Culp’s Letter (number three): The World of Style

December 22nd, 2008 by Donna Culp

Culp’s Letter (number three): The World of Style

December 17, 2008
by donna culp

When the holiday season is telling me to rush around frantically at its most extreme and demanding pace, how does one live sanely? By going to the gym! Gymnastics should make our lives easier and more fun, not add unnecessary frustrations. That’s the reason I continue to love to work and, as it turns out, to travel with the GUTS workshops.

Almost 10 years have passed since the launch of GUTS, my creative workshop that builds the artistic gymnast, and its introduction to the STYLE ROPE, a 4-foot piece of rope – so simple! (I can be grateful to not have to explain so many details for artistry.) The STYLE ROPE works on everything: continuity between movement, musicality, creating an artist from a gymnast.

I truly believe gymnastics should be playful—and playful should be artful. It’s that kind of play—when a gymnast focuses on technique, but also understands how to make the movements with poise, and performs her routines with more intense style. Being able to execute to Code and to perform every skill as a whole routine has to be one of the most challenging things in the sport. There are no shortcuts. It’s just hard work.

As we approach the New Year, I want to thank the coaches who brought GUTS to their gym, and those gymnasts who came willing to make the journey with their clubs. Thanks Tom & Reiko (GymSmarts) for being my best support—you guys do things so linearly, and I do not!

Happy New Year, this year is for fun.

Culp’s Letter (number two): The World of Style

September 16th, 2008 by Donna Culp

Culp’s Letter (number two): The World of Style

If this summer’s XXIX Olympic Games in Beijing had a slogan for women’s gymnastics, it could be “All Good Gymnasts Go Artistic.” Certainly, the gymnasts—whose routines are the world’s top guns (and I salute all Olympians!)—are schooled and trained on the four events. But I couldn’t help but be taken by a whole lot of little things (make that big things)—and that’s where the artistry comes in.

Here are 10 of the most simple and “artistic” things for a gymnast to learn—only a small percentage of gymnasts hit all 10 on the balance beam and floor exercise:

Know every finger: Anyone who thinks that fingers (and feet) are insignificant when it comes to building a quality gymnast is putting himself in a position to lose a lot of points should a judge be involved. Just picture this: First place your gymnast’s hands into a pair of mittens, put her feet inside her sneakers and start running some routines. Now I ask you, how attractive is that?

Use head movement: You must go for trying to use your head, which allows for more movement—and adds to the aesthetic impact. The typical gymnast should watch how the top-ranked gymnasts excel at this. They lift a chin up and then fine-tune the head with purpose into the routine. A certain amount of finesse is required to move the head artfully.

Prepare the body: You’ll see the gymnast using every muscle in her body during a full-swing bar routine as she soars mightily from low to high bar. You can relate to that, right? You can train that, right? Well, you would be wise to become as disciplined with the physical attributes of style. You have to be good at knowing (instantly) every technique that it takes for rhythm, timing, speed and fluidity to score well. The Code of Points will help you out, too. It lists deductions on everything from A to Z.

Study the details: Now, with the use of Level 1 – 6, the detail associated with compulsory routines is an enormous advantage. Gymnasts—with compulsories behind them—are discovering that they need detail as much as ever for optional routines. They’re also going to pay attention to toes, the head and neck; the ball of the foot, the chest and shoulders, and they will quickly improve. So up the detail to reach a more style-driven routine!

Express exacting emotion: A lot of gymnasts are too serious before (or after) they make a skill, or they’re constantly smiling throughout a routine—it never varies. By exacting your emotions—a single smile on a floor part, for example—you’ll keep the expression full of life instead of ending up in some type of funky mood when it comes to expression.

Recognize the line: Since gymnasts must have the physical “straight body” of line on the four events, their aesthetics have to be gradually developed into the dazzling artistry. Gymnasts are going to have to learn the muscles associated with the line—and that means earning the “artistic” title. I suggest that young gymnasts arrange a private lesson with a professional choreographer—especially one that knows gymnastics.

Finish the movement: The near-robot gymnast doing a routine should really slow down. A lot of gymnasts are too quick to zoom in-and-out of every combination in the routine. There’s no completion of the elements, which is created by a stable and set torso that allows the gymnast to move their arms and head freely, resulting in a great finish position—much to the relief of the judge!

Vary the rhythm: Rethink dance. A good rhythmic-type routine is crucial for artistic gymnasts and the “dance” on-the-gymnast has to fit, like a glove. Since gymnasts need to practice a four-event-all around during their workout—only a few of them try to take ballet. Here’s the best part: You have to be creative to begin building the artistic into your gymnast.

Train the eyes: The gymnast’s artistry is most effective by boosting the eye contact and focusing head movements to engage audiences. It also just makes sense, as the gymnast uses specific “spots,” corners on the floor and marks on the beam to achieve overall polish and nail down the routine’s “turn or bonus jumps.”

Improve your timing: Ever wonder how young girls who couldn’t bench-press their own body weight have incredible power in gymnastics. This magical demonstration is profoundly “timing.” With this kind of timing in the gymnastics and, in artistry, the gymnast seems to sends a message that says, “See what a girl can do?”

Now, why limit yourself to 10 little-artistic gymnastic things? Conventions and workshops dedicated to artistic gymnastics will improve your program, too. Check out my educational lecture Building the Artistic Gymnast…the Style Rope Way. Visit, where I recently presented for the Gymnastics Association of Texas (GAT); and stop worrying about bombing gymnastic meets during the season. Go to work on “hitting” the artistry, and watch those scores soar like a B52.

Culp’s Letter (number one): The World of Style

July 19th, 2008 by Donna Culp

The Style RopeCulp’s Letter (number one): The World of Style
July 19, 2008 by donna culp

Women’s gymnastics is more than just four events, and perhaps that was most apparent as I watched the Olympic Trials (an exciting show in Philadelphia!) after a fun day of lecturing at Congress, running through my notes and Power-Point presentation: “Building the Artistic Gymnast … the Style Rope Way.”

Congress was fascinating. Happily attended, questions started to fly around the room … as coaches (and some judges!) began to catch onto the Style Rope, a simple piece of rope that can seem to make every gymnast an artist. The fact that the Code of Points speaks volumes about the concept of artistry – a possible 1.8 points of deductions at the judge’s fingers – is precisely what makes the Style Rope such an exciting tool.

That being said, unfortunately I am unable to post my presentation, which I shared for Congress. It has over 60 minutes of filming and, in the process, a large portion of this is more like a dialogue arrangement. If however, you are considering purchasing my video with Gym Smarts, you must also ask for the “free download” booklet – this is a very good guide to follow in the workout.

Certainly, if I have a closing statement, it is that every gymnast should be made as artistic as possible. Not just the elite gymnast, because from what I can tell, there is a way. Once you decide and value the challenge, I hope you will enjoy using the Style Rope in your workout.