This a question we encounter often and the answer is: YES there is a difference, a very BIG difference!
Have you ever watched a gymnastics floor routine in person or on television? Those hard-hitting, advanced tumbling lines, executed with power and precision, and “sticking the landing” to perfection? Or how about the execution of a forward-flipping, blind tumbling pass, executed fearlessly down a 4” wide balance beam? Gymnasts are trained to be highly competitive, disciplined, and meticulous athletes, where every fall, wobble, or off-step is a deduction to their overall score and can be the difference between winning and losing.
Acro Dance is an art form specifically for dancers. Acro has softer, more lyrical looking lines, with the emphasis being on lengthening “through” the tricks and holding pretty balances with interesting variations. In Acro, we teach our students to dance into and out of Acro tricks, with minimal obvious “prep” before and after a trick. Despite being technically difficult to execute, acrobatic tricks are meant to blend in seamlessly with dance steps, providing an extra level of excitement and flair to dance choreography.
In short, Gymnastics is a sport, Acro Dance is an art form.
Gymnasts train on a spring-floor, with actual springs built into the mats (think 2”/4” springs under 1” of plywood, with 2” of carpet bonded foam layer overtop). This allows the gymnast to get a lot of height in their tricks, and is a forgiving surface on which to repeatedly practice advanced tumbling passes over and over, day after day.
Dancers perform acrobatic tricks on a hard stage, and must train the body to be able to withstand the impact of the hard floor. Dancers don’t get the “rebound” action out of a hard floor like gymnasts do out of a spring-floor. Therefore, dancers must train to get the necessary lift from their bodies to safely make their tricks look light and effortless. Emphasis on a strong ‘hub” (hips, glutes, core), and full extension through the body up into the air, is a must for an acrobat to be able to perform tricks that flow effortlessly through their dance.
Yes, Acro Dancers do tumble, but where a gymnast may perform a run into a round-off, back handspring, full-twisting back lay-out, an Acro Dancer may perform a softer, more graceful line, such as: fouette turn, swinging directly into a cartwheel, back handspring (full) split-out, finishing into a needle position, and rolling up to stand. Two very impressive passes, with two very distinguished and distinct “looks.”
A specific example of the difference between “gymnastic technique” and “acro technique” is that in gymnastics, several tricks are performed in a “hollow-body” position (think: laying down on the back in a “banana” position with the arms lengthened overhead and slightly upward, and the legs off of the ground also lengthening outward and upward off of the ground, with the chin tucked, and pulling in through the core), and Acro is performed in an “open-body” position (think of a handstand, where the dancer is lengthening out of the shoulders, the back in an arced, but not arched, position, looking in front of the finger tips with an open neck, and lengthening “over the top” with the toes).
The specific training that is required to look and perform like an Acro Dancer will serve your students well in their overall dance training. A well-developed Acro Dance conditioning program will create stronger and more flexible dancers, which will transfer over into other dance forms.
Acro Dancers should not seek out additional training at gymnastics or cheer clubs. Many gymnastics and cheer clubs offer “Acro For Dancers” classes, to try to help dancers get additional outside training to practice their skills. Since Acro Dance classes are just one facet to the students’ overall dance timetable, often dancers will look for additional ways to practice and perfect their Acrobatic tricks outside of the studio. This is a mistake, because gymnastics coaches teach “Acro” with a gymnastic technical approach and not an Acro Dance technical approach.
In my 23-year career as both a gymnastics coach AND Acro Dance Teacher, I have seen several of my dancers lose a year or more of re-training to try to “fix” the muscle memory changes that occurred in as little as a one-week “Acro For Dancers” Spring or Summer camp. A better approach is for students to request that their studio hold it’s own Acro Camps to address this need.
A dance schedule that includes true Acro Dance classes will create stronger, safer, and more diverse dancers, which will, in turn, create more impressive, exciting, and artistic dancing.
Click here for a print out of Acro vs. Gymnastics: What’s The Difference? to hang in your studio.