Behind The Floor Music
Australia's Allana Slater on her 2004 Olympic floor routine.
|Dvora Meyers||Sep 25, 2020|| 2|
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Earlier this week, I wrote about the Greatest Clusterfuck in All-Around Gymnastics History—aka the 2000 women’s Olympic all-around—for the new site Defector, which was created by my former coworkers at Deadspin after they quit in protest of the new management meddling in editorial. (I wrote a little bit about the demise of Deadspin here.) For that piece, I interviewed the hero of the story, Australia’s Allana Slater. It was Slater who realized during warm-ups for the third rotation of four that the vault was set too low. This lowered vault contributed to some truly terrifying falls in the previous rotations. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Slater’s action probably prevented a very serious injury.
At the end of an hour-long conversation, we got onto the topic of Slater’s Olympic floor routines. The Aussie was known for being an expressive performer on floor exercise throughout her career. Though this discussion wasn’t relevant to the story I was interviewing Slater for, I found it really interesting, and figured that some of you might find it so, too. I asked Slater if it would be okay with her if I published our floor music and choreography discussion in the newsletter, and she gave me her blessing. So here is the short backstory for Slater’s 2004 Olympic floor routine, edited for clarity.
In 2004, Slater performed to music from the movie Moulin Rouge. While that the soundtrack from that film is certainly ubiquitous now in the aesthetic sports, especially in figure skating—I mean, who can forget Tessa Virtue’s and Scott Moir’s iconic face sit at the 2018 Winter Games while performing to Moulin Rouge?—it certainly wasn’t back when Slater chose it for her final Olympic floor routine. The movie had only come out in 2001. I don’t know if Slater was the first to use it for a floor routine or figure skating program, but she was probably one of the first. (Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong in the comments and include links to earlier Moulin Rouge floor routines and figure skating programs.)
To even listen to the music, Slater actually had to go to a store where they sold CDs. Kids, gather around as Slater and I talk of how things were back when we were young:
Allana Slater: I remember choosing my floor music. [It had] maybe just come out and I really wanted to listen to this. This was back when you went and listened to like the soundtrack in a DVD store.
Dvora Meyers: We'd go to Virgin Megastore in Union Square where they had headphones and you could listen to the top CDs. [I spent a lot of time in high school doing this.]
AS: The kids don't have any concept of that these days, standing in there for like six hours listening to music.
I'd been to the choreographer’s place and she also at that time was coaching with me as well. She had an incredible collection of music with no vocals, and I didn't not love music she had, but I just didn't find the piece that resonated with me, and it had to resonate with me. So I went to this store and I really wanted the Moulin Rouge CD. And the minute I got to “El Tango de Roxanne,” the first few bars, [I knew]: This is my music. This is what I want, it's going to happen.
I picked the music, then I went and watched the movie and particularly the scene that that music's from so that I really understood what it was about so I can portray the same sort of feeling. And I just tried to make it my own.
[Because gymnastics, both then and now, doesn’t allow gymnasts to perform to music with sung lyrics, Slater and her team had to hope to be able to get it re-orchestrated, sans vocals, in time for the 2004 competition season.]
We're like, ‘Can we take the words out?’ I actually trained with a cut piece of music with vocals and words and everything in the hopes that we can re-orchestrate it.
Peggy [Liddick] sent it to the U.S. and got it re-orchestrated. First cut, I wasn't happy with it, so we did it again. I had a lot of say in how my music was cut and what I wanted it to be.
It was probably one of my favorite pieces in terms of wanting to push the boundaries and artistry. If I was doing it now, I’d probably do it more and bigger and better but I felt like I was pushing the boundaries so far with the choreography. A rhythmic coach choreographed my floor routine for that piece.
I got that leotard made, which had so much bare skin, as in, like, the skin-colored components. And so that was really pushing boundaries already…I hope I was part of artistry going in that direction because that's what I always wanted to be known for.
[I’m including another video of Slater performing to Moulin Rouge in case the IOC blocks the one I embedded above. Try your best to ignore Al Trautwig going on and on about Slater’s body and getting older when she was *only* 20 years old. Snaps to Elfi Schlegel for not responding to him or acknowledging what he was saying in any way.]
So today is a year to the day when I sent out the first newsletter, introducing this project and the whys behind it. I’ve really enjoyed writing and publishing this—whatever this is—over the past 12 months. Where else could I interview my dog, chart the evolution of Shannon Miller’s scrunchies, and interview the goddess Svetlana Boguinskaia? Nowhere. What sane editor would let me do this?
When I started this newsletter back when I was a young whippersnapper of 36, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I thought that during the spring and summer, this newsletter would be wall-to-wall Olympics coverage. Now, just 12 months after I published the first newsletter, I’m a bitter old woman of 79 but without the upside of being on Medicare or collecting Social Security.
It goes without saying that things have gotten quite dark this past year, darker than they already were. Though it’s hardly the worst outcome of the pandemic and the general political/economic instability—pretty certain that the 200,000+ U.S. deaths are the worst part—it’s been difficult to watch as gymnastics has taken a hit at the collegiate level due to the pandemic, as have many other sports. Men’s gymnastics, in particular, had long been on the decline and was down to 15 Division I programs before COVID-19; the pandemic has merely acted as an accelerant on a process that has long been underway, with Iowa, Minnesota and William & Mary ending their men’s programs. (W&M also ended their women’s program.)
Anyway, I really appreciate you guys coming along for the ride as I’ve tried to figure this whole newsletter thing out. And staying on the ride while the world started to—and continues—to burn, both literally and metaphorically. If you have any suggestions or feedback for the coming year, you know where to find me. (In the comments and at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
And for all of you Yom Kippur fans out there: G’mar Chatimah Tovah!