Maryland gymnastics’ Aleka Tsiknias was a trained pianist before college. She played through middle and high school, honing her craft while also starring in the gym.
Few athletes have the opportunity to cling to their secondary passions as they enter the world of varsity athletics. But Tsiknias could have both — albeit in a different way.
The sophomore regularly incorporates classical music into her floor routines, showing off her love for the genre and a splash of her personality.
And it’s the same for the rest of coach Brett Nelligan’s squad on the floor as it selects the music that drives routines. The tunes the Terps choose allow a sense of individuality and expression, as well as energizing themselves and their teammates.
“It’s almost like I forget I’m doing gymnastics. The music really pushes me to just fuel and energize the entire team,” senior Collea Burgess said.
For all its simplicity, the floor is unique in its ability to allow gymnasts to show off their personality as they flip, spring and dance.
“Your floor routine is really describing who you are and what you want to do in the sport and who you want to present yourself as,” sophomore Reese McClure said.
This combination of creating energy and expressing oneself was clear in Sabriyya Rouse’s routine last Saturday — one that earned her a career best-matching 9.90. In addition to showing off who she is, Rouse’s mix of hip-hop music and other popular hits gets her teammates excited about the routine as well.
“I like to be able to dance and smile. It helps to take the pressure off a little bit,” Rouse said. “I like that my teammates can get into the routine with me when I have dancing music.”
The team’s sophomores also reveal their personality through music. Tsiknias embraces the opportunity to utilize the music she likes while also incorporating her teammate’s preferences.
“Some people are more upbeat, but I also like the slower parts because I feel like I can show off my grace and elegance that way,” Tsiknias said. “But also have the more upbeat [music] where the team can kind of join in and have fun all together.”
For Tsiknias, the music also serves as a means of conveying who she is as a person — a reflection of her shyness.
“I’m kind of quiet and shy, so I think that the classical part of it can show off my personality,” Tsiknias added. “But then I also have introduced the techno, upbeat part of it, which has really made me more expressive.”
Competing on the floor also allows Maryland to explore the evolution of the team’s skills. McClure, who used a pop-techno mix for her routines in her freshman season, has decided to transition to a new genre that captures a different part of her game.
“One day in the gym, ‘This Is How We Do It’ came on, and it just clicked,” McClure said. “’90s R&B was really what I thought would suit me best this year. This is my first time ever having a really fancy floor routine.”
And for some of the Terps, selecting floor music means something even more personal: exploring personal interests and cultural backgrounds.
Burgess, whose parents were born in Jamaica, acknowledges her Caribbean roots. Her use of Nicki Minaj’s “MEGATRON,” which incorporates some reggae elements — along with some Caribbean songs she grew up listening to — showcases a major part of Burgess’ life in a way that athletes in most other sports are not afforded.
Meanwhile, Tsiknias likes to incorporate classical elements into the music to tie in a major interest of her’s before competing in college. She also believes that experience has helped her approach how she competes on the apparatus.
“I can hear the beats better and I can make them sharp because I know when they’re coming,” Tsiknias said. “With piano I had to count music, I had to stay on beat, and I guess that shows through my dance in the floor routine.”
The Terps routinely use music as a tool for their success on the floor and in meets. And it appears to be paying off, as they are ranked No. 14 in the nation on the apparatus. More importantly, though, it serves as a means of expression — one that personalizes a sport like few other teams can.
“I don’t feel out of breath, I don’t feel tired, all the way through [my routine]. It just feels like I’m dancing, having fun, doing what I love,” Burgess said.