Red Rocks improvise their way to perfect floor routines

In a meet during her sophomore year, Becky Tutka found herself in a little trouble.

While on floor, she left something out of a tumbling pass and suddenly she was lost — too early in the music to move forward with the rest of her routine, so she improvised.

“I didn’t know where I was,” Tutka said. “So I was like, ‘just start moving, do something.’”

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Tutka ad-libbed a part of her usually well-constructed routine until the music caught back up. That’s just part of the challenge of performing a floor exercise.

The Red Rocks are heading into their sixth meet of the season this Saturday against Washington, and with five meets under their belts, fans know pretty much what to expect when the Utes take the floor.

Through all the training and the competitions, it is just not the gymnasts themselves that know their routine, but the entire team — evidenced by the Red Rocks lined up around the edge of the floor doing the dance moves in unison with the performer. Sometimes, though, the teammates are thrown a surprise. A gymnast doesn’t always follow script.

“We come off that floor and everyone is like, ‘Did you just change that?’” Tutka said.

According to Tutka, the Utah coaches often just laugh off ad-libbing

“They know we can take care of it and it’s more of a funny thing that happens,” she said.

Before the improvising, comes the hours of work of picking music, choreographing a routine and constantly tweaking it until everything works perfect.

The art of choosing a song is sometimes as easy as getting a suggestion from a friend (like Tutka), a trainer (like senior Corrie Lothrop) or a teammate (like freshman Kari Lee).

Lee said that she looks for a song that she not only likes, but that she feels fits her personality and style of gymnastics.

“With mine, I am more calm and graceful and I get really focused,” Lee said.

Lee’s routine is to a violin-based composition by Lindsey Stirling. The song does have its uptempo moments, but it also gives Lee a chance to show off her “graceful” side as well. The song Lee ended up using was actually originally suggested for Tutka, but according to Lee, her teammate didn’t think it fit her, so she passed it along.

“Becky’s more, like, poppy, and showy, so she didn’t like it for her, but she recommended it for me and I loved it,” Lee said. “She probably would still pull it off because she’s Becky.”

Utah has been led on floor this season by senior Georgia Dabritz, who leads the nation with an average score of 9.935 — the routine she has been receiving high score after high score with can be credited to Lothrop.

Lothrop was known for her beam choreography, and had never thought about putting together a floor routine until last summer.

“I was bored and just started playing around and I knew that Georgia needed a new floor routine, so I told her that I would help her work on it,” Lothrop said.

So at practice, Lothrop worked on it with Dabritz and soon a whole routine was finished.

“I didn’t know it was going to lead to a completely done routine,” Lothrop said. “It was so fun, and I didn’t know I was as creative as I am.”

Once a routine is done, it is far from set. By watching film, gymnasts notice things they want to take out and add, with the hope that by the end of the season they will have something they are truly proud of.

“Each time I watch a video I’m like, ‘Oh I don’t like that part,’ and I’ll change it,” Tutka said. “So there are parts that I’ll change this week, that I did on Friday.”

One way Lee wants to improve her routine is to be a little more outgoing. By her own admission, Lee is someone who likes to keep her feelings inside, but based off the reaction she gets from the judges when she shows more personality, she thinks it could help bump up her score.

“I can see it on [the judge’s] face when I smile at them because they react back and they’re like, ‘Ooh she’s smiling at me,’” Lee said. “It’s fun to play with the judges while you’re out there.”

Lee said sometimes she puts in a little “sass” every now and then, where she will get a smirk on her face and do a little eye towards the judges, the crowd and even her teammates.

It’s all part of the fun of trying to make the perfect routine.

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