10.0 Spotlight - Talia Kushynski

Feb. 5, 2009

Sophomore Talia Kushynski is the featured gymnast in 10.0 Spotlight, which profiles a member of the UCLA gymnastics squad throughout the season. Kushynski, who hails from nearby Sherman Oaks, CA, trained as a Level 10 gymnast under Bruin assistant head coach Chris Waller at Waller's GymJam Academy prior to walking on at UCLA. Last season, she competed once on floor, earning a Top 10 finish at Cal State Fullerton. In addition to her gymnastics prowess, Kushynski is an accomplished hip hop dancer, and she uses those dance skills in her popular floor exercise routines.

How did you get involved in both gymnastics and dancing?
I was a VERY hyper child when I was little, so my mom put me in ballet and tap classes when I was about three years old. I didn't like it very much (my mom said I thought the tutu was too itchy. haha), so I decided to try gymnastics, and I loved it! Throughout elementary school and middle school, I experimented with different types of dancing and found that I was very passionate about hip hop and modern, so I decided to go to a performing arts school, where I could dance during the day and train afterwards.

Tell us about your dance background ...
When I was younger, I was a part of different dance companies. I did at least one performance at school every year from 6th grade to 12th. I was in a crew for a couple of months, but we were all from different areas, so it didn't work out. The past two years I started teaching private lessons during the summer, which was really fun! Now, I'm just taking classes in North Hollywood when I find time around school and gym, just trying to improve! This is me in class: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFuB7vLFPxg

How much does your dance background help your gymnastics, and how much does your gymnastics background help your dancing?
I feel that both backgrounds give a little something to each other. For instance, dancing has made it a habit for me to spot when I do my double turns on floor. I also feel that dance helps me in the choreography aspect of gymnastics on beam and floor. Performing on those events is so exciting for me because I feel like I can really express myself! I also think that gymnastics has helped me improve my dancing, not just physically but also mentally. The focus I have in the gym is the same when I am trying to learn and perfect a new dance routine.

Do you do your own floor choreography, or is it a collaborative effort with Miss Val? Do you help with other teammates' choreography, and if so, whose?
Usually, I'll choreograph a section of my routine, then I will ask Miss Val, 'What do you think about this?', and she'll either say 'yes, that works' or 'no'. And then whatever her answer is, I'll end up changing it the next day anyway. Haha - only sometimes! Once I set my choreography, Miss Val will clean it up and tweak it. As far as my teammates' routines go, yes, I love helping out with choreo on floor! I did a little section in Marci, Pritch and Kaelie's floor routines.

Do you plan on pursuing dancing as a profession after you graduate?
I definitely plan on dancing after I graduate, but at this point I don't know how serious I want to go with it. It is one of my passions, but I am still trying to figure out what interests me.

You've been going to Bruin meets since you were little. What is your first memory of UCLA Gymnastics and your fondest UCLA Gymnastics memory when you were a kid?
Yes! I was the biggest little Bruin gymnastics fan! My first memory of UCLA gymnastics was going to UCLA gymnastics camp in the summer. I remember Amy Smith was teaching the dance, and I think Valerie Velasco and Onnie Willis were my counselors. My fondest UCLA gymnastics memory was going to my first home meet when I was 10, and my eyes were glued to the team. That's when I decided I was going to be a Bruin.

What was your most memorable gymnastics moment?
My most memorable gymnastics moment was competing at the 2005 Maccabiah Games for the U.S. and winning a team gold. It was so fun to meet gymnasts from around the world and compete in Israel!

What was your best blooper moment in the gym or in competition?
My best blooper is when I was doing an exhibition when I was about 9 years old. You can watch it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqYvL5OXN30

How is your back holding up?
My back is stronger than it has been in the past three years! I took a couple of months off during the summer and just focused on rehab and core training, and I felt that time off really helped.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge in training or in competition, and what steps do you take to try to conquer it?
I think my biggest challenge is to compete how I train. I'm trying to be calmer in competition so that I can do my 'normal' gymnastics that I do in training.

Lightning Round
Favorite dance movie?
Step Up 2

Favorite dancer and/or favorite dance crew?
My favorite dancer is Shaun Evaristo, and my favorite crew is QUEST!

Better show - So You Think You Can dance, America's Best Dance Crew or Dancing with the Stars?
America's Best Dance Crew because my friends from QUEST are competiting on the show this season!

All-time favorite gymnast?
Mohini Bhardwaj

Favorite skill to compete and the skill you'd most like to perfect?
My most favorite skill to compete is my double pike on floor. I'd most like to perfect my front handspring/front layout/front full.

Something you can't live without?
My phone

Favorite song?
'Lost Without You' by Robin Thicke

Favorite singer/band/artist?
Lauryn Hill and N.E.R.D.

Describe yourself in one word.
Spacey

Describe your team in one word.
Committed

What quote or saying do you live by?
Life isn't always choreographed - sometimes you have to freestyle.

Who wins in a You Got Served-style dance battle between you and Ariana Berlin?
I'd make her be on my team!

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