The “WOW” factor of acro routines
Acro gymnastics routines are truly breathtaking to watch. They are exciting, awe-inspiring, and sometimes terrifying to behold. For the average spectator, each “move” is as incredible as the next, and it can be baffling to try and understand what makes one routine superior to another in terms of competition scores and rankings. Indeed, this sport is all about perfection, and it takes a trained eye to spot the small errors that result in deductions and lower scores. The first step in gaining greater insight into acro gymnastics routines is the ability to differentiate the types of routines and understand how they are evaluated at competitions.
Balance, dynamic, and combined routines
Depending on the level of the partnership, athletes may be required to perform one, two or three routines at competitions. Typically there are two types of routines – a balance routine and a dynamic routine, and then in some cases a third (called combined) that highlights elements from both balance and dynamic. The balance routine demonstrates the strength, flexibility and poise of the athletes and is often performed to slower music, though not necessarily. Skills in the balance routines involve the partners forming towers or pyramids and holding difficult poses for a given duration of time. In contrast, the dynamic routines involve elements of flight, (such as throws, flips, twists, catches, and landings), and showcases the power and strength of the athletes. Both routines also include dance and tumbling moves in addition to the specific balance or dynamic elements needed for their level at competition. All routines are choreographed to music and have specific guidelines about length of time depending on the routine and level. They must start in a static position and end in a static position. All of these factors (and some others too) fall under one of three categories that the judges use to evaluate the routine: difficulty, execution and artistry.
The “Difficulty” score
The first of the three components that make up the final score for the routine is the difficulty score. This piece of the assessment is calculated in advance of the competition and is based on the difficulty level of the skills that will be performed, according to a tariff sheet that is submitted by the coach prior to the start of the competition. This score does not change if the skills are not performed well during the routine, but it does change if one or more of the skills are not completed successfully. In order to achieve the maximum difficulty score, all of the highest value skills assigned to the particular level must be included in the routine. It is common for competitors to receive a perfect score for difficulty, and in fact under certain circumstances, (only at the senior levels), it is possible to achieve a mark even higher than perfect, if more advanced moves are performed than are required. On the other hand, it is very unusual for teams to obtain the highest possible grade in the other two areas of judging – execution and artistry.
The “Execution (Technical)” and “Artistry” scores
The execution (or technical) score is the value given to how flawlessly the pair or group performed each of the required elements in the routine. In order to get the highest possible execution score, each and every element would need to be impeccable. This is rare. Deductions to the execution score will be taken for major errors such as a slip or fall, but also for minor imperfections such as toes not pointed, or legs not straight, or instability during a skill.
The final part of the judging process assesses the artistic component of the routine, looking at five criteria: partnership, expression, performance, creativity, and musicality. Each of these factors are awarded between 1 and 2 points for a potential maximum total of 10 points. At the top of the rank, a routine that scores between 9.6 and 10 for artistry is considered an excellent routine, while a bottom score of 5.0 and 5.9 is regarded as unacceptable. Judges are very knowledgeable about the requirements of the technical and artistic expectations of routines, and study at great length the minute details that make or break every single aspect of the performance.
The bottom line
Having said all of that, don’t fret. Though the rules and regulations around acro gymnastics may seem like a lot to take in, the reality is that absolutely no previous knowledge of this sport is needed in order to be thoroughly entertained and astonished by what you see. However, some understanding of the fundamentals will no doubt give you a much richer experience as you observe young athletes test the strength, flexibility and endurance of the human body and mind.
Article by Carol Summers