Saturday, December 15, 2012

Should We Get Rid Of Music On Floor Ex?

After spending the better part of this quadrennium talking about "artistry"--about who has it, who doesn't, how do we even measure it--a part of me could go a long time without hearing it debated again. And yet we will--as fans, it seems to be one of our favorite topics of discussion, especially when it comes to floor exercise.

Well, allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment and suggest a radical solution to our artistry problem--getting rid of music on floor exercise. No music would mean no jerky movements out of sync with the rhythm, no ugly leaps, no falling out of turns (or if the turns would remain in the Code of Points, at least the long pause wouldn't be as distracting since there would no music being ignored in the background). There would just be tumbling, which is mostly what we see anyway. It would be like men's floor exercise.

Yes, men's gymnastics is not as popular as the women's side of the sport is in this country, but I don't think a non-musical floor exercise is the reason. Without music and "dance" to discuss, the talk on the men's side centers around difficulty and execution. Some male gymnasts do things with style, a little bit of extra panache and that's always appreciated. But without making them dance (or pretend to), you don't have nearly as many pointless debates about who is artistic.

Gymnasts, are not by definition, dancers. Though both gymnasts and dancers share similar abilities and raw talents, a dancer cannot be swapped for a gymnast and vice versa--they are not interchangeable. We don't go to the ballet and act disappointed when the ballerinas don't do flips, yet when it comes to gymnastics, we hope to find some amalgam of acrobat and dancer. Commentators and fans erroneously ascribe "balletic" to just about any routine done with a modicum of elegance and style, regardless of how many critical dance errors the gymnasts make.

I don't blame the athletes for any of this. The fault lies in training, which is in turn a reflection of competitive and scoring priorities. FIG gives lip service to their desire to increase the artistry by making ridiculously hard jumps and leaps value in the Code, but really, those are nothing more than tricks, just like a double back is a trick. But that's sort of getting off topic. (Also, I think I've become something akin to a broken record with regards to artistry.)

But the causes notwithstanding, the troubling fact remains--we continue to see floor exercises awfully choreographed and performed with little feeling or expression. And we continue to have the same pointless debates about artistry and how to measure it. (Newsflash--you can't.) So what if we just acknowledged the truth and got rid of the music?

Would getting rid of music decrease the popularity of the sport? Perhaps. Audiences certainly wouldn't have anything to clap along to as they watch female gymnasts tumble. But think about it--Olga Korbut, who popularized the sport, didn't win the crowd over with her dancing on floor. She's remembered for her diminutive stature and her daring back flip on the uneven bars. Same goes for Nadia. While many enjoyed her spunky floor routine, the iconic image of her is getting that ten for a compulsory routine on the uneven bars. (Could anything be less exciting than that? And yet it's shown over and over.) I am not convinced that this change would fundamentally alter the appeal of women's gymnastics--the same way I have yet to be convinced that the elimination of the "Perfect 10" has had any sort of negative impact on the popularity of the sport.

The real question is--would it decrease the enjoyment of the spectators? The answer to that is probably--yes, it will. Men's floor exercise, with it's passes and static poses, is not the most popular event in their repertoire. That distinction probably belongs to high bar. Also, it would probably decrease the enjoyment of the athletes. Even the least capable dancers and least expressive performers talk about how much they enjoy getting out and showing off their personalities in front of a crowd. Whether or not they're successful at this is not necessarily correlated to their enjoyment.

Despite all of the arguments I've made, I don't actually want to do away with music on women's floor exercise. A routine done with a backing track playing (as opposed to performed to music) is still more entertaining to watch than those without any music. And eliminating music on floor removes the possibility for rare moments when a gymnast really does manage to do justice to both dance and gymnastics, to perform something that lives up to the sport's name--artistic gymnastics.

No comments: