What Exactly is Artistry?

Ana Porgras of Romania.

Following tomorrows floor finals, I am sure the never ending debate about the loss of artistry in women’s gymnastics will once again take center stage. Has the ever increasing difficulty needed to be competitive in today’s gymnastics cut out all the artistry? Have we lost the artistic in artistic gymnastics?

People’s personal opinions of what is artistic often vary widely. But in general, when people are referring to artistry, they generally mean ballet like dance and movement. The classical, elegant and graceful movements usually reserved for the ballet stage including an incredible toe point, stick straight legs and graceful arms on every event.

Some people say gymnastics is heading in a great direction. If they wanted to watch ballerinas, they would go to the ballet. They love the incredible feats of tumbling and power. The more vocal contingent bemoans the loss of classical gymnastics and the beauty and grace combined with tumbling and power.

But how does the Code of Points, the rules governing the scoring of gymnastics actually define artistry? Here is how the code describes the deductions that can be taken for “Insufficient artistry of presentation throughout the exercise”:

  • Lack of creative choreography (originality of composition of elements and movements)
  • Inability to express idea (theme) of the music through movements
  • Insufficient variation in rhythm – Music
  • Poor relationship of music and movement
  • Background music
  • Inappropriate gesture or mimic not corresponding to the music or to the movements

You see, the code of points does not ask the gymnasts to dance like ballerinas. It asks them to PERFORM their routines. To create original elements, movements and themes and then to express and interpret their music well. Let’s look at some examples.

Viktoria Komova

Viktoria Komova, an undeniably beautiful dancer with a dreamy toe point and graceful movements fits most peoples’ idea of artistry just perfectly. But throughout her senior career, Komova has often failed to perform her floor routine with feeling or expression and rarely did she interpret the music. She just went through the motions relying on her classical training with very little actual performance. This is not artistry! Now compare this to her performance in all-around finals. She hit every movement to the music. She had dramatic flair. You felt the beauty and the passion of what she did. Now THAT was artistry!

Aly Raisman – USA Gymnastics

Aly Raisman, undeniably the best female tumbler in the world with a tumbling pass that shouldn’t even be possible does NOT fit most peoples’ definition of artistry. Even when her legs are actually straight, they look kind of bent and her toe point is far from dreamy. Her movements are all about amplitude and power not grace and beauty. But lets pass her routine through the checklist above. Creative composition and originality of movement: A modernized version of a  Hebrew folk song used for Jewish celebrations – original, creative, celebrating her culture. Check. Expressing the theme of the music through movements: Aly actually does movements from the original dance in her routine. You feel like you could be at a Jewish wedding when you watch her! Check! Variation in rhythm: Check. Relationship of movement to music: Every movement is on beat and perfectly timed. Check. Aly may not fit our idea of a classical dancer. But according to the code, she is absolutely artistic.

The list could go on and on. Jordyn Wieber has some of the best musicality of this code. She interprets and expresses her music perfectly from her toes, to her eyes, to the energy in every movement. When you watched Ana Porgras of Romania, you truly felt like you had gone to the ballet. Aliya Mustafina in 2010 captured you with every movement, the look in her eye, the flick of her wrist. Lauren Mitchell brings some of the most original and creative floor work into this quad. All of these are great examples of artistry. All of these are very different types of artistry.

Perhaps what the true debate is over Soviet dominated gymnastics verses the addition of other major players. Ballet is at the heart of the Russian culture, the undeniable leader of women’s gymnastics for decades. Of course it would come through in gymnastics! Other countries followed suite to be competitive. But eventually, the cultures of other countries who were becoming major players began to creep in.  A country like China is not known for it’s ballet, but for its high energy, dynamic and acrobatic movement. The USA is a country that celebrates variety and individual expression, but most of all power and athleticism. Romania loves to include routines that seem to show Romanian heritage.

There are many questions and controversies over what the code is and what it should be. But as we head into Floor Finals tomorrow, lets appreciate the various TYPES of artistry that we see. After all, that is what the Olympics are all about. Appreciating and experiencing many different cultures. Last year’s World Championships displayed one of the best Floor Finals in many years. Here is hoping this will be the same!

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