While they may not seem like it, dance skills are just as important as flips. Big tumbling and acro elements may seem more exciting, but some leaps and jumps are worth just as much difficulty as some flips.
Some gymnasts are just better at dance elements than tumbling skills and choose to earn their bonus that way. Like everything else, the composition of a routine depends on the person, and there are a lot of skills to choose from.
Leaps take off from one leg and land on either one or two legs. Most leaps involve some form of split of the legs but there are a few variations.
A split leap starts with a brisk walk into the skill. The gymnast steps off of her non-favorite leg, kicks her favorite leg up and her other leg back until she is in a split in the air. In college, all split positions must reach 180 degrees or there is a deduction. To end the skill, she lands on one foot at the front.
The simple side leap starts like a split leap but instead of a forward split being reached in mid-air, a straddle or middle split is reached. The gymnast starts by kicking her favorite leg up and turning her hips 90 degrees, hitting middle split and then coming down on the leading foot.
A switch leap involves a switch of the legs before the gymnast hits full split. To start, the gymnast steps on her favorite leg, kicks her non-favorite leg up then immediately back, kicking her favorite leg forward, reaching full split in the air. Finally, she will land on the one leg in the front. A switch leap can also be completed by landing with both feet together to end.
A switch leap is the most common leap performed in college on beam and is often combined with other leaps or jumps to fulfill the dance series requirement as well as earn bonus points to start the routine from a 10.
A switch leap can have a few variations. Switch halves are often performed on beam and fulls can be done too. To perform a switch half, the gymnast twists her hips 180 degrees as she performs the switch with her legs then finishes in the opposite leg split that she started in and can either land on one foot or two.
Another variation is the switch side leap that can also include twists as well like in a switch side half. The gymnast starts the skill by kicking her non-favorite leg forward and, as she brings it back, she rotates her hips 90 degrees and brings her leg into the position to hit a middle split. On beam, the leap finishes with the gymnast landing with both feet together transversely, or crossways.
A cat leap is different than all the leaps listed above because it doesn’t involve a split or straddle position. To perform this skill, the gymnast steps on her favorite leg and kicks her non-favorite leg forward in a slightly bent, turned out position kind of like the wing of a butterfly. Then she places that leg back on the beam at the same time as she kicks her favorite leg up in the butterfly wing position. The skill ends on one leg and is often connected into other skills like a gymnast’s dismount or another leap or jump.
Jumps are what most people think of when they envision a dance element on beam. A jump starts by taking off from two feet together, performing the chosen jump in the air and then coming back down in the same position with the feet back together again. Only a couple of jumps stray from this definition.
Jumps take a variety of shapes: straight where the gymnast is perfectly vertical up and down like a stick; tucked where the gymnasts legs are together but bent up so her thighs are parallel to the ground; pike where her legs are pulled up to her chest and her legs are parallel to the ground; wolf where one of the gymnasts legs is up like in a pike jump and the other is up and bent like in a tuck jump; split jump where the gymnast is in a split in the air; straddle where the gymnast is in a middle split with her legs out to the side while in the air; cat like in a cat leap; sheep where the gymnasts legs are behind her and bent to touch the back of her head while her body is in an arch; ring where her head is tilted back with her front leg straight like in a split and her back leg bent behind her like in a sheep; and finally stag where the gymnast is in a split where her front leg is bent like in a tuck jump and her back leg is straight like in a split jump or double stag where she is in a split but both legs are bent.
Jumps in most of these shapes can be twisted as well with the most common forms coming in quarters like this split quarter or this straddle quarter, halves like this straight jump half, three-quarters like this straddle three-quarter and fulls like this tuck full or this straddle full (also called a Popa). Some gymnasts even go farther and do one and a halves and doubles.
A sissone is the exception to the rule that jumps start and land on two feet. The jump is basically a combination of a split jump and a split leap. The gymnast starts by jumping off of two feet, splits in the air and comes down on only her front foot instead of both.
A Shushunova starts with the gymnast standing on the beam and ends with her in front support down on the apparatus. The gymnast starts either facing forward or sideways on the beam, jumps in the air bringing her legs out to the side in a straddle and falling down onto the beam into a front support. Sometimes the momentum is too much coming down from this jump and the gymnast chooses to perform a back hip circle around the beam as if she was on bars so she doesn’t fall or make another costly mistake.
Turns fulfill the 360-degree-turn-on-one-foot requirement in a gymnast’s routine. Known as a pirouette in ballet, a turn is performed by rotating around in either a clockwise or counter clockwise motion on one foot while the other leg is in a position. Some leg positions are more difficult than others, thus making the turn more difficult. Most gymnasts perform the easiest turn they can to get it out of the way but others elect to perform more difficult elements. While it’s probably the easiest skill on paper in a gymnast’s routine, it’s often the downfall of certain sets. With only the ball of the foot keeping the gymnast centered, even a small wobble can throw the gymnast off the beam if the element isn’t completed perfectly.
A standard turn is what 99 percent of gymnasts do in their routine. The traditional way for a gymnast to “prepare” for the turn is to place the leg she will be turning on out in front of her and her arms out. She brings the arm matching the turning leg forward and leaves the other arm to the side. Then, she lifts onto the ball of her foot, also known as relevé, and starts to turn clockwise if she is a righty or counter clockwise if she is a lefty. In the turn, her free foot is in posé, or bent slightly so her foot is at either her ankle or knee. As she approaches 360 degrees, she will straighten the free foot out in front of her to stop the rotation and place it in front of her on the beam to finish.
One and a half turns and double turns are also performed in college but not nearly as often. They are more difficult and, thus, riskier to perform.
A turn in attitude has to do with the position of the gymnast’s free leg. It is the same as a full turn except instead of the free leg being bent at the ankle or knee, it is back behind the gymnast and turned out like a butterfly wing.
This turn is also a variation of the full. The basics of the turn are the same but the free leg is straight out in front at horizontal, parallel to the ground. The free leg can’t drop below horizontal or there will be deductions.
Similar to the other turns, the Y-turn’s free leg comes up by the gymnast’s ear as she rotates throughout the skill before coming down at the end to finish.
A wolf turn is different from the ones above. The gymnast starts in a squat facing sideways on the beam. One leg is in a squat and the other is straight out to the side. Her arms are in preparation similar to that of a standard turn. To initiate the turn, the gymnast will bring the straight leg inward toward the bent leg and pivot on the bent leg until she circles 360 degrees, finishing back in the same position she started. This turn is very difficult and often not worth the risk to compete.
An illusion is probably the most unique turn in the book. The gymnast starts standing on the beam on her favorite leg, bends down while bringing her free leg back up behind her, turning around 360 degrees at the same time then finishing up in the same position she started.
Other: Scales and Holds
The last group of dance elements involves scales and holds with the gymnast’s legs in different positions. Each hold must be held for two seconds to count as a skill and not receive deductions and most scales must be held for a portion of time as well.
A needle scale is the most common on beam in college. The gymnast starts by acting like she is going to kick up into handstand by putting her hands down on the beam and kicking her leg behind her, up into the air. But before her other leg lifts off the beam, she stands up.
A back scale is performed when the gymnast stands on one leg and lifts her leg behind her and holding it at either horizontal or vertical. Many gymnasts perform a skill into a back scale to horizontal, making the skill more difficult.
A leg hold is when a gymnast lifts her leg up to the side, front or back and holds it in position for the required two seconds, showing off her flexibility. A back leg hold in cheerleading is called a scorpion.