The floor exercise in gymnastics is all about the tumbling, right? Sure, in between the runs the gymnast shows off balance or does balletlike moves, but that's just a moment for athletes and fans to catch their breath.
Sophina DeJesus of UCLA may have upset the floor-exercise paradigm over the weekend, however. Her tumbling runs were spot-on, but the moments in between are the main reason a Facebook video of her routine has been shared more than 400,000 times. DeJesus set aside those normally staid moments in between the tumbling to whip, nae nae, hit the quan and perform other hip-hop dance steps.
The unexpected moves, combined with the enthusiastic reaction from the home fans and DeJesus' teammates on Saturday, made the video a must watch for hundreds of thousands and brought an outpouring of positive comments on social media.
"I love dancing," DeJesus said of her decision to try the unorthodox routine. "I wanted to end my senior year with a bang."
The floor exercise is not even DeJesus' best event; she was an all-American on bars. The performance that was widely shared on social media was her first floor exercise of the season.
Unsurprisingly, DeJesus, a 21-year-old sociology major from Temecula, Calif., has a dance and acting background. At 12, she performed on the TV show Hip Hop Harry. "He was like Barney, but a hip-hop bear," DeJesus said. When dancing on the show, DeJesus said, she would throw in some gymnastics moves.
DeJesus' score for Saturday's routine, a 9.925, tied for third on her team at the meet, trailing two excellent — if less popular online — performances and raising the question of how much colorful moves hinder scoring from traditional judges.
"Commentators mostly talk about tumbling because it seems to be more impressive to an audience and it's easier to spot the deductions in landings, height and form," said Samantha Peszek, an Olympic silver medalist and a former UCLA teammate of DeJesus'.
"The great thing about routines like Sophina's is that they bring energy and life not only to the audience, but the rest of the team watching," she added.
So at the Olympic Games in Rio, will we see the nae nae?
Probably not, Peszek said.
"There are way more requirements to an Olympic-level routine in terms of tumbling and leap elements, so there wouldn't be enough time to do as elaborate choreography as Sophina," she said. "Also, international judges seem to appreciate more traditional style of floor choreography, so a floor routine like this would not score as well as it does in collegiate competition."
DeJesus says that if selected for the floor exercise in future meets, she plans to continue her routine.