years in gymnastics who went to Bela's school, and America is completely different when it comes to gymnastics for a lot of cultural reasons. Of course things are changing there too from what I hear. Employment is different, the way things run are different. Many American coaches are not trained in ballet and there's no national system hiring all these people, so it's just a weakness in designing a central program. If we want to live a typical American lifestyle, something has to give. However I will note that American gymnasts are among the best in the world - we've shown that centralized, intensive training systems of only the best kids aren't necessary to produce a top-notch national team.

However many competitive teams do incorporate ballet training. Both of my old teams certainly have, and so does almost every other large-ish gym in the area. It's just not that intensive.

I think it's great if a kid also likes ballet. Would I put my daughter in intensive ballet if it wasn't her passion (let's say she doesn't outright hate it, of course that would make the answer obvious), because it helps gymnastics (we'll assume for simplicity she really likes gymnastics), no. Gymnastics simply isn't worth that much to me that I would be looking to maximize the experience that much beyond finding a healthy training environment. In the end I just don't think it's that important that for the benefit I would give up the time and money unless she really wants to progress in ballet. For a lot of people, gymnastics and dance lessons both are probably prohibitively expensive.

For me, I didn't like ballet and it wasn't going anywhere, so there was no use continuing it. I had to choose either way because my mom couldn't do all of these things with all kids (my sisters both chose dance then later rhythmic gymnastics). Sure, I like to see gymnasts who are good at ballet, just like I like to see girls who are good at gymnastics. But merely taking ballet won't make you good at it, just like taking gymnastics doesn't make all kids much good at it. It will expose you to a greater variety of movement, which will help in any other athletic endeavor. But I took years of ballet and had basically below average optional dance and no great extension. I just wasn't good. It's okay. I was good enough at gymnastics. I have a strong toe point, but it's not from dance. It's because I have high arches, strong feet, and I had a romanian coach who would push my toes down to the floor in pike when I was younger.
 
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MdGymMom01

Active Member
Mar 5, 2008
2,236
North America
I think that the ballet training has significantly helped my dd with her gymnastics. Dani has extremely flexible joints which is mostly natural but was developed further with her cheerleading flyer stretching. When she switched to gym and added the ballet, the foundation of strength and flexibility was there but is now further enhanced by the proper training required in ballet and gymnastics. I can already see such a difference in her arm and hand movements on floor and beam and her leaps and jumps (especially her split leap on floor) that ballet really focuses on. Plus her toe point is getting much better as well. I personally think that ballet training in addition to gymnastics (especially for the lower levels), is more beneficial than adding extra gym classes or even private lessons. That is just from my experience.
 

gymdog

Well-Known Member
Coach
Former Gymnast
Proud Relative
Jul 5, 2007
5,121
I personally think that ballet training in addition to gymnastics (especially for the lower levels), is more beneficial than adding extra gym classes or even private lessons. That is just from my experience.

This I can agree with if you're going to add anything, because the foundation of movement is really what's important and there's only so much you can do with them, sometimes it's good to switch to a different focus. I just don't think it's necessary, just like private lessons shouldn't be necessary for children to progress through a program. That doesn't mean they aren't beneficial, but it really depends on your opportunity cost.
 

Linsul

Active Member
Sep 19, 2008
876
Pripyat
I think ballet has caught on a lot more in the past decade than ever before here in America. It started at a couple of gyms I know of by having a dance room to also teach dance (separately) in. Soon the gymnasts were in there as well in another class. Also we have more coaches coming here from all over the world who view ballet and gymnastics as mutually beneficial. In California and Texas, I have seen more of a 'melting pot' of coaching philosophies, I can't speak from experience for any other region though.

I was in a rush earlier, but I think ballet specifically (since all dance can help with performance value) helps in one particular area. Performing a skill in such a way that all you see is the movement, and none of the effort behind it. If I had to pick out one thing distinctly ours, we love to see an athlete work. I guess that is appreciated because gymnasts are indeed unique, and what they do is very hard for the average person. To do something that takes years and years of training and make it look effortless is a quality that I think audiences are becoming turned on to, and will probably bring attention to the ballet in the training if there is any.

As an example I have seen, 2 gymnasts doing the same leap on beam. The leap looks the same in terms of height and leg separation, but one gymnast slams down on the beam, and the other barely makes a sound. I don't know that it would make a difference as far as judging; but I will say this. All that noise coming down adds to a sense of 'recovery time.' The one who lands noiselessly and goes into her next element without that attention drawing smack might have a rhythm or connection advantage. That is speculation of course, I'm not saying that is for sure and a judge may not notice, or only notice on a subconscious level. It stands out to me though.
 
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CoachGoofy

Guest
When I was a gymnast, I also took ballet for school credit, jazz, and lyrical.

It made a HUGE difference-and not one we were even expecting. I'd always been strongest on floor, with both good leaps and good tumbling, but the awareness of where everything was meant to be and the training of HOW to jump effectively made everything cleaner and easier. My beam got a lot nicer (and WAY less wobbly) too. Even bars got better (who'd'a thought?) because ballet happened to be targeting core muscles in a way that my body needed.

As a coach, I just love gymnasts who have had dance training. They tend to do things prettier, sooner. The DETAILS are so right. They also tend really know how to move efficiently...even beyond the actual SKILLS they bring.
 
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BlairBob

Guest
Hmm, many gyms have someone with a formal dance background, non gymnast to come and do x amount of hours with the team gymnasts per week. How many hours generally depend on level.

It's very beneficial. However, sometimes there are headbutting issues. Stretching for extremely long durations in positions can possibly stretch out tendons. Tendon's shouldn't be stretched, especially in impact sports.

There has been some research that shows training oversplits can/could decrease power potential.

Many of the coaches I've coached with or trained with also ended up doing dance (modern, jazz, etc ) in their post careers so they were definitely competent enough to teach dance. It's still good to have non gymnasts come in, IMO.

As for choreography, sometimes it's best to not let coaches do it because some do not have a broad enough knowledge of combining music and dance. Or they are just lazy and see you routines that don't mesh in L7 and 8. Poorly done.

At our gym, I don't think they have any dance teacher come in; however two of the coaches are EXTREMELY knowledgeable in Dance, one being Geza Pozsar who has done a lot of choreography in the past 30 years. I really haven't seen the girls do much dance or watched it much. I didn't watch their floor routines last night very well.
 

gymgymgymnast08

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Dec 8, 2007
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My coaches tell me like everyday that If I could dance I'd be unstopable. I keep thinking about signing up for a dance class but I haven't yet.
 

Eveningdew

Parent/Coach
May 17, 2007
53
California, MD
My dd does both ballet and gymnastics. She was artistic from Pre-Team through L7 and is now tramp/tumble. This is her 2nd year of ballet and pointe. She started ballet when she was 12 and elligible for pointe, what a difference it made in her point for gymnastics. Even her coach commented how much more beautiful it was.

Before ballet, her point was the deepest one for the entire team levels. She was the envy even at camp by other gymnasts and awed by coachs.

Now, in her 2nd year, it has opened another avenue of something she enjoys! For us/her it was a win/win.

With her being T/T, the coachs just stare at her pointed toes as she jumps up and the tips of her toes point start down at the tramp. They watch as she walks away from the warm-up and then whisper to each other when it's her turn to do her routine.

Even if you're not sure it will help, give it a try and see how it goes. Some gyms teach dance and it does help tremendously with floor and beam routines. All 4 events have a rhythm and most music set to a count of 8, including slower areas.

IGC incorporates dance into the girls training while there, it helps!

Hope this helps! :)
 
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giraffe

Guest
I did gymnastics for 8 years and dance for 15 years. I can honestly say that my floor and beam routine were strengthened by my dance training. My turns, battements, arabesques, toe point, and leg strength were better than many of my counterparts. The plie is so important in both dance and gymnastics.

However, it's not the end all for the sport. Dance really does nothing for arm and shoulder strength, which is important for tumbling, uneven bars, and vault.
 
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