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For Jody Nichols, teaching dance and theater arts to students is second nature. But, when asked to use her expertise to help gymnasts, Jody had to take a step back and view dance skills with a different lens. Her studio, A Broadway Kids Company in Massachusetts, focuses on music, acting, theater, dance, improv and more. Jody gets her motivation from knowing that in her space, children are able to be “their true self” with full expression.
“I believe in learning through love and kindness. Then, children will learn from their heart.”
Jody was exposed to gymnastics when her son showed interest in taking classes. Her journey in gymnastics dance instruction began here. As she watched skills and choreography, the movements were easily familiar, but her ballet teacher instincts told her that athletes had more inside them to express. Through trial and error, Jody adapted her vocabulary, tweaked the technique and jumped two feet into the task.
Her first lessons with these powerful athletes was to teach them balance and grace. She would use the balance beam as a bar (barre), and study the nuances of the movement. From head to toe she made subtle corrections in how the athletes balanced in their leaps, jumps, turns and skills. Jody spends much of her time watching beam skills from the end of the beam. From this angle, it’s easy to see how the athlete is handling balance checks and make alignment corrections.
When asked about the differences in technique between dancers and gymnasts, Jody talks about emphasizing the elongating the neck and maintaining a strong straight shape in the hips. The full turn, an iconic nemesis for many athletes on beam, can be fixed with more extension in the foot and less torque in the turn. “Gymnasts tend to overwind in preparation. Start with understanding the technique in a releve.”
In her lessons on floor routine choreography, Jody begins by asking athletes the following question:
“What will you bring to the floor that will wow the judges and make them really want to pay attention to you?”
She then works with the athletes on their routines, encouraging them to dig deep and show extension and expressiveness in their dance, almost as if they are telling a story with their routine. This work has really enabled athletes to transform their routines from “routine” to extraordinary.
Dance instruction allows gymnasts to take their skills and shapes to the next level and helps athletes to express themselves more freely. Want to introduce more dance instruction into your gym program? Invite a dance teacher to do a Master Class for athletes on balance and body position. Or, better yet, find a dance instructor who can offer more regular instruction to your athletes just in time to spruce up those routines for the upcoming season.