By Aanisah Husain
In a world of flips and tricks, the University of Maryland (UMD) Gymkana troupe aims to educate the community about making better choices for healthy living, and kids are their primary intended audience — the troupe performs regularly at area elementary and middle schools. They also spin and bounce during the university’s basketball halftime shows.
The troupe was founded in 1946 and adopted by the university’s School of Public Health during the early years of the anti-drug movement of the 1980s. Members of the troupe broadcast their messages about healthy living through performances that are a blend of gymnastics, acrobatics and circus-like antics.
“It’s really gratifying when you get a new skill because you’ve been working at it for so long, and you put so much work into it,” said Aggie Baum, who is a sophomore majoring in physics and astronomy. Baum is Gymkana’s vice president.
Javier Lorenzo, Gymkana’s secretary and sophomore statistics major, said that the performances at elementary schools are a highlight for him.
“[It’s] something I look forward to … it’s always really rewarding to see the kids’ reactions, because they are always amazed by what we do,” he said.
“[We] just try to inspire the kids there to work hard and just show them what they can do by setting their mind to a goal,” Baum added.
The troupe performed as a part of the city’s annual College Park Day on Oct 15.
“We try to stay active within our community, both within the university, but just the greater College Park area, because we think that it’s important that we’re having an influence on our local community,” said Ben Prescott, assistant director of Gymkana.
According to Prescott, approximately 70 to 85% of Gymkana members are new to or inexperienced in gymnastics. All troupe members commit to a minimum of 8 hours practice time each week.
Baum and Lorenzo, who have both climbed Gymkana’s leadership ladder, came to Gymkana with little tumbling experience. Even Prescott, who was with Gymkana from 2004 to 2008, was inexperienced when he joined the troupe. “Every year is a rebuilding process for us to reinvent our show,” Prescott said. “It’s not really about talent. It’s more about effort and treating your body right and making healthy choices.”.
The troupe’s significant commitment to practice time can have perks, too.
“Being on the troupe, it’s definitely a lot of hard work, a lot of practice time,” said Baum. “But it’s a lot of fun, and everyone on the troupe is super friendly, and [you can] make a lot of really good friendships.”
Prescott agreed. “There’s this kind of bond there that I hear from alumni all the time, but it’s one of the most memorable times of their lives,” he said.
Prescott added that he hopes the program continues to thrive, noting that the health and well-being of the troupe depends not only on exercise and performance, but funding too. During the month of November, Gymkana is hosting Flip-a-Thon, a fundraising event that gives the Gymkana audience a sneak peek of the acts the troupe is working on. Members of the troupe are also competing to see how many flips they can do in 10 minutes.
The Gymkana troupe is already gearing up for their premier spring event, their annual home show, set to take place in late April at the Xfinity Center.
For more information about Gymkana, go to sph.umd.edu/ and search Gymkana.