NEW YORK — Round-off, back handspring, whip, double full twisting layout — for many, this sounds like a foreign language, but for Oliver De La Rosa, these words are a part of his everyday life.
Oliver, 21, is a New York City street performer who has tumbled and danced the concrete streets of Time Square since 2016.
“My first street show was actually here in New York. While I was in The Dominican Republic, I never got to do street shows because I was kind of shy,” he said.
Oliver grew up in the Dominican Republic, where he taught himself entry level gymnastics skills . His dream was to make it to the Olympics.
One day, when he was practicing his back-handsprings on the side of the street, a gymnastics coach noticed him. He offered Oliver the opportunity to learn real tumbling stunts and gymnastics tricks. Oliver would help his coach run errands, and in return, the coach gave him free lessons.
“He was an inspiration to me,” De La Rosa said. “He was the best coach. I feel like he’s the only one that understands me and knows how to teach me.”
Now, Oliver says that gymnastics was a way for him to stay out of trouble as a teen. Instead of spending time on the streets, he focused solely on making it as a gymnast.
“Sometimes, when children grow up in the street, they don’t know what to do, not everything goes right. But, when they have something to do, something positive, not negative, they can learn to do it and have fun,” he said.
Several years later, Oliver realized that he didn’t have many opportunities in the Dominican Republic. So, in 2016 he decided to leave his home and travel to the United States.
“I didn’t have jack here for for years and I still don’t have like a stable job but [I’m] performing in the street,” he said. “That’s how I make a living.”
When he’s not performing, he coaches aspiring gymnasts in Harlem.
Oliver works at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation — a non-profit organization that provides free and low cost gymnastics to urban youth. The organization has served almost 20,000 kids since 1996, with the goal of making students healthy and confident.
“This is a really expensive sport because it’s a hard sport and not everybody has the money for it,” De La Rosa said. “But I think if people want it, they deserve it. It’s a really beautiful sport that keeps you on that positive way.”
For now, Oliver wants to keep doing what he’s doing — street performing and coaching — but in the future, he has dreams to open up his own gymnastics studio.
“I’d rather be poor and happy, than rich and depressed. The best way to make money is when you do something that you really like to do because it’s going to be going natural and people are going to appreciate you and your work,” he said.
Produced by Heather Hulmes and Michael Lee