The Differences Between Acro Dance & Gymnastics

Thinking of enrolling your child in a dance class, but you’re unsure about the terminology? Yes, there are many different terms and phrases that folks believe are interchangeable when it comes to physical exercise. Gymnastics and acrobatics are two that often get confused as one and the same, but there are some distinct differences.

Before moving forward with your child’s participation in the wonderful world of dance, it’s good to have a crash course in knowing the difference between these two popular children’s activities.  Here are some key differences between acro dance and gymnastics.



First and foremost, gymnasts know full well that there’s more to their sport than simply executing a perfect cartwheel on a narrow balance beam. In fact, seasoned pros will need to hone their skills in a variety of different scenarios. Females train in 4 events – vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise (aka tumbling), while males train in 6 events – vault, high bar, pommel horse, parallel bars, floor (tumbling) and rings. This requires the athlete to perfect absolute strength and control in multiple muscle groups.

For instance, ring training requires strong arms and upper body strength, whereas flipping and tumbling requires solid leg work. Elements of acro dance include training in strength, flexibility, limbering or bending, balance and tumbling, all within the dance studio setting. At times, the tumbling skills are learned in a gymnasium. Acro dancers often practice technical jazz, ballet and contemporary, as the magic of this art form is a seamless marriage of dance and acrobatic skills.



While it’s very important for dancers to exercise discipline and precision when it comes to their technical execution, grace, aesthetic and artistic expression are just as important. A dancer is expected to create more extreme aesthetic lines with their bodies, and make all movements look graceful and simple. As a priority, gymnastics focuses on developing as many tricks or skills as possible.Athletes who compete must do so at peak performance, and every missed step, wobble or fall can cost points. Similarly, gymnastics focuses heavily on power moves, especially as they pertain to things like flipping, cartwheeling and sticking the landing.

These move sets are highly methodical and complex, and require gymnastic athletes to focus on perfecting every single maneuver with pinpoint accuracy. While it can appear as if gymnasts  are “dancing,” they are more often trying to execute a check list of moves in the proper sequence, as perfectly as possible.



By contrast, acro dance utilizes acrobatics as a tool to compliment the overall choreography of a dance number. It’s an expressive form of art that is more about the emotional impact of a routine, as opposed to technical precision. However, that’s not to say that technicality doesn’t play a role. In fact, it’s vital that dancers master the rudiments and complex moves necessary to complete their performance, but this is merely a prerequisite for the ultimate goal – to move the audience.

Therefore, gymnastics do play a bit of a role when it comes to acro dance, but they’re not at the forefront. To summarize, acro dance utilizes the power and precision of gymnastics to effect a riveting performance, whereas gymnastics strip out the artistry in favor of technical prowess and perfection.



Any person who has taken gymnastics classes knows full well that the training environment is vastly different from a dance floor. It is not uncommon for gymnastic athletes to receive training on spring-floors and balance beams, which serve a technical purpose. Gymnasts are brought up in an environment that caters specifically to their sport, with built-in functionality.

Acro dancers have no comparable training environment, and are required to learn how to deal with the impact of a hard floor or stage. This requires developing different muscle sets in order to absorb the impact of landing, in order to make their craft look light and effortless. Ironically, gymnasts appear to hit the ground “harder” than acro dancers, despite both training in opposite environments. 



One of the key differences between gymnastics and acro dancing is that the former is a solo sport, whilst the latter is a group-oriented affair. There are exceptions to this rule, with certain acro dancers going solo from time to time, but that’s far from the rule. Gymnastic athletes focus on their own respective skills in order to nail every single move and routine with as much accuracy and perfection as possible. Conversely, acro dancers typically participate in group ensembles that rely heavily on choreography in order to dazzle audiences.

There are times when particular acro dancers will take the spotlight temporarily, but they are usually flanked by their fellow dancers who remain on hand to provide flourish for the performance. It isn’t long before acro dancers fall back into group formation, acting as key components of a larger group ensemble. 



And of course, one of the most notable differences between the two disciplines lies in their intended goals. Gymnastics focuses heavily on competitive sport, whereas acro dancing is all about making an emotional impact. Therefore, the latter is far less competitive, at least in terms of intention.Of course, competition does take place within acro dancing as well, but it is generally confined to a group dynamic. For the gymnastic athlete, it’s all about repetition and training in order to master advanced skills, whereas acro dancers focus on both technical execution of skills to create a piece of choreographic artistry that can also pull at the heartstrings. Both are well-respected disciplines, for two entirely different reasons, and both require dedication and commitment from those who practice them. Over time, the world of gymnastics has grown to include sports new to the scene, including rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics and Aesthetic Group Gymnastics (AGG). 



Hopefully this helps to demystify the confusion between gymnastics and acrobatic dancing. They may seem alike in terms of spectacle, dedication and practice, but they are designed for two distinctly different purposes. Enrolling your child in acro dance means pursuing the perfection that gymnastic athletes are so renowned for, while leaning more towards artistic expression and emotional impact.