Approximately half of my business involves teaching compulsory ice dances to skaters for the purposes of testing or competing. This means that I use the rink CD player quite often to play the music designed to accompany these patterns. This week, several of my skaters tested, so our need to use the music was even more urgent. Those of you who have spent any time in a rink where there are ice dancers and ice dance coaches, are probably already chuckling knowingly. And for those of you who don’t know what this music sounds like, think carousels, think organs, think accordions and little monkeys in vests who play them. Think circuses, and stale popcorn, and the longest elevator ride you can possibly imagine.
I mean no disrespect to the composers of this music, or the musicians who performed it, or the originators of the dances themselves. And I love coaching ice dance. It’s just that, when I glide up to the music box and turn off the latest hip hop song the skaters in my rink are warming up to, so that I can instead play the Willow Waltz for my lesson, I receive a number and intensity of annoyed glares that renders me necessarily apologetic. I press the ‘play’ button with a good-humored shrug, an, “I know, I know, the difference between these two types of music is infinite” demeanor and I try to somehow detach myself from it. But really, who am I kidding – after all these years, this music now pretty much represents me, is associated with me…I wear this music as obviously as my oversized down-feather coat.
The thing is, I am a fan of music, in general. I’m no aficionado, but I consider music of all kinds – from jazz to folk to trip hop to funk to alternative rock to classic rock – to be as essential to my daily existence as coffee. In other words, I have some kind of music playing at all times. Nonetheless, I took my first ice dance, the Dutch Waltz, at the age of 8, so you could probably estimate that, despite the breadth of my musical interests, over the years, more compulsory ice dance music has probably traveled through my ear canals than any other genre. You could say that ice dance music is the soundtrack of my life.
This is the kind of realization that’s liable to prompt (or further encourage) an identity crisis. Likewise, I scared myself once by saying out loud to one of my dance teams that I’d like one of the versions of the Hickory Hoedown to be the ringer on my cell phone, and I wasn’t kidding; I might have even implemented this, if I could have figured out the technology.
There was an attempt a few years ago, on the part of the USFS to update some of this music. Among other things, they added Marc Anthony’s steamy “I Need to Know” to the Cha Cha roster, and the iconic Kermit and Fozzie Bear duet “Movin’ Right Along” for the Hickory Hoedown. However uncomfortable it is to watch a 16 year-old Juvenile Ice Dance boy skate to The Muppets, I am largely in favor of these upgrades. And I would support or even spearhead a movement to continue this trend. But it isn’t easy to find modern music that fits compulsory ice dance requirements. This music needs to have a regular rhythm, a certain number of beats per minute, and should reflect the character for each type of dance, be it a tango, a foxtrot, or a waltz. I found this out the hard way a few years ago when I tried to identify some popular songs for the purposes of a group ice dance class. Nope, there aren’t a lot of waltzes and foxtrots or marches in the Top 40. And truthfully, there is something to be said for the timelessness of ice dance music and the continuity over the years. Some traditional part of me appreciates that the Paso Doble music I play for my students is the same Paso Doble music I myself once practiced to.
As I stood at the test session this weekend, listening to those same songs over… and over… and over… again, I realized that the biggest thing ice dance music has against it, is repetition. I’m a believer in the wise adage, “Everything in moderation” and that’s not really possible when you can’t get your student to decipher the beat in the Swing Dance, no matter how loudly you clap or call out the counts or stand by the CD player with her and tap out the beat on her shoulder. Sometimes, as a coach, you just have no choice but play that song one thousand times. Let’s face it, there are more than a couple freestyle programs in every rink that suffer from similar overuse. There is a fine line between diligent training, and skating to your music in lieu of anything else. It’s like that person in class who speaks up just to hear herself talk.
Truth be told, ice dance is flourishing in this country. As many kids who roll their eyes when I put on that Willow Waltz (and by the way, many of those same skaters have already passed that dance or will be skating it with me later in the afternoon), I have just as many who are thrilled to be skating to any kind of music as long as it takes time away from practicing those silent Moves in the Field (the other half of my business). Perplexingly and endearingly, many of my students are propelled forward in the testing process simply by the desire to skate to the “next song.” I taught the Dutch Waltz in a summer camp class this year to very beginner skaters. Even after a few lessons of them following around behind me like ducklings, they still weren’t quite ready to skate to the music, but they were anxious to hear it, so I obliged. As we skated, en masse, over toward the music box, one little boy of about 7 years old looked like he was going to jump out of his skin with excitement. He asked, “Does it sound like Dutch music?”
Anyway, I’m obviously a big bundle of ambivalence; I don’t know what to make of this music, and my weekly, daily, hourly involvement with it. On the one hand, I’m fairly certain that when I go insane, the theme music will be the European Waltz. On the other hand, it’ll probably be the first dance at my wedding. On one hand, I’ll cringe today as I press that ‘play’ button. And on the other, I genuinely think some of the music is downright catchy, especially for some of the new International dances. (I’ll occasionally glance across the rink and see a fellow coach unwittingly tapping her foot to the Silver Samba. “I saw that,” I’ll say, gliding by.)
I asked the ever-charming Igor Shpilband (coach of, among others, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto and Meryl Davis and Charlie White) what his thoughts are on this subject. He said, cryptically, that, “Compulsory ice music is like perfect music for compulsory ice dances,” which we can take as either serious, or sarcastic, or revealing of his actual opinion of compulsory dances.
Sometimes, when I’m really struggling with something, I make a list. If I’m having trouble making a decision, I compile a Pros and Cons List. When I’m feeling disorganized: To Do List. This week, I was on the market for a little perspective. I needed to remind myself that, really, it could be a lot worse, so I composed the following list, which I’ve found to be quite a comfort:
TEN SOUNDS FAR MORE DISTURBING THAN ICE DANCE MUSIC
- A duet of car alarms timed so that while one is taking an intermission, the other gets started.
- Radio static at full volume while you tweak the dial back and forth, trying to find a station worth listening to.
- The shriek of the dentist’s drill as it bores a hole into your third molar, accompanied by the aroma of hot metal and burnt tooth.
- Several fire truck sirens directly behind your car indicating that you should move out of the way, except you’re packed in like a puzzle piece and you need to decide whether to drive on top of the car in front of you or inside the pharmacy to your left.
- An infant still crying after it’s been fed, burped, changed, dressed in the cutest possible sleepwear, rocked, sung to, cradled, and driven in circles around the neighborhood for three hours.
- A yappy dog so humiliated by his sweater and the handbag he’s getting shuttled around in that all he can do is bark in a rhythm that spells out HELP in Morse code.
- A bird outside your window who believes that if he has to be awake, then you should be, too, and he’ll chirp himself hoarse if that’s what it takes.
- A team of jackhammers determined to make way for the Second Avenue subway line by breaking through several blocks of sidewalk at a time, and, as a bonus, dusting your skin with a layer of pulverized cement.
- The car horn of a fellow driver who disagrees with your parallel parking technique and makes this known for the duration of your three-part attempt to fit into a space that is definitely big enough for your car, give or take a few bumpers.
To listen to a sample of an old favorite, the Swing Dance: http://www.ncassociates.com/icednce/mp3/SDObject_30.mp3
Thanks for reading and happy listening…