Favorite Olympic Moments

February 8, 2010


The time has come to once again catch Olympic Fever. Symptoms include: watching far too much television, envying all that youthful agility and quickness while slumped on your couch gobbling potato chips, and an embarrassing breakout of Nationalism. (After all, it’s only natural to root for your own country.) Fortunately, this affliction comes around only once every four years, and it’s okay to admit to enjoying it.

If you’re anything like me, Olympic Fever will take over your life and you’ll be able to think of little else. Of course, I’ll happily watch all the sports, especially snowboarding, hockey and speedskating, and I’ll marvel at the unique talents of these athletes. But figure skating is and will always be The Main Event. I’ve been thinking in the last few days about my favorite, or at least most memorable, Olympic viewing moments.

The first Olympics I remember watching was the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. As I recently wrote in a piece for Professional Skater Magazine, I distinctly remember watching Tai and Randy pull out of the competition. My brother and I had just started to take group lessons near our hometown in Wisconsin. I didn’t know much about the sport or anything about this pair team, but I was entranced and a little stumped. I watched as Randy did circles on the warm-up and shook out his leg: if he can still glide around like that, then why doesn’t he just compete? I had so much to learn about injuries…and learn I did.

I remember watching Kitty and Peter Carruthers capture the silver at Sarajevo in 1984. They did a crazy thing called a Hydrant where he tossed her up in the air and caught her on the other side as if she was leapfrogging over him. My brother and I were by this time competing in pair and dance at the Novice level so the fact that there was a brother/sister team at the top certainly resonated. Double click on the arrow to play video…

Torvill and Dean’s Bolero Freedance that year also left an impression – I’d never seen anything like it and I guess no one else had either. Double click on the arrow to play video…

Torvill and Dean paved the way for our eventual faves, the Duchesnays. Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay were another brother and sister duo – they competed in 1988 (8th) and 1992 (silver medal). Double click on the arrow to play video…

By the time we watched Natalie and Wayne Seybold compete in Calgary in 1988, we were training alongside them in Delaware. I was injured at the time with a sprained knee from doing Throw Double Axels. Although by this time I could do that Carruther Hydrant with some confidence, I hated Throws and made sure to say so on a regular basis. “I hate Throws,” was like a mantra, but the negative kind, and sure enough Throws retaliated. Conversely, I always admired Natalie’s tenacity and her ability to not just rotate Throws, but land them. Her position was so tight in the air – she looked like a spinning pencil — try as I did, I just couldn’t seem to emulate her. Double click on the arrow to play video…

The Seybolds were kind enough to bring back a poster for us signed by the legendary Gordeeva and Grinkov, which I still prize to this day. Their long program that year was mesmerizing, their unison incredible. The flowers on her dress and the nuanced way that she moved her head made me realize that pair skating could actually be elegant. When tiny Ekaterina Gordeeva looked into the camera and shyly said, “Hello everybody,” in her stilted English, I did a little math: she was exactly one year older than me and approximately half my size! Double click on the arrow to play video…

In fact, every event at this Olympics was exciting: remember the Battle of the Carmens? My heart sank for Debi Thomas, but I remember that she was very cool and composed in the Kiss and Cry interview. She said, “I’m not going to make any excuses.” Double click on the arrow to play video…

And who could forget the Battle of the Brians? Double click on the arrow to play video…

Of course, many great (and not so great) things happened in figure skating in the ensuing years. I watched the Olympics, but maybe because I was focused on things other than skating at the time, the “moments” didn’t really stick. Of course, there was the Nancy-Tanya debacle and Nancy’s hard-won bronze in Albertville. Kristi landed on top. After that, Tiny Tara trumped Kwan in Nagano.

The next moment I’ll never forget was watching Sarah Hughes win in 2002, Salt Lake City. That was, to me, an amazing Olympic moment…the kind that dreams are made of. Hughes was at the right place at the right time, stars aligned, and she skated well, proving that it’s what you put out there on the day of the competition that matters. This is what makes skating exciting (and also sometimes devastating). Double click on the arrow to play video…

I found Sale and Pelletier’s long program that year to be equally inspiring. Of course, the judging scandal revealed afterwards was less so. Double click on the arrow to play video…

What memories will be made on ice this year? We shall soon know. I’ll be watching closely, rooting for Team USA, and I presume you will be, too.

Here is the NBC broadcast schedule (and there will be a lot of preview/recap coverage on the Universal Sports station):

Pairs Short: Sun Feb 14, 7-11 pm

Pairs Freeskate: Mon Feb 15, 8-midnight

Men’s Short: Tues Feb 16, 8-midnight

Men’s Freeskate: Thurs Feb 18, 8-midnight

Dance Compulsories: Fri Feb 19, 8-11:30 pm

Original Dance: Sun Feb 21, 7-11 pm

Free Dance: Mon Feb 22, 8-midnight

Ladies Short: Tues Feb 23, 8-midnight

Ladies Freeskate: Thurs Feb 25, 8-midnight

***

Thanks for reading/watching! What are your favorite moments from years gone by? I’m sure you have very different ones from mine. Please leave a comment below.

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Charlie Brown: The Skater

December 26, 2009

Every holiday season, I re-watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and every year it both warms and breaks my heart. I can’t help it: I love Charlie Brown’s existential woe, his thwarted attempts to direct the Christmas play, his pitiful little tree, and the way his friends pull together at the end to make it all nice.

Of course, I especially like how the whole thing starts with a wintry skating scene. The Peanuts Gang does an impressive synchro-esque splice right at the beginning. Though Snoopy doesn’t have on a pair of skates, he manages a gorgeous spread eagle (or should I say spread beagle?) After a weaving round of crack the whip, Linus’ blanket somehow gets wrapped around Charlie Brown and flings him into a tree trunk. A pile of snow proceeds to plop on his head. Good grief, I just can’t get enough.

So, naturally, I was thrilled when Charlie Brown himself contacted me a few weeks ago for skating lessons. Turns out he has decided to try and make it to the upcoming Olympics. This has presented me with a dilemma: knowing that Charlie Brown isn’t exactly overflowing with self-confidence, I don’t want to be too discouraging…but.

Well, here’s the first draft of my response.

Dear Mr. Brown,

Thank you for contacting me about my coaching services. I am a big fan of yours. As per your request, I have analyzed the skating footage from the opening scene of your iconic holiday special in order to assess your stated goal of making it to the upcoming Winter Games.

The news is mixed. First, let me say that your ability to skate (and even stand up) amid snowflakes the size of baseballs is impressive and demonstrates a great deal of balance. Second, I have noticed that you are a simple man with simple needs, in terms of equipment. Most competitive skaters these days transport their skates in bags specially designed for optimal performance. Many of these bags even have wheels that put on their own laser light show. Your method of carrying your brown skates old-school style with the laces knotted and looped over your shoulder is unconventional yet refreshing. I presume that since you have no guards over your blades, they are in pretty shoddy condition. I like this: it shows that you are not a diva.

Your costume choices are…interesting. The hat with earflaps is an excellent pick, especially considering that it will be pretty cold up in Vancouver. Your yellow shirt, on the other hand, is a bit problematic: you may want to switch out those zig zags for something with softer lines in a color scheme more flattering to your skin tone.

Your musical selection, by Vince Guaraldi, as rendered by Schroeder, is to be commended.

Now to the skating. Your ability to bellyflop then spin on your stomach with that much momentum tells me that you are more aerodynamic than the size of your head might otherwise suggest. Of course, it is more ideal to rotate in a vertical position, but this is something we can work on.

Granted, in skating, as in life, it’s not always about how much you fall, but your willingness to keep getting up. Unfortunately, I noticed that after you careened into the tree, your recovery was inconspicuously absent from the film.

Before this event, I did spot a few split-seconds of competent gliding on your part. Truthfully, though, you would need many more hours of practice, in fact perhaps thousands of hours of practice, in order to make your Olympic dreams come true. This means that you’ll have to give up your extra-curricular activities, namely your role as the unappreciated Director of the Christmas Play. With all the work we would need to do, you simply don’t have time to be out looking for the most pathetic Christmas tree you can find.

Most importantly, Charlie, you’ll have to make some serious changes in your attitude. Your constant claims of depression and bellyaching about the meaning of Christmas will have to cease immediately. Likewise, statements such as, “Good grief, everything I do turns into a disaster” and “Everything I touch gets ruined,” are not indicative of a gold-medal mentality. Furthermore, you’ll have to wipe that worried look off your face; judges prefer smiles. I urge you to discontinue your use of Lucy’s psychiatric services despite her convenient location right in your path and her bargain price of 5 cents. Instead, I can recommend a few excellent sports psychologists.

This brings me to your mother: I can’t understand a word she is saying! And when I telephoned your teacher to see if we could “tweak” your school schedule in order to get some clear, mid-day ice time, I couldn’t understand her either.

Finally, to make it in this sport, you’ll need to abandon your anti-commercialism stance, as you will probably need corporate sponsorship in order to afford my fees. The good news is that right now several companies happen to be looking for a new athlete for endorsements.

Minor detail: the U.S. National Championships start in about two weeks and you have unfortunately missed all of the qualifying events. However, your association with the legendary, late Charles Schulz could hold some sway with United States Figure Skating.

In all, I think your chances of making it to the Olympics are slim, but I’d hate to say that your goal is impossible. If nothing else, I’m sure your skating career will not pan out any worse than your attempts at becoming a kicker for the NFL. (Again, Lucy’s services might not have been the wisest choice.)

There is some extremely exciting news in all this: while your skating talents are really only mediocre, some of your friends I saw skating on the tape look to have great promise. In fact, Snoopy seems like he could be a real podium climber. If he does not already have another coach, please have him contact me so that we can start training immediately.

Best,

Jocelyn Jane Cox

                                                                  ***

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays! If you have any advice on this letter or any suggestions I can pass along to him, please click on “comments,” below.  🙂

If you haven’t already seen it, check out my article on page 30 of this month’s Skating Magazine. It’s about sibling ice dance teams. I know: it’s shocking that I’d report on that subject…

little_bride_skates

Focus: Preparing for the big event will require boatloads of planning, some obsessing and lots of mental visualization. You may find that you therefore have less time for other pursuits, such as blogging about your sport.

The Dress: Sure, the skating is important (i.e. an entire year’s worth of training culminating in one performance) and so is the fact that you’re getting married (i.e. committing to someone very very special for the rest of your life) but these are such minor details compared to How You Look. Whole hours, days, weeks and months can be consumed while considering the silhouette, decorative elements, and shade of the costume. For example, there are evidently 1 million different versions of white. And the fittings! These can comprise a second job.

Sportsmanship: Due to thousands of different variables (rain, acne, stomach flu, dull blades, sore ankle, ruts in the ice), things don’t always work out as planned. But nobody wants to root for a brat and nobody really wants to catch Bridezilla’s bouquet.

Balance and Coordination: In both realms, it is ideal to not trip, fall, or injure yourself or your partner. Then again, this could increase entertainment value.

Entering and Exiting with Style: Locker room equals Dressing Room. Ice equals Aisle. Kiss and Cry equals Receiving Line.

Nerves: Sure, beauty sleep is nice and it results in optimal energy levels for training, but it’s not completely necessary. Is it?

Flowers: In both cases, this element is fleeting. If you skate well, they might be thrown on the ice, handed to you over the barriers, or awarded to you after climbing the podium. If they make it back to your hotel room, you can try to balance them in one of the water glasses or maybe even the ice bucket in order to enjoy them for the few waking hours before your flight leaves in the morning. When planning a wedding, you will somehow get caught up in the wild misperception that the success of the entire event hinges on the exact mathematical ratio of calla lilies to dahlias to chrysanthemums. Or will it be gerber daisies to roses to poppies? Or maybe zinnias, to alliums to…    

Music: The better the music, the better the party, the louder the ovation, the bigger the smiles, the higher the scores, the funkier the boogie-ing. In other words, there probably shouldn’t be any ice dance music played during the reception, despite any and all threats or promises to do so. (Brace yourself for the Dutch Waltz!)  

Getting in shape: Hours of cross-training and conscientious dieting will result in exhaustion, malnutrition, irritability and very little perceptible change in your physical dimensions.  

Choreography: In skating, a program should tell a story filled with drama, emotion, and excitement. A bride and groom’s first dance should bring the audience to tears…of laughter? Perhaps lifts should be avoided if the dress is poofy, the shoes are slippery and/or if the lifter has never participated in this activity? Nah, might as well go for it!

Vacation: That week off after Nationals was always such a beautiful thing. This time? Honeymoon: palm trees, waterfalls…and no homework or exams to make-up. 

Cake: Okay, well I suppose this is more of a difference between a wedding and a competition rather than a similarity. But really, there should be more cake in skating, don’t you think? Judges, skaters, coaches, parents: let them eat cake! Or maybe smoosh it in each others’ faces…?

                                                                       ***

Thanks for reading!

I’ll be back in the fall…that is unless I decide to stay in Hawaii and teach skating lessons on ice rinks composed of daiquiris. 🙂

 

In the mean time, here is some other stuff I’ve been up to:

 “Bridezilla Phobia” for DIY Bride. Click here, then click on the article title to read it…

“Downturn Trends in Decorative Throw Pillows” for Yankee Potroast. Click here.

More adventures from the Upper East Side Informer. Click here.

The Boomerang Effect

September 30, 2008

Boomerang: n. a kind of throwing stick, primarily associated with the Australian Aborigines. When thrown correctly, it travels in a curved path and returns to its point of origin.

I’ve never seen an actual boomerang, or held one in my hands, or tossed one into the air to see if it will return (with my luck, it would probably bonk me in the head.) But I have had several skating students venture out into that big, wide world then boomerang back.

In many cases, it’s because they left the sport with unfinished business, mostly skating tests they now want to check off their lists. Hard as I try to convince kids to finish their skating goals (whatever they may be) before high school graduation, I can’t always adequately impart the urgency I feel on their behalf. Some think, “Oh, I’ll just get that test later, maybe while I’m at college or when I come back for the summer.” And maybe they will…

Of course, what they don’t realize is that, as the months and years pass, there will be all kinds of distractions and a shifting of priorities. (And let’s face it, the body changes in ways we can’t possibly imagine when we’re 18 years old…usually not in ways that are ideal for figure skating.) With panic in my voice, I say things like, “Trust me, it’s not going to get any easier!” And, “Do this now, while you still can!”

Sometimes this message falls on deaf ears and other times skaters do everything they can to get that last test, yet can’t close the deal before leaving for college. I’ve had students in each of these categories, and a handful of them have circled back to finish what they started. When this happens, it’s gratifying, to say the least.

Not only is it generally wonderful to help skaters reach their goals (and especially sweet when delayed), it’s fun to get to know students as they become adults. They are simultaneously the same kids I used to know and also quite different. They’ve gained some perspective while away and independence. Now they’re involved in different pursuits, so their worlds have widened, yet they have become more focused and also more self-motivated.

Granted, this whole boomerang effect in skating is far easier when it comes to Moves in the Field and Dance (what I primarily teach). Coming back to jumps and spins is a whole other story. My sister-in-law, Bobbie Anne Flower, is a rare exception: after quitting skating at age 18, she came back to take her Moves in the Field test at age 29, her Senior Freestyle at age 30 then her Senior Pair test at 31. So this is not impossible, just rare. 

Anyway, this summer, I had three students boomerang back. Two returned from college where they skate on successful synchro teams. One took her Silver Samba International Dance and another passed two Gold Dances. A third, Eric Karnani, took a few years off from skating and recently finished high school. He has just moved to Australia (how perfect for this boomerang metaphor) to ice dance with a partner there. This summer, before leaving, he passed his Senior Moves and his Starlight Waltz after only a few short weeks back on the ice.

I decided to ask Eric and a few other “boomerang skaters” what coming back to skating has meant to them and they were kind enough to answer with the following…

Eric: Skating is like an addiction. It is something that you either consciously or unconsciously try to move on from, but somehow get drawn back because you miss it so much. I worked with two amazing coaches before I “quit” skating, and thought that I would never look back. But like all habits, I eventually knew I needed to skate. I knew I needed that feeling of power and passion all combined into one. And so I took that first step back onto the ice to go and pass my Senior Moves, a goal of mine for a very long time. It’s incredible coming back to a sport you used to love and realize you still love it just as much, or even more; you come back with such a different perspective and appreciation for it. 

Another skater, Sam Mortimer, e-mailed me a response to this topic hilariously entitled: “Trying to Skate When You are Poor, Lazy and Realize that you can Sleep In.” He first practiced his Dutch Waltz with me wearing a baseball cap and cargo pants at the age of 12 and has now graduated from college. Since high school, he has come back to skating to take three Gold Dances.

He writes: Why is it so hard to skate when you stop skating all the time? I’ll start with my biggest reason, which is when I stopped skating competitively and went to school I realized that there were other things to do. When I was skating all the time I did not think about other things like hanging out late or playing other sports more or even just sleeping in. At New York University, I started doing things that I did not do in high school. Besides, college takes up A LOT more time than high school does, as far as workload. I think part of that comes from going to school in NYC but it also comes from the fact that when anyone goes away to college you all of a sudden feel so much more freedom to do whatever you want to do. So when you have been skating for the past 8 years and then you get the chance to take a break it feels good to just breathe and rest and kind of do nothing and then when the novelty of doing nothing wears off, you do something other than skating.

Second, skating costs LOTS AND LOTS of money and when I am trying to budget myself for food, fun, laundry, transportation etc., all the items that I have to pay for, skating is not factored into my budget. So everyone should be really thankful that their parents paid for them to skate. And I think lastly, I really like skating NOT on a schedule. I treat skating as more of a social event than a rigorous practice. I think that when I want to get back into skating it will be hard but for the time being I like taking it easy. I am sure that a lot of people feel the same way I do: that skating without pressure from parents or coaches makes for a more pleasurable experience. I don’t expect anything out of myself so I can just skate the way I want. I cannot say that I regret how I skated in high school at all and it gave me a really great basis for how I view life in general but I am happy with where I stand with skating now. 

Cortney Rosenberg came back to skate with me every summer break from college. She is now a teacher and has her own flock of little prodigies, third graders. She writes: 

I don’t remember anything about starting skating. It has just always been there, a part of me. Skating was always a calming influence in my life. No matter what was happening outside of the rink I could always count on my time at the rink and the people that surrounded me there.

Growing up I took for granted how lucky I was to have found something in my life I was so passionate about. Luckily, my parents supported this passion and made sure that I was always enjoying myself. When, in college, I became too hard on myself to enjoy the sport anymore, I decided to take a break from it. I missed it every single day I was away. Life was just not the same. It was only then that I realized I would never be able to take skating out of my life completely. It has become engrained in my spirit. During my summers, I made a conscious choice to spend summers at home so that I could get back to the rink. I would return to my old rinks purely for the love of the sport and the feeling I got stepping on the ice surface. I was always welcomed back. After all, skating was never just a sport but a community.  Now that I have a real job, and live a few hours away from the rinks that I grew up training in, it is harder to be able to go skate. I still wake up some mornings wishing I could skip out on work and get on the ice for a couple of hours or that my coaches miraculously lived closer. I beg my friends to join me at public skating sessions just for the burst of cold air and the feeling of gliding that I get from nothing else. Deep down I will always be a skater.

And finally, while I was working on this very CSOM installment, a student named Alyson McGee, who I haven’t seen in years, coincidentally e-mailed me out of the blue. She has just returned from Ethiopia where she was in the Peace Corps. She wrote: 

I thought of you today because I just laced up my skates after about two years of not getting on the ice- pretty terrible of me, it was just hard to find the time in college with no skating rink nearby (well actually there were lots of skating rinks near Tufts but they were hockey-ONLY rinks). I recently went to a rink by my parent’s house to see if I still remember how to get around the ice. Thankfully I do and it was really great to get back out there.

I really have missed it a lot since I last competed synchro in 2005. I think it was kind of a shame that I never passed my Senior Moves so I’m thinking about committing to train and finally take that test. Although I am woefully unemployed for now my parents have promised to help me with the costs of skating again (for a limited time only) so that I can accomplish this goal, which I think they have been holding onto for me as well. I definitely have a lot of work to do on my own and I’m expecting that it will take some time to get back to my old self on skates but I’d be interested in having a refresher crash course on Senior Moves and then maybe we can take it from there…

I say to Alyson and to all lapsed skaters who want to test or simply get their “rink legs” back: Of course – boomerang back! Will it be easy? No. Will it be rewarding? Definitely. So call your rink for the schedule and get those blades sharpened. Just remember to take it easy at first. I suggest (from my own experience) that you stretch out your dormant muscles beforehand and also afterwards…

                                                           ***

Thanks so much to the skaters who contributed to this.

What has been your own experience with skating’s Boomerang Effect? Click on the word “comments” below.

Sunset from 95th Floor of John Hancock Building in Chicago

Sunset from 95th Floor of John Hancock Building in Chicago this past Saturday. 

Skating seems to be getting more quantitative. Ever since IJS landed in our laps, I’ve been wishing I had a Degree in Higher Math. Alas, I am more of a “word” person. Not that I have anything against numbers. In fact, I’ve always respected them quite a bit…from a distance.

Lately, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of nice things about numbers. How you can count with them, for instance. How, when you use them in order to back up what you’re trying to say, your statements can sound a lot more like objective facts. How you can maybe understand competition placements after analyzing columns of numbers on a Protocol sheet, and maybe even, with the help of numbers, control those placements more proactively in advance.  

You always hear that there is “power in numbers.” This was hit home to me in several different ways last week at the Professional Skaters Association Conference in Chicago. First of all, there were a lot of coaches in attendance: approximately 800, maybe a little more or a little less, one of the largest Conference turnouts ever.  We filled a large ballroom and according to more than one speaker up on stage, we, as a collective group, were rather intimidating.

Indeed, from where I sat, the sea of skating coaches around me was an impressive visual. I hate to sound new-age-y but it was a powerful feeling to be surrounded by that many coaches in one room. I imagined that I was somehow buoyed up by all those people with similar perspectives, experiences, schedules, frustrations, and successes…not to mention similar addictions to both coffee and fleece.

But what I’m really getting at here is the weird thing that happened this week: I started to see the world of skating and the world in general as a collection of numbers. I’m not claiming that I suddenly transformed into a Mathematician or that I became Rain Man, I’m saying that I was overcome with the strange urge to create… A Spreadsheet. I admittedly don’t know how to create a real spreadsheet (let alone flow one of these beasts onto this website), but even thinking about doing so makes me feel very “professional,” so bear with me as I present…

THE OFFICIAL CURRENT SKATE OF MIND PSA CONFERENCE “”SPREADSHEET”” (extra set of quotes intentional):

Number of Years PSA has been in existence = 70

Years Kathy Casey has been coaching = 30+

Number of days in the year we should wake up with a burning desire to be better coaches, according to the ever-entertaining Kathy Casey = “every day” a.k.a. 365

The Component Score Susie Wynne would receive on the transitional skating she demonstrated in her wonderful class called, “Simply Skated” if she were competing under the IJS system and I were a judge = 10

Grade of Execution Gale Tanger would have received for her Spiral up on stage (though we’d have to replay the video to see if she held it for 3 seconds) = +3

Number of questions Doug Haw asked Brian Orser in the brilliant segment called, “Inside the Coach’s Studio” modeled after the television show, “Inside the Actor’s Studio” = 29

Number of dizzying revolutions Brian Orser a.k.a. Mr. Triple Axel seemed to do on the floor of his living room in the classic black and white footage from when he was a toddler = approximately 35

Number of syllables in the word “momentum” as counted by Orser’s coach Doug Leigh in the video footage = 3 

Number of pillows (both functional and decorative) on the beds at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare (and thank you to my conference buddy for helping me with the calculation of this statistic) = 7

Therefore, when two beds are in the room, the total number of pillows = 14

The deadline for coaches to complete their required Coaching Educational Requirement (CER) credits = July 2010

The number of people who currently understand exactly what this entails = 4

Latest ISU Communication that will probably change after the ISU Congress in June = 1494

Number of times presenters from the judging community encouraged coaches and skaters to aim for high GOE’s rather than high Levels = at least 10

Number of “extremely diverse” conferences simultaneously being held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare = many

Number of people wearing one or more of the following items for a particularly “intriguing” conference that shall remain nameless on this blog for fear of receiving a crazy amount of unwanted spam: leather, chains, collars, and something I can only call a “skirt-less skirt” = again, many

Number of times I heard someone ponder whether or not the aforementioned conference had a tradeshow = 5

Percentage of sport success that is “mental” according to surveys of Olympian Athletes, as presented by USOC Sport Psychologist Kirsten Peterson, Ph.D. = 50-90%

Amount of training time that athletes spend on the mental side of their sport according to Olympian Athletes as shared by Peterson= not 50-90%

Percentage of human communication that occurs through words according to Psychotherapist Frankie Perez = 7%

Percentage of communication that occurs non-verbally i.e. through body language, tone, etc = 93%

Ideal height of a leg extension for ice dance according to coach Iouri Tchesnitchenko= 80 degrees

Price of an all-event ticket for the World Championships according to a friend who worries, quite rightly, that cost is negatively affecting the skating fan base = $1000

Amount of weight gained from uncontrollable buffet grazing = No Answer

Amount of weight my suitcase mysteriously gained though I did not purchase or steal anything (I suspect foul play: invisible bricks, perhaps?) = 5 pounds

Length of the maze-like hallway leading from the hotel to the Convention Center where some of the presentations were held on the last day (and thank heaven, because I had to walk off some of that buffet-ing) = 16 miles

Pages of notes I scribbled because I am an obsessive note-taker (though in my defense, the pages of my notebook were rather small) = 56

Floor in the John Hancock Building from which my conference buddy and I watched the sun set while enjoying a post-conference drink (see picture above) = 95th

Phone number of the JFK Jetblue baggage claim office in case they ever lose one of your bags = 7186326355

Total number of minutes they might keep you on hold over the course of 3 phone calls = 36

Number of skating blogs I’ll be able to write, thanks to all the information I gathered while on this trip (not that I was lacking for topics) = 477

TOTAL = Priceless

                                                               ***

 

Please add to this “spreadsheet” by clicking on comment below. 

And stay tuned. In future installments I intend to address such topics as:

Pair Skating in America: Ouch; Moves in the Meadow; The Ratings Game; Figures: Still Mourning; Youtube as Teaching Tool; Age: To Limit or Not to Limit

Finally, here is the article I wrote about the event for icenetwork: http://web.icenetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080527&content_id=48350&vkey=ice_news 

Dear Adults,

April 8, 2008

A Letter of Appreciation To my Adult Students and To the Adult Skaters of the World…

This week, while many adults are converging in Lake Placid for the 2008 U.S. Adult Championships, I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincere appreciation and admiration for your skating endeavors. For though, by definition, you are a bit “longer in the tooth” than other skaters and with that comes a whole host of challenges (including sometimes, tripping over your teeth), your excitement is evident, your enjoyment contagious, and your improvement impressive. Whether you are competing this week or not, your specific efforts in this sport (and contributions to my own enjoyment of it) deserve to be documented.

First there is your wacky schedule. Thank you for getting up when it is dark and coming to the rink while saner people still slumber so that you can squeeze in your skating before commuting to work. Thank you for arriving with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, and carrying your nicely-pressed work clothes on a hanger you hook on the ledge by the front desk. Thank you for coming to your lesson even though you were awake all night worrying about the fate of the planet or riding in an ambulance on your way to volunteer EMT calls. Thank you for scheduling your conference calls around our lesson and running over on your lunch break. Thank you for unloading your pockets and piling your cell phone, keys, blackberry, coins, and work ID on the barriers so that you are not weighed down by them while you skate. Thank you for driving to a rink that is far away from your home on your only day off. Thank you, by the way, for e-mailing me the notes you typed up after our lesson.

Then there is the issue of practice and your genuine understanding of its importance. Thank you for practicing with such earnestness and diligence of your own accord, without me having to nag you. Thank you for bounding over tall buildings and solving all kinds of logistical algorithms in order to get on the ice for even a half hour of 3 turns. Thank you for offering detailed reports (complete with spreadsheets and graphs) of your practice week including, with no small amount of guilt, the fact that you had to miss one day for a perfectly legitimate reason like assisting an aging parent, traveling to Chicago for work, or taking your dog to the vet so he could have that cyst removed from his nether regions. Though I’m not sure it was entirely wise, thank you also for coming to the rink even when you had a herniated disc in your neck, a mysterious golfball-sized bump on your knee, and even after you dropped a chair on your toe.

I have noticed that you are very good sports. Thank you for gamely re-taking tests when a panel of judges has suggested that you “Retry” them. Thank you for tracking down a skating skirt then debuting this strange garment the day before the test, as a dress rehearsal. Thank you for letting your eyes well with tears and hugging me in celebration of passing your first test. Thank you for persevering to get your Gold medal though the path to get those last four dances was seven years long and riddled with injuries (both mine and yours), necessitated several pairs of new skates (both mine and yours), and was interrupted by all kinds of a life obligations (again, both mine and yours.)

Thank you for asking me to explain the same element in 450 different ways so that you may analyze it from just as many angles. Thank you for forcing me to call upon the Laws of Physics, though I never officially learned them in a classroom and have only loosely picked them up as a skater. Thank for helping me to expand my arsenal of analogies. Thank you for understanding my sometimes odd vocabulary and also for, very appropriately, making fun of it “with vigor.” Most of all, thank you for laughing at my jokes (which I know has not been an easy feat.)

Thank you for subscribing to the adage that we should all try things that terrify us once in a while and for wearing your wrist guards along the way. Thank you for trying to conceal the look of abject terror in your eyes and attempting to appear relaxed by increasing the space between your shoulders and your ears (though I suspect you are still clenching your toes like little fists inside your skates.) Thank you for taking up a new activity in the search for personal fulfillment and, through your example, reminding me that I want to become fluent in French, learn how to paint something slightly more complicated than polka-dots, and maybe even try something like…clogging or…power-knitting.   

Thank you for so openly envying the way I demonstrate a line of outside edges because, later in the day, my students may not even notice what I just demonstrated, let alone be impressed with it. Thank you for showing interest in my skating background and for believing me when I tell you that all the videotapes of my performances were destroyed in a bizarre, tragic fire.   

Thank you for sharing with me your skating mantras, skating revelations, and introducing me to the rather kooky, yet also rather comforting concept of prayer skating. Thank you for helping me to appreciate the adventure that is skating and all the ways it instructs, informs, mimics, and affects other areas of our lives. Thank you for helping to provide Perspective, a commodity we can never have enough of, no matter our profession. 

Oh, yeah, and thank you for confirming your lesson! I’ll see you tomorrow.

Best, Jocelyn

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Check out my icenetwork articles featuring competitors at Adult Nationals this week: http://web.icenetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080409&content_id=47184&vkey=ice_news

http://web.icenetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080410&content_id=47308&vkey=ice_news

And something quite upsetting happened to me last week here in New York City, prompting me to write a letter of a very different nature. Check it out by clicking on “Cusp of Greatness” over in the column to the right.

 

 

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It has recently come to my attention that the ISU is considering downsizing Ice Dance from three events – Compulsories, Original Dance, Freedance – to two in order to make it commensurate with Singles and Pairs. This is a way to cut costs at competitions and it does make logical sense.

The problem is that most arrows point toward the eradication of Compulsory Dance at ISU competitions.

This would be catastrophic for Ice Dance and for the entire sport. As we saw with figures, their elimination from competition has resulted in extinction. If the ISU makes this decision when they discuss this topic this week at the World Championships, compulsory dances will be in similar jeopardy.

Taking compulsories out of the competitive “arena” will have serious, far-reaching and immediate ramifications. I write from the perspective of a dedicated ice dance coach who, in addition to teaching other aspects of skating, enjoys teaching compulsory ice dances and who has had anywhere from 10-15 students testing compulsory ice dances every three months for the last eight or so years. In that time, I have had a handful of ice dance teams in the competitive ranks.

I think it’s obvious that a new era of ice dance has dawned (here in the U.S., anyway). We have more ice dancers placing well in both Junior and Senior Events around the world than ever before. At Nationals this year, there were more spectators in the stands for ice dance. In fact, Senior Dance was a Saturday night, primetime event, sharing top billing with Senior Ladies. If handled correctly, this proposed downsizing could actually result in changes that would further popularize ice dance and benefit the entire sport. Eliminating compulsories all together is not the answer.

First, it’s necessary to ask the question: What is the most important factor in the continuation of this particular activity? What, in other words, does skating need in order to thrive? The answer is simple: Participation. The more kids who try skating and continue with it, the higher the level of competition, which leads to higher entertainment value, which leads to higher TV ratings and, finally to higher revenue for governing bodies. And the more exposure there is, the more skaters who are inspired to give it a try. It’s a chicken and egg situation: the ever-important bottom line is driven from both the grass roots (i.e. every local rink in the world) and from the top down (i.e. how compelling competitive skating and its stars seem.)

But in order for a large number of skaters to continue in a sport where the body type necessary to perform triple jumps (at least for girls/women) is becoming more and more specific, namely small, it’s necessary for there to be Options. This is why I am a proponent of both Ice Dance and Synchronized Skating, because a larger number of athletes and body types have the opportunity to participate and excel throughout their teenage years.

If I had never been introduced to the Dutch Waltz and then taken that test as an 8 year-old, it’s unlikely that I would ever had found my way to competitive ice dance in the first place, as a Preliminary then Novice dance team with my older brother. It is equally unlikely that I would have returned to competitive ice dance at the Junior level once it was clear that I was too tall for pair skating. It is probable that I would have quit skating at the age of 16 all together, quite possible that I would not have been drawn to coaching, and would therefore not be in the position to encourage more skaters to get interested in the sport and continue with it. And I was one of the fortunate few who had a built-in partner. It seems even less likely that skaters without partners (who might join up with partners in the future) would get involved with ice dance were it not for compulsory ice dance tests.    

One of the best parts about Figure Skating in the United States is this highly organized merit-based testing system. I can say that, as a former skater and as a coach, this series of achievable goals helps considerably to get skaters motivated and educated…in other words, hooked. No matter what skaters and their families have seen on television, it is the testing process that lends structure to those burgeoning dreams. Skating is complex and the skill set is cumulative: this is perfectly demonstrated through testing. 

In no other aspect of the sport is the testing process more effective, more-specifically focused, more rigorous and, in the end, more prestigious than in Ice Dance. The standards are high and obtaining a gold medal is extremely challenging. Many single skaters in my fleet, several of whom earn their gold medals in Moves in the Field and Freestyle, have taken up dance in order to improve their basic skating. These skaters will attest to the fact that mastering the requirements of silver, pre-gold, and gold ice dance tests is a serious undertaking indeed, requiring a great deal of practice and dedication. 

This is not a matter of comparing Ice Dance tests to Moves in the Field or Freestyle tests, because I think they all have merit. It’s a matter of identifying what differentiates Ice Dance from Singles and Pairs and how the compulsory dances contribute to that. These dances promote posture, edgework, power, neat footwork, extension, rhythm, performance, timing, and dance ability, the translation of music into movement, in both subtle and overt ways through knee action, facial expression, and body movements. The fact that these patterns have a specific layout on the ice and that they are accompanied by music is critical.    

Not only are the fundamentals of compulsory ice dances vital to performing accomplished, edge-filled and danced Freedances, but these skills are also becoming more and more essential to single skaters for step sequences, for overall transitional skating, and therefore for earning points in both their technical and component scores.

The same can be said for Pair Skating and echoed for Synchronized Skating. In fact, more and more, coaches of Synchronized teams are highly recommending and even requiring ice dance tests as a way to improve the ability of their team members and intricacy of their programs thereby increasing the competitive and entertainment value of this discipline. I dare say that, more than ever before, all parts of skating are recognizing and capitalizing on the specific skills of ice dance. And compulsory dances are the heart of this. If the ISU takes away compulsories, it will be harmful to the entire sport.

This is why I support the idea of combining the Original Dance and Compulsory Dance together as one event, literally combining them into one program. This is one of the innovative proposals of coach Bob Mock, Member of the National Ice Dance Committee. As he has recently pointed out, the Original Dance in its current form is really just another Freedance, and many teams use the same step sequences, lifts, and spins in both programs. But if teams were required to include one or two patterns of an already-existing compulsory dance into their choreography, this would have several happy consequences.

First of all, it would secure the testing process. In addition to all of the above arguments for this, it would foster the continuation of dance test sessions, which earn money for skating clubs. Second, if compulsory ice dances are couched amid original choreography, they will receive more exposure. Aspiring ice dancers would still have the opportunity to see their heroes performing recognizable patterns that they, too, have learned or will learn in the future.

Keep in mind that Single Skaters and Pair skaters attempt many of the same elements as one another such as Double Axels and Split Twists. In Freedances and Original Dances, due to the high level of innovation, there is less that is standardized and therefore recognizable. Keeping compulsory dances in the competitive realm maintains an essential sense of continuity between the lower and higher levels. (This, by the way, is the primary argument against those who would contend that compulsory dances could effectively remain in the background just like Moves in the Field. Beginner ice dancers need to be able to see some connection between what they are doing and what the dance stars are doing and this needs to happen in a public forum, in case they do not have high level dancers in their rink.) 

Furthermore, combining the two events in this manner would more firmly attach ice dance to its roots in ballroom dance: Foxtrots, Polkas, Waltzes, Sambas, Tangos, etc. In fact, the name of this combined event could be changed to something like Ballroom Dance, closely associating it with something that is extremely popular and experiencing a resurgence in our culture. Notice the popularity of the television show, Dancing with the Stars. Note also the increased tendency of couples to take ballroom lessons leading up to their weddings in order to smoothly perform that celebrated “first dance.” The term Ballroom Dance would also nicely differentiate it from the Freedance, which refers to a greater freedom as far as musical and stylistic choices. Alternatively, Bob Mock suggests that it could be called Creative Compulsory Original Dance (CCOD).        

Finally, it would be beneficial to offer more modern and appealing music for this new combined event. Perhaps the ISU could provide 3-5 songs with the appropriate rhythm for whatever dance is assigned for that competitive season and couples can choose from one of these. Or couples could obtain their own music as long as it has the number of beats per minute that correspond with compulsory requirements.  

Incidentally, over the years, I have had many skaters who have begged to work on their ice dances in their lessons or to learn the next ice dance. I repeat: I have students who beg to work on their compulsory ice dances. When time permits, and we spice them up ever so slightly with an arm movement or a bit of introductory or ending choreography, they are thrilled. Likewise, I would be remiss to not mention the large population of adult ice dancers who attend dance weekends, skate on social dance sessions, and who comprise a huge portion of the ice dance fan base. It would be a shame to lose this entire opportunity for figure skating enthusiasm. 

This potential downsizing is valid. The eradication of compulsory dances is not. Combining Compulsory Dance with Original Dance is the most logical solution. Think of it as The New Adventures of the Old Compulsory Dance: it brings compulsories more into the spotlight and lends a more standardized and recognizable aspect to original choreography. It is a win-win concept and one that I hope will be given serious consideration.

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If you are similarly concerned about this situation, whether you are a coach, a skater, a parent, or a fan, please pass this link onto others and lend your voice by leaving a comment below. Other ideas and suggestions are encouraged. The ISU is tackling this issue THIS WEEK so now is the time for members of the American skating community to be heard. 

Update, April 1, 2008: For those of you wondering how “The Fate of Compulsory Dance” discussions went at Worlds, it sounds like the ISU is going to very likely downsize the dance to two events BUT so far, they have approved the idea of combining the Compulsory Dance and Original Dance into one. This has to go through a few more rounds of approval within the ISU, but tentatively, it is good news. Thanks to everyone who has written comments on this site on this topic.      

  

Wollman Rink, Part 2

March 11, 2008

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I recently had the audacity (or good sense, take your pick) to compare Wollman Rink in Central Park to a slice of pizza, thereby further validating my theory that all roads lead back to New York’s favorite food-on-the-go. But, truthfully, when I have the opportunity to skate at Wollman these days, I am reminded of more than just dinner. 

I have had the honor of sharing the majority of my Wollman experience with ice dance team, Isabel Elliman and Dmitriy Serebrenik, pictured above, who started and finished their seven-year competitive career together at this rink. To my knowledge, they are the only national competitors in recent history to train mostly outdoors. This is impressive for several reasons, and from a coaching perspective, it is unique indeed. 

For one thing, Isabel and Dmitriy skated before school, which meant that their training days commenced before dawn, at 5:30 AM, and therefore literally in the dark. Because I was afraid to trek into the park at this eerie hour on the mornings when I coached them to fill in for my brother, I would meet Isabel and her father beforehand so I could tag along with them. Rarely, in our 5-10 minute walk would we see anyone, let alone anyone threatening, but while we were chatting I was alert nonetheless, certain that we were going to get pounced upon by bears, or bandits, or the boogeyman himself.

Once safely delivered to the rink’s lobby, Isabel’s father wished us well then turned around back toward home where Isabel’s younger siblings would soon be starting their own days. Dmitriy was already in the lobby, stretching out his legs. He had gotten up at some ungodly hour, something like 3:45 AM in order to ride the subway in from Brooklyn. 

Once they were on the ice and were starting to warm up, and I glided around willy-nilly, assessing their knee bend, their posture, and commented accordingly. But I couldn’t help also taking in the scene.

There is something cozy about the fact that the Wollman ice surface is situated slightly lower than the grounds around it, kind of like a sunken living room. On one side sits the rink lobby, the roof of which serves as a public platform, so that, during more humane hours, passersby can watch from above. The embankments on the other two sides of the rink are lush with landscaping. When it’s dark, the trees and shrubbery along the barriers are lit from below, which creates a sort of mood-lighting, the equivalent, almost, of candlelight.

There are also the buildings of Midtown Manhattan just beyond the trees – The Plaza Hotel, The Trump Building, the Time Warner Building – all of which contributed to my sense of being surrounded and practically “hugged” by the city. Before 6 AM, these buildings had only a smattering of lights on in their grid of windows, a ratio that changed as morning progressed.

But for that first half hour or so, before morning broke, it seemed that the three of us were the only souls awake, and, in fact, maybe the only people in the universe. It was the good type of solitude, not lonely but peaceful, the kind you wish could last.

It was also extremely productive, however fleeting. I especially appreciated the chance to use the setting as a coaching tool. In my quest to get skaters to “project” to the audience (real or imagined) I often ask them why they would want to stare down at the ice when there are so many other interesting things to look at. The problem is that, in most other rinks, I have to sound excited and flourish my arm Vanna White-style toward a scenery that includes, for example… “The Home sign!…the Away sign!…those beautiful red lockers!…and how about that large beam!…and just look at those fascinating copper pipes!…” At Wollman, I could make this argument far less facetiously and pick out spotting points that really were of interest. For example, on the first side of the Golden Waltz, I could call out the words “Pierre Hotel!” and they’d both gaze up and out in its direction. Once indoors, at a competition, I’d say the same two words and get the same result, with a chuckle.         

What was even more pronounced than the visuals of that majestic setting at that hour were the sounds, or lack thereof. No horns yet honking. No brakes yet screeching. No cabbies yelling. No cell phones ringing. No trucks yet delivering ingredients to the pizza shops on every block. And relative to an indoor rink: no dehumidifiers blowing, no fluorescent lights a-buzzing, no motors churning. Just stillness, over-layed with the sacred sound of edges. That crunch, that bite, that rip we’re always talking about and aiming for.

This sound alone was enough to make me a purist. It was admittedly difficult and rare for me, as a competitive skater, to experience that simple satisfaction of skate against ice. I experienced it as a coach, several times, through the blades of these two skaters on those mornings.

Of course, from a training perspective, it wasn’t always nirvana. All skaters deal with a set of struggles and ever-changing variables: muscle cramps, blisters, cold, fatigue, the pressure of homework, growth spurts, inadequate equipment, crowded sessions, and the list goes on. For Isabel and Dmitriy, one of the most constant challenges was The Weather.

In fact, the first day they ever skated together, it was pouring rain. They skated through three inches of water. But they, like many skaters at Wollman, had a postal service mentality: they’d skate through rain, sleet, or snow (within reason, of course.) Sometimes, it was a matter of peering through the lobby windows, wondering if the conditions were going to improve or if we should just unlace and finish the lesson on the floor. Or it was a matter of taking breaks every 30 minutes in order to warm up, or to dry off in the shelter of the lobby. Sometimes, while watching them do a Freedance run-through, I’d brace myself against gusts of wind, get hit in the face with a leaf, and wonder how they were staying on their feet. It was an unusual sensation to see snow accumulating on my students as I was talking to them.

Of course, this made them, like most New Yorkers, very adaptable. At competitions, for example, they could roll with almost anything. Is the ice soft, hard, bumpy, filled with ruts? At least its not covered in leaves! Is the rink large, small, or shaped like a rectangle instead of a slice of pizza? They’d quickly acclimate. Is the rink freezing cold? Seemed like a sauna to them. I started to think you could throw almost anything their way – turn off the lights, turn on a wind machine, scatter pebbles on the ice – and they’d be unfazed. As a matter of fact, they’d probably manage to enjoy it. 

And this leads me to the most lasting impression I have of their partnership: that their mutual desire to skate came very obviously from within. After all, nobody would wake up that early to skate through the elements all winter, then travel over hill and vale to find clear freestyle ice to train on in the summer months, then push through the usual setbacks such as injuries and disappointments…nobody does all this, and so good-naturedly, unless they really love it. As a coach, dedication of this magnitude is something special to witness and to participate in. I consider myself fortunate, along with my brother, to have shared in such a unique partnership, fostered in no small part, by the unique setting.

Those mornings at Wollman would start off in darkness, but, on the clearest days, the atmosphere would gradually shift through gray to an icy blue, until the sun rose pink onto the buildings, accompanied by the sounds of the city. Next would come a burst of orange, shards of yellow, and an almost blinding white. Through all these shades of sunrise, Isabel and Dmitriy practiced a progression of Compulsory Dances, Original Dances, and Freedances – Intermediate level, then eventually Senior – before rushing off to school. While they enjoyed many triumphant moments at rinks around the country, and their lives will lead them to many distant corners of the world, I have little doubt they’ll always carry around with them that particular slice of ice. 

The last time Isabel and Dmitriy performed together at Wollman, in January of last year for an exhibition, it started to rain. This couldn’t have been more appropriate. This time, it was dusk. While the audience pulled their hoods over their foreheads and reached for their umbrellas, Isabel and Dmitriy were characteristically undeterred. They not only skated, but they smiled and performed their way through the drizzle, even as it gradually started to soak their costumes and their hair. As I was forced to do many times in their presence, I struggled to hold back tears of pride and admiration.

While Isabel and Dmitriy took their bow for friends, family, and fans, a surreal mist rose off the ice all around them. Or, if you subscribe to the pizza theory, you could say it was steam.

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Thank you for reading.

Ice Dance Music

October 23, 2007

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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.
  • Opera.
  • 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.

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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…