Responding to rhythm is a basic element of dance in gymnastics. It has two components. The first is the natural rhythm of life everyone has, and the second is the rhythm imposed by the music used for the floor exercise. In Australian gymnastics many coaches compile a floor routine with elements fitted to phrases in the music. This gives scant attention to rhythm, producing a series of snapshots of movement rather than a cohesive, flowing presentation.
Natural Rhythm and Movement
Natural rhythm in an individual is expressed in the heartbeat, for an adult at rest this is between 60-100 beats per minute, for children the heartbeat is faster, 70-100 beats per minute. The rate of 120 beats per minute is often used in military march music as it generates efficient activity which can be maintained for some time. This music has two beats per bar and four bars per phrase, meaning eight even walking steps in each phrase if rhythm is maintained.
Another natural rhythm depends on the proportions of the gymnast. Those with a shorter, more compact body type can generally rotate more quickly than a taller gymnast, who will require more height to complete similar rotations when in an extended body position. How long each skill takes to reach completion depends on the unique attributes of each individual gymnast.
Move to the Music
Music can be composed using a wide variety of rhythms, or none at all, as in a soundscape, which is a construct of sound designed to evoke an emotional response. However, when it is intended to be used for dance it usually has a distinct primary rhythm, which can change during a single composition. This can be a challenge for somebody trying to move to the music.
A good way to start learning how to move with the rhythm of music is to clap along with it, remembering to keep the claps evenly spaced apart. Marching music is a good place to start this activity, because the next step is to get up and walk around, taking a step on each beat. After some practise this should come naturally, without having to think much about it. This is the foundation on which dance in gymnastics is built.
Why Bother Responding to Rhythm?
Learning to move to rhythm is a learned skill, the same as a gymnastic or dance skill. Moving to a rhythm gives a greater awareness of balance and position, as it imposes an artificial constraint on the movement.
Once awareness of a specific movement is heightened, this allows greater control of movements on all apparatus, with smoother transitions from one skill to another on balance beam and uneven bars.
The precision, or repeatability, of even the most simple steps to the rhythm of the music, assists a gymnast to develop correctly executed skills, which can be successfully transferred from floor to other apparatus.