All the Right Moves: Pianist and dance student is a competitive gymnast

Charly Santagado can’t stay still.

With her packed schedule, who could stay still?

Santagado is a member of the Rutgers gymnastics team. She attends the Mason Gross School on academic and athletic scholarships, with a planned double major in philosophy and music performance, as well as a minor in dance.

Music, dance and gymnastics – all are essential to Santagado.

“I could not give up one,” she says. “If I have free time I have to fill it with something.”

The 19-year-old won the gold for the uneven bars at Israel's 19th Maccabiah Games in 2013 and founded a charity, Give Kids the Gold, during her gap year. Give Kids the Gold provides trophies for Give Kids the World, a weekly talent show featuring terminally ill children. Santagado and her sister continue to collect old dance trophies and disassemble them to create new ones.

Artistry and performance have been integral to Santagado’s life since an early age. She started competing in gymnastics when she was five.

“Gymnastics can be scary,” Santagado says. “When I was younger I had to talk myself into going [on the apparatuses]. Some people still get scared but I got over it [because] I switched to a gym that doesn’t allow for mental games... You can focus on doing it the right way if you’re not scared.”

Mental games and intense pressure are common in the sport, especially during a gymnast’s peak years. When Santagadowas 12 years old she was on track for the Olympics. Then her parents pulled her out.

“They told me: ‘You are miserable,’” Santagado says.  “I was really upset about it.”

Two years later, she decided to return to the sport.

“I went to an open gym and I was messing around,” Santagado recalls. “I kept going back to it a few days a week. I eventually [asked] my mom: ‘Can I go back to competing in gymnastics?’... I wasn’t trying to do the whole elite thing, so it was much more fun.

“That doesn’t happen often,” Santagado adds. “Normally you stop [competing] and you’re done.”

Art and craft
Now Santagado has fun and combines her passions by injecting music and dance into her gymnastics routines.

“For the past five years I’ve played my floor music on the piano and recorded it,” she says.  “My coaches would sometimes stand behind the judges…talking [about it] to another coach. They would say it loudly so the judges could hear.”

Dance also impacts her floor routine choreography.

“My dance is why [I place],” Santagado says. “[Dance] is making my floor routine easier--easier for me, because some people can’t do the dance that I do.”

Santagado’s Modern 3 dance instructor, Aaron Ramos, acknowledges Santagado’s work ethic: “Charly is particular with movement and positions.” When it comes to technique, he says, Santagado is “a perfectionist.”

Ramos adds with a laugh: “She has to do everything well.”

In recent years, gymnastics has transformed into a power sport. Some contend that Olympic gymnasts seem to be forgoing artistry for complex tumbling moves. This puts Santagado in a unique position.

“I think the stuff they do is mind-blowing but not artistic… So many people ignore that now just to get good tumbling in,” Santagado says. “I have [fewer] tumbling skills than some people, but I still beat them because the judges have an appreciation for artistry.”

Never give up
Santagado is honing her talent away from the gym with a major in music performance and a minor in dance. Neither discipline is new to Santagado: She has danced since the age of 3 and has played the piano since she was 9 years old.

 “I couldn’t not do dance,” she says. “The feeling I get when I dance is better than anything else.” But with a full schedule, Santagado had to settle on a minor in dance.

Besides, for Santagado, a major in music is far more important, possibly because it presents such a challenge.

She describes herself as “somewhat of an underdog in music, especially in comparison to other areas. I don’t have as strong of a [foundation] in it, and I think that’s what I like about it.”

 Ultimately, she says, “I want to improve, not just keep playing.”

 Music professor Timothy Urban says she’s doing just that.

“Charly has made almost unprecedented improvement. She has gone from not even noticing her mistakes, to not only recognizing them immediately, but also being able to immediately correct them.”

For Santagado, music is a challenge she’s ready to face.

“Gymnastics taught me how to not give up on something,” she says. “I’m not afraid to put myself out there.”  

Posted July 2014