Rhett Umphress

As Ball State University freshman gymnast Amber Parsley steps on the mat to start her floor routine, the opening strains of Flo Rida's "Right Round" blare over the Worthen Arena loudspeakers.

Although most people are impressed by the jumps, flips and landings of the gymnasts, music plays a large role in a floor exercise as well.

Sophomore Brittney Emmons, the top-scoring gymnast on the floor in the Mid-American Conference, likes to pick music that can get the crowd involved.

"The whole point is to get the crowd involved with your floor routine," she said. "I love the fact that I can do that with people and show them my personality through my floor routine."

Emmons uses a mix that she equates to the Blue Man Group.

"It's a lot of drums and very upbeat," she said. "That's pretty much how all of my floor music has been, kind of upbeat. I'm not that slow, graceful kind of person."

Freshman Nicole Allen chose a hip hop mix featuring Dorrough's "Ice Cream Paint Job," one of her favorite songs. Freshman Morgan Coslow uses a Britney Spears mix, including "Womanizer."

"It's really fun and upbeat," she said. "I'm really outgoing and happy a lot and optimistic. It's fun to perform to."

Showing some attitude
The floor exercise lasts 60 to 90 seconds and must use instrumental music, no vocals allowed. Carole Ide, president of the National Association of Women's Gymnastics Judges, said beyond that, the requirements are mostly open-ended.

Gymnasts are encouraged to pick music that fits their personality. Parsley uses a hip hop mix because of her love for dance.

"It fits my personality because it's really upbeat and energetic," she said.

Emmons likes to pick music that fits her upbeat nature.

"I'm the kind of person that always wants to have fun and be bubbly and bouncy," she said. "That's pretty much what floor is about, being very upbeat and dancing and getting the whole crowd involved."

Mix it up
Once a gymnast has picked music, she gives it to graduate assistant coach Will Stokley. He then mixes the music for the team. One trick he uses to get around the instrumental issue on pop and hip hop tunes is to use karaoke mixes.

The most important part of the combination of music and motion is that the gymnast has to be able to sell the routine, coach Nadalie Walsh said.

"It has to be something that they're going to be able to draw people in, instead of feeling embarrassed," she said. "They have to kind of take ownership of it and project whatever emotion they want the crowd to feel."

Planning the music is important, Ide said. When the gymnast, coach and arranger are preparing the music, they want to plan the music for tumbling passes. After those passes, it is common to have a little down time in the music so the gymnast can catch her breath, Ide said.

While Stokley handles most of the music selection and mixing, Walsh focuses on choreographing routines based on the music.

So many choices
With all of the pieces for a gymnast to pick from, selecting music can be difficult. Emmons said she prefers to choose music that is original.

"I like something unique and different," she said. "I don't want something that most gymnasts have that you hear all the time."

Emmons said it's disappointing if she hears her music performed by another gymnast.
Liking the music is important as well. Most gymnasts end up picking a mix that they will use for two years.

"It's hard to pick music," Parsley said. "I think the hardest part is just finding out what you're going to be comfortable with on the floor and what you're going to like for the whole year."

Allen said the unlimited choices can be difficult.

"[The hardest part] is all the songs you don't pick," she said. "You have to kind of separate into songs you like and songs you can have something choreographed to."

Coslow agrees that choosing music is challenging.

"I think it's really hard because there's such a big variety," she said. "Once you narrow it down to a genre … then it's hard to pick out certain songs that you want and find an instrumental part."

Staying on beat
Picking music and designing choreography is just half the battle. Performing to the music is the next step.

There are many technical deductions that can occur if the gymnast is not in sync with the music, Ide said. If the athlete is clearly off the beat, losing synchronization with the music, it can be up to a 0.3-point deduction; if the gymnast does not portray the mood of the music in her routine, it can be up to a 0.2 deduction; and if the routine does not end with the music, it is a 0.1 deduction.

No music? Knock a whole point off the score.

The musical requirement only exists in women's gymnastics. Men typically do not do a floor exercise routine with musical accompaniment.

To stay on the beat, some gymnasts choose to use music with a clearly defined beat. Others will use less clearly rhythmic selections.

Ide said that although vocals are excluded, gymnasts are allowed to use audio signals, such as whistles or animal sounds, to help their synchronization. Ball State uses three chirps at the beginning of each routine to cue the gymnast.

Falling can be devastating to a floor exercise score. Not only will the gymnast lose half a point for the fall, but it can put them significantly off the music, causing more deductions.

Selling the show
Beyond the technical penalties, the judges use their subjective opinions to determine if the gymnast is appropriately matching the mood of the music. Stokley said that getting music that fits the gymnast is important.

"If she does her routine that does the music justice, then the judges will like that," he said. "If the music doesn't fit well with the girl doing the performance, judges probably won't like it, especially the older judges. The girls got to own the floor routine and really mesh well with the music."

Walsh said that music can have a big effect on the judges.

"I've had girls do the same type of routine, change their music and then, just because it fit the girl better, they score a couple tenths higher," she said. "Judges are human. If they're not being entertained, it's going to be easier for them to see what they don't like."

An entertained judge might be less likely to take a deduction, Walsh said.

Ide said that despite personal tendencies, the judges try not to let their personal music tastes interfere in their assessment.

"As officials, we're not suppose to let our tastes come in," she said. "It's more important that the personality of the athlete comes through in the music."

Emmons said having music she's comfortable with helps her succeed on the floor, which she lists as her favorite event.

"I just feel like I can go out there and give 100 percent almost every time," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind that I'm not going to hit a floor routine."

Artists being used this season:
Flo Rida
Lil Wayne
T-Pain
Dorrough
Unk
Chris Brown
Jay-Z
Safri Duo
BassNectar
Clint Mansell
Rammstein
Dropkick Murphys
Massive Attack
RJD2
Plump DJs
Azzido Da Bass
M.I.A.
David Guetta
Tantric
Britney Spears

Music Penalties
• Losing synchronization with the music - 0.3 deduction
• Not portraying the mood of the music - 0.2 deduction
• Not finishing with the music - 0.1 deduction.
• No music – 1.0 deduction