Cross Training: Ballet and Gymnastics

By Monica Carrow

When approached by Design Dance to teach the Ballet for Gymnasts class at Avondale, I was interested right away. I really enjoy introducing dance to kids working in other facets of movement. After 4 months of ballet cross- training, the most intriguing thing to witness in the gymnasts' was thier new ability to understand how one movement, a pirouette for example, can be executed in many styles. Cross-training in ballet has, without a doubt, given each student a larger understanding of movement in her own body.

At the young age of 12, many have already been practicing gymnastics for over half of their young lives.  These young gymnasts have especially strong, large, exterior muscle groups. Young movers, no matter their discipline, will always default to using these larger muscles because they are stronger and easier to find! For example, many of my students under age 12 use the gluteus maximus (GM) muscle to propel a battlement, or high kick. Because the GM is such a large muscle, the body uses it automatically! The problem with using the large GM - it brings the whole pelvis with the kick, rather than allowing a true swinging battlement; it's a powerhouse muscle! The wonderful thing about ballet training is that it allows for the exploration of the smaller muscle groups, making them stronger and more supportive. Eventually the GM will let go, allowing the smaller rotation muscles to take over as the primary facilitator- so the hips stay even and the leg swings higher in the socket for a more beautiful battlement. In addition to the movement becoming more refined, utilizing small muscle groups prevents injury. Strengthening these bone-hugging muscles stabilizes the movement.  I have already seen an immense improvement in stabilization through smaller muscle groups in the gymnasts at Avondale Park.

Performance is a wonderful aspect of ballet and competitive gymnastics that comes up regularly in our class. Of course the girls are wanting to better their skills, but they are also training to win! We talk about dancing with a purpose and looking at our audience and/or judges. I believe good performance quality comes with lots of practice. With the attention we give the concept of performance in class, the gymnasts have shown a greater sense of grace, depth, and coordination in their movement. The body follows the focus of the eyes, making movement feel connected and confident, rather than shaky and wobbly.

Coach Kelly, the lead gymnastics coach at Avondale Park, has seen improvement with the students flexibility, balance, posture and in skill sets like use of turn-out and leaps and turns. These girls are a winning team with many 1st place awards for both their team as a whole and individually. I am looking forward to continuing our cross-training work together. I am sure that because of this exciting partnership between Avondale Park and Design Dance, the team members will always carry with them the discipline, respect, and artistry required by both ballet and gymnastics.