Flexibility, strength, and coordination are absolute necessities for gymnasts and acrobats alike.
They both specialize in performing skills such as flips, splits, and dance routines, but essentially they are not the same.
So, what makes these two impressive disciplines so different? In this article we’ll discuss the different characteristics and intentions of each discipline.
The Core Differences
To begin, it is important to point out that while “acrobatics” is a term that can be widely used to describe many types of movement arts, we are discussing its most common attribution, acrobatic dance, or just acro for short.
As the name entails, the base of this art is the dance itself.
While acrobats will perform gravity-defying tricks similar to those in gymnastics, they aim to incorporate them into the flow of their dance routine, syncing them up with the music playing.
A flip for instance, is rarely a stand-alone act in acro as it may be in gymnastics. Instead, dancers are trained to weave such a movement seamlessly into their routine.
While a gymnastics floor routine may incorporate dance as well, this is generally intended to be utilized more as a transition, than as a focal point of the routine.
One way to conceptualize the difference between the two movements is that acro is dance, using flips as transitions, whereas gymnastics is the opposite.
Acros Perform on Hard floor
The nature of the tricks performed by the two groups is also different, which can be seen just by looking at the stages they perform and practice on.
Gymnastics primarily utilize a spring floor. This consists of a 1-2-inch foam mat laying over a plywood board, held up by numerous springs which are designed to absorb the shock of the gymnasts jumping off and landing back onto it.
Acro dancers, on the other hand, are required to perform their tricks on a hard-wooden dance floor.
The benefits of the spring floor, such as extra airtime and a more cushioned landing, are not afforded to acro dancers.
This means that not only will they need to condition their body to be able to withstand the impact from the harder floor, they will also need to have the strength and control over their bodies to perform their skills smoothly without any additional help from the springs.
Dancers may even utilize different techniques to perform similar tricks to gymnasts, giving more thought to the safe execution of both take-offs and landings.
Acro performs a ‘safer’ trick
Due to this difference in environment, acro dancers will not focus on the high impact tricks seen in gymnastics, such as fulls, double fulls, and the classic jaw dropping tricks like the double back flip.
Instead, they will focus on learning how to incorporate lower impact movements and contortion skills into their routines, adding an element of dazzle and flair.
On a gymnastics spring floor, you often see individuals running into their tumbling lines, utilizing round offs and back handsprings to give themselves the maximum amount of height and power they can attain.
In acro dance, this kind of startup for a move is rarely used. A back handspring for instance, would not be used in order to gain additional momentum, but would instead be intended as an elegant transition, with less power and more grace.
Where gymnastics is fast-paced and high intensity, acro dance is more concerned about the rhythm and its intricacies.
Acro Performs in Group
It is also important to distinguish that gymnastics is normally a solo performance, whereas an acro dance routine normally has multiple acrobats performing simultaneously. Solo acts in the acro world do occur, but USA Gymnastics describes it as,
A partner sport requiring athletes of all ages, shapes, and sizes.USA Gymnastics
An acro routine with multiple participants requires not just the coordination of the individual, but of all the preformers.
Part of what makes an acro dance performance so dazzling, is how all of the performers choreograph their routines to highlight each other’s movements, often forming piles of yoga-like positions, with some individuals providing a base, while others perform handstands and splits on top of one another.
Unlike the stand-alone performance of the gymnast, it is the mesmerizing synchronization of the acrobats that provides its charm.
Gymnastics Spells Variety of Specializations
Another distinction between these two movements lies in the variety of specializations that can be found in gymnastics.
Outside of the spring floor, gymnasts can find themselves training on rings, balancing on beams, spinning around the pommel horse, or performing routines on both the horizontal and parallel bars.
Like tumbling on the spring floor, all of these disciplines possess their own intricacies, requiring specific skills and strengths to perform them well.
For the most part, acro dancers would not have any experience in dealing with the varied skill set that is expected of gymnasts.
Acro Has a Less Competitive Nature
Apart from the visual and physical aspect of both of these disciplines, the mentality that performers approach their respective movement with can also be distinguishable.
In gymnastics, there is a very specific point system, in which any slight slip can reduce the score of a performance.
This is why in gymnastics culture the importance of sticking one’s trick, or not moving even an inch after landing a move, is deemed to be very important and impressive.
With the main goal of gymnastics being to obtain the most points, it is no surprise that it has a very competitive nature. In order to avoid making any slip ups, and therefore losing points, athletes tend to only perform what they know they can land, 100% of the time.
This element of the sport reinforces the idea that athletes should strive for perfection, rather than creative experimentation.
Acro dancers still approach their discipline with a competitive nature, but not to the same degree that gymnasts do.
While the aspect of competition makes gymnastics seem more like a sport, the less strict guidelines makes acro dance seem more like an art.
Rather than worrying about the cost-benefit of a single move, an acro dancer would be encouraged to take a slight slip and find a way of recovering it to look intentional or turning it into some kind of transitional move.
In this sense, acro dance provides a lot more room for creativity than gymnastics does, as instead of deducting points for a mistake, dancers are rewarded for their ability to turn a mistake into something beautiful.
At the end of the day, both acro dance and gymnastics are beautiful disciplines, sharing many qualities with one another.
However, when deciding if you would like to pursue training one over the other, these distinguishing factors can be very helpful when figuring out which one would suit you the best.
If you like competition, tumbling with power and speed, or just all the possible specializations like rings and beams, then gymnastics may be more suitable for you.
On the other hand, if you are a fan of dance and the elegant bending of contortion seems to entice you, then acro dance could be the path for you.
Regardless, both sports require balance, strength, and lots of dedication and heart to master.