It’s official: ABC’s Skating with the Stars will premier Monday, November 22. You may remember that Fox tried something like this – called Skating with Celebrities – back in 2006, and, though it had its interesting moments, it was considered a flop. This time around, the Dancing with the Stars producers are taking a stab at it. Already, the show is being criticized because the stars they lined up aren’t all that famous. I think the three most intriguing are probably Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Olympic “freestyle” skier Jonny Moseley, and actress Sean Young. I’m not very familiar with the other three – Bethanny Frankel, Brandon Mychal Smith, and Rebecca Budig – but I applaud them for taking the lunge…I mean plunge.

So I am excited to see this. But mostly I’m afraid….very afraid. And here are 10 reasons why I think you should be too:

1.Inspired by what they see, viewers across the land are going to flood their floors with garden hoses and turn off their heat, until they reach a deep freeze. This way, they can attempt those exotic skating tricks at home.

2.Vince Neil can apparently do a Waltz Jump. He claims to have been figure skater back when he was age 12. Actually, this is endearing. What is scary is that American skating coaches are going to be inundated with calls from other aging rock stars, ushering in a whole new breed of adult skaters. Better start offering tequila at the snack bar.

3. The skating will be so HOT that the ice will melt. Caught up in the glory, skaters and pros alike won’t reach for their guards quickly enough, and the one and only sound that is worse than fingernails scratching across a chalkboard will be broadcast around the world: blades against cement.

4.When viewers see how gracefully all these stars can skate, they are going to think that skating is easy, that it’s a snap. (Of course I’m kidding. It is sure to be an awkward-fest with lots of bent free legs, lurching, and terrifying falls. This will in fact emphasize exactly how difficult this sport is.)

5. Seriously, I predict three severed limbs, and no less than two body casts. On Skating with Celebrities, Bruce Jenner tripped while trying a spin and had to get 16 stitches on his face. Keep in mind that he is a decorated, Olympic decathlete, therefore presumably somewhat coordinated. A few other stars from that show required emergency medical attention. Just be ready to wince for this one. I suggest covering your eyes and peeking through your fingers. In light of the dangers, it’s understandable that they couldn’t lure bigger names: what Hollywood hotshot would risk disfigurement (not to mention the embarrassment factor)? On the flip side, it’s amazing that top U.S. pair skaters Brooke Castile and Keauna McLaughlin agreed to be pros for this, considering that they are still competition material. For them, I recommend what I always wanted to wear as a pair skater: full body padding, maybe some hockey equipment with sparkles.

6. During Skating with Celebrities, actor/hockey player Dave Coulier was so frustrated by those pesky figure skating toe picks that he filed them off. What if Olympic skier Jonny Moseley seeks similar comfort by attaching skis to the bottom of his skating boots?

7. If indeed, as is rumored, Johnny Weir and Dick Button are both judges, there will undoubtedly be a catfight. Fur will fly.

8. The producers of Dancing with the Stars have taken schmaltz to new heights on that show. So brace yourself for cheesy music, hideous costumes and general tackiness on ice. Of course, most skating programming already contains these qualities in spades. Isn’t that why we keep coming back?

9. Love affairs will ignite; marriages will be torn asunder. Lloyd Eisler and Kristy Swanson (who infamously hooked up on Skating with Celebrities) will make guest appearances as relationship counselors.

10. If the ratings are really shoddy, critics (who are just jealous because they are neither skaters nor stars) will use it as proof that skating popularity is declining. Others will go so far to say that it’s the nail in the skating coffin. As a result, rinks will be boarded up and rental skates will be sent over to the troops in Iraq as combat weapons.

Truthfully, I’m just afraid of all the household and organizational tasks I’m going to neglect on Monday nights for the six weeks that it airs. I’ll surely be watching. Will you?

***

Please share your deepest fears on this subject by leaving a comment below.

Notice that there are lots of new Skater Quotes in the column to the right.

The “Wounded Star” artwork above is by the talented Mr. Rob Strati. To see more of his work, click here.

It’s ice show season. Some rinks and clubs host their ice shows at the end of the summer or during the holidays, but most cook them up right about now, after the competition season winds down and before the summer schedule ramps up.

I’ve never personally made an ice show from scratch, but I’ve been an ingredient in many, observer of several, and an assistant in a few. Preparing an ice show is a gigantic undertaking, but the results are well worth it: they spice up the year’s skating buffet and once you’ve had a taste, you’re not likely to forget it.

So if you’re up for the challenge, roll up your sleeves, sharpen your knives (okay, blades), put on your goofy white chef’s hat, and fine-tune your Emeril imitation…because we’re about to kick it up a notch.   

First, chill ice rink to approximately 50 degrees, then gather the following ingredients…

Several thousand pounds of Skaters: This is the meat of the dish. For the most interesting texture, try to obtain a variety of skaters including tall, short, young, old, free range, and grain-fed. The more tender cuts are usually still wearing rental skates and the more “seasoned” variety come with freakishly deformed feet despite custom-built skates.

1 extra-bold Theme: This largely determines the flavor of this stew. The possibilities are infinite. If you’re hoping for an international fusion, go with, Skate Around the World. For more regional fare, go with These United States or Roadtrip USA. If you’re hoping to whip together something of a more seasonal nature, try Seasons of Skating or Holidays on Ice (for more on this latter theme see “Holidays on Ice” the column over to the right). Broadway and Hollywood concoctions are always a safe bet. But really, you can choose just about anything, as long as it’s somewhat recognizable to the general palate.

1 emotionally-stable Director with an iron fist: This is the head chef. Due to the complicated, stressful nature of this endeavor, he or she must be tyrannical in the kitchen. After all, without one determined leader willing to stir this all together, it would never get made.  

Several slices of music with the fat trimmed: Choices will be determined based on the theme, though only the best parts should be retained. Slices that are too large (read: too long) tend to make the skating stale and, as a result, difficult to digest. For added authenticity, the music system should break down at least once during the show, ideally prompting all the house lights to be turned on and the announcer to fill the dead air with jokes his family only tolerates to be nice. 

A generous bunch of multi-colored Costumes: These can be sewn by dedicated parents, ordered from a catalogue, or simply thrown together using items most everyone already has in their pantries. For the record, it is widely understood that the smallest skaters are best dressed as bumblebees, ladybugs, and pumpkins, though they do look cute in just about everything. Teenage girls prefer costumes that are as revealing as possible and for this reason it is far more satisfying to instead dress them in big furry costumes and large red clown wigs: they will outwardly groan and roll their eyes, but they will secretly love it. Adults usually prefer to be wrapped in black. Evening gowns with long white gloves are an excellent pairing. Ideally, there will be at least one costume malfunction, probably a detached component embarrassing the wearer and tripping another.   

A sprinkling of Props, lined up separately in the locker rooms in the order they will be added: For example, brooms work well for witches, American flags are appropriate for the Fourth of July, and wands are ideal for both princesses and fairies…the possibilities are endless. Again, dropping a prop greatly contributes to ice show authenticity, as does accidentally poking another skater in the eye.  

An abundance of Coaches, well-coddled: These will function as the sous chefs, doing a lot of the prep work in the form of choreography and general organization. They will also be the wait-staff on night of the big feast, ensuring that the ice show gets served in a relatively smooth fashion. If you are lucky and provide costuming of a not-too revealing or not-too-silly variety (after all, that was then and this is now), they may even jump into the pot themselves. Of course, the more intra-staff tension, the tastier.

A large serving of Spectators, chilled: Though the goal is to attract fans from all over the county via posters and perhaps ads in local publications, the audience will most likely be comprised of blood relations of the skaters. If you are desperate to fill the stands, you may have to pull hapless bystanders off the street and pay them to attend. As an insurance plan, it’s not a bad idea to dub pre-recorded ovation onto the end of each slice of music. Note that every great club ice show in the history of club ice shows features at least one spectator losing her footing on the metal bleachers. If the EMT has to be called in, it is simultaneously unfortunate and also yet another sign of authenticity.

Several printed Programs, slivered, collated, folded in half: At bare minimum, this is a simple menu listing what the diners are in for. More sophisticated versions include revenue-generating ads from “corporate sponsors” (a.k.a. businesses owned by skaters’ parents) or from grandparents. The standard copy for these ads generally reads: Good luck Susie! We love you! Grams and Gramps. Misprints, especially those that may have legal ramifications, add a nice little kick.

Guest skaters (optional): Though it will cost you, you can import a skater of a more “gourmet” variety from a nearby rink or from across the country. This is intended to transform your show from something more casual into haute cuisine. Of course, it’s highly likely that she’ll be sick the day of your show or slightly injured (as most elite skaters usually are), and so she won’t attempt any elements more impressive than what many of the perfectly-respectable skaters in your club can already do. 

2-4 rented Spotlights (optional): While not essential, these contribute nicely to the ambiance. They can make a mediocre ice show seem instantly more appetizing. Authenticity, here, is achieved in two ways: first, when spotlight operators lose track of  skaters so that the skaters are in darkness and the spotlight is focusing only on empty ice; second, when a skater becomes disoriented by the spotlights and aims in the wrong direction, bumping into the group of skaters behind her and creating a series of falls that demonstrate the Domino Effect. In the words of Emeril: BAM! 

A selection of wooden Stage Sets (optional): These also contribute to the setting and are most-often the product of creative bursts on the parts of a few parents, occurring usually in a garage, at the last minute. The best part is that when one of these wooden panels – say, in the shape of a large teepee for a Native American number – gets accidentally knocked down on the ice, it makes a sound similar to a gunshot. Not only will babies for miles around start to cry, everyone will jump out of their seats and look around, panicked, therefore not noticing that a young skate-wearing “papoose” is trapped under her one-dimensional house.

A pinch of Parents: Despite their other commitments, parents will assist with absolutely  every aspect of the show including gathering ingredients, sewing costumes, building sets, tracking down props, selling ads for the program, and picking up the guest skaters from the airport, etc. Frighteningly (and thankfully), they often walk around with open safety pins between pursed lips. It is important to make sure that their role remains completely unsung because this is what they have become accustomed to; any form of unexpected praise could distract them.    

1 highly-animated Announcer: This person is either a radio DJ by profession or a skating dad who wants to be one in his next life. When he talks, he inflects his words with such exaggeration that, in any other scenario, it would be quite… “grating.” His own special contribution to ice show authenticity is the mispronunciation of the names of at least three soloists and accidentally leaving the microphone on while asking his assistant how much longer this is going to “drag on.”

Several sprigs of Chaos (inevitable): You might as well just accept this particular ingredient, whisk it in, and savor it because you have no choice. In the end, it will provide the most lasting memories and fits of laughter.

Exactly 15 miracles (highly recommended): Because things tend to boil over, or burn, or remain inexplicably raw, as the day of the ice show approaches, it’s important that you try to track down this precious ingredient. You won’t find ice show miracles in any stores or even in skating catalogues, so your best bet is to just pray for them, even if you’re not the praying type.

To Prepare:  

First, set extremely valuable miracles off to the side in a tightly-sealed tupperware and hire a guard to watch over them. Memorize the passcode and secret handshake for when you need to get them.

Set timer for approximately 30 days. Add all other ingredients gradually over the course of that one hectic month.

Simmer, uncovered, on medium heat. Stir constantly during rehearsals and also during what may feel like thousands of sleepless nights. Knead your hands together with worry and rub your aching temples. You should realize that the creation of an ice show is an unwieldy though surprisingly inexact science, so while precise order and methodologies may seem important at first, they are most certainly not. In fact, there has probably never been an ice show put together without a great number of mistakes, oversights, and gaffs, for which you will of course need those aforementioned miracles.

Note that, even as late as the dress rehearsal, your ice show will look like a mound of lumpy, unappealing slop. But no worries, your dish will be ready when your timer rings, indicating that the expensive slot of ice-time you’ve rented has arrived. Your show will be ready, if for no other reason, because it has to be.

And if all else fails? There’s usually quite a delicious spread over at the club bake-sale table.  

Serves: approximately 250, give or take 100.

Bon Apetite!

                                                        ***

What did I forget? Do you know of any other variations on this recipe?  

Also, have you ever lost your wallet or had it stolen? I have some advice. Click on Cusp of Greatness over to the right.

 

Bowman the Showman

January 15, 2008

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“You have to be very tough, very competitive. You have to be a real fighter, a real scrapper, a real go-getter. Basically, you need that spotlight, you need that attention…There are thousands of Christopher Bowmans out there, they all look the same. So you have to break out of the mold, become individualized, become someone else…and spark that interest in the mass general public that makes you popular, that brings you to a higher plateau.”

                                                                             -Christopher Bowman, 1989

On Friday morning, while getting ready to head out to the coffee shop to do some writing, I had 1010 WINS on in the background, the local traffic, news, and weather AM station that pretty much reports the same stuff over and over every 10 minutes. As I was packing up my laptop, the announcer reported that a former figure skating champion had died of a possible overdose…Christopher The Showman Bowman.

I stopped, sat down on my couch, and waited 10 minutes to hear him say the exact same thing again. I was both shocked and not shocked at the same time. And mainly, saddened.

I didn’t really know Christopher Bowman, but he was at the top of his game in the same years I competed at Nationals. So I knew him only in the way you feel like you knew the Seniors in your high school when you were a Sophomore: you observed them both from afar and from close proximity and after a while, you felt as if you were somehow acquainted, not in a stalker way, but in a same-place-at-the-same-time kind of way. Skating is a small world, and, of course, in those years, Bowman didn’t exactly hide under a rock.

I’m sure lots of people have meaningful anecdotes to recount about Christopher Bowman, but here are the two I’ve been replaying in my mind in the last few days.

In 1983, after he won Junior Men at Nationals and Junior Worlds, he was the guest skater at our club’s annual ice show. The Figure Skating Club of Madison always pulled out all the stops for these productions – spotlights, sets, elaborate costumes, a huge curtain along one end that created an exciting zone called “backstage”…and guest skaters. My brother and I were relatively new to skating, bumbling along at the Novice level and clueless enough to not even know who Christopher Bowman was. But he breezed into our little Midwestern rink with all kinds of California star power. He was 16 years old at the time. He had a tan (well, relative to us), a gold chain, and very slick hair. I was only 11, but I noticed the teenage girls in our club were giggling more than usual and whispering to each other with animation whenever he came out of his locker room. I’m not sure if he actually winked at them before he took his guards off on his way out onto the ice or if this is something my memory has added, but it’s certainly something he would have done.

Anyway, what I’m getting at happened during the show’s grand finale on the last night. All the girls in the club, including me, were performing in a Precision-style, or Synchro-style group number, which culminated in what can only be described as a sort of add-on pinwheel, where you’d line up in opposite corners, and, when it was your turn, gun it for the middle, trying to latch onto the girls who were already marching in a revolving line. The skaters at the end, usually the shortest girls, had the biggest challenge, since the line was by then spinning pretty fast.

Once we’d all successfully hooked on and were holding on for our dear lives, we had a surprise coming our way: the big curtain parted and my brother and Christopher Bowman started aiming for us. We were all supposed to be turning our heads toward the middle of the wheel, but we instead looked to the outside to see what these boy interlopers were going to do. My brother was grinning but careful to catch onto the last girl, probably really concentrating on not falling. On the other end, Christopher Bowman was bent over like some kind of vaudeville speedskater, pretending like he couldn’t catch up. The audience and us skaters were all in hysterics. By the time the music stopped, he finally caught up to the lucky girl on the end. He looped one arm around her waist and with the other hand, he did one of those wiping-of-the-brow “Phew!” hand gestures. He waved at the audience while we all bowed, and I remember thinking that this Christopher Bowman guy sure was a lot of fun.

Later, at the 1989 Nationals in Baltimore, my brother and I got off the shuttle bus at an outlying practice rink and discovered that the last group of Championship Men were finishing up their practices right before us. Though it was cold, we did our off ice warm-up in the rink instead of the lobby in order to more easily see them. Christopher Bowman was working on his Triple Axel. We watched, stretching our quads and calf muscles, as he popped not two or three attempts but what seemed like at least 15 of them until Frank Carroll must have told him (probably with exasperation) to just call it quits.

The next day, we watched from the stands, rapt, as he popped a few more of these on his five minute warm-up. Then, of course, in the program, he not only landed the Triple Axel, but nailed it perfectly and the crowd, as it tended to do for him, went berserk. (This is my memory of the event, anyway…please correct me if I’m wrong.) I clapped and hooted with the rest of the audience, impressed, to say the least, and marveling at his ability to perform under pressure. At that competition, he would win the first of his two National titles, something you might not have thought possible, based on his practice less than 24 hours before. It did seem as if Bowman was spurned on by the audience, as if he performed better with it than without it.

Watching Bowman compete was always exciting, and not just because he had so much charisma. He had a reputation for not training very much, so as skaters, I think a lot of us watched to see if his methodology (or lack thereof) was ever going to catch up with him, not in a spiteful way, but maybe to justify our own secret (or in my own case, not-so-secret) desires to slack off. Of course, Bowman had a surplus of talent, so he could “pull it off” at the last minute with a sure-footedness that the rest of us could only dream of.    

In the last few days, I’ve been re-watching videos of his performances on youtube, both in competition and exhibition, some of which I was lucky to originally see live and some of which I saw on television. I recommend that you sample some of these postings if you haven’t already. What you will see is extreme technical competence, true entertainment, and an undeniable spark, the magnitude of which is impossible to learn and impossible to teach.

In the Up-Close-And-Personal type pieces, you’ll see him shirtless while demonstrating martial arts, reclining on the beach in swim trunks and skates, and playing paint ball before most of us even knew what that was. You’ll see him, full of bravado and so pleased with himself, in the Kiss and Cry with the horrified Frank Carroll after he’s improvised his program at Worlds. In the show numbers, you’ll see him gyrating his hips, wearing a sports jersey from whatever town he’s performing in, and dancing with some unsuspecting yet overjoyed woman he’s picked from the audience. (Other guys try this shameless stunt during show programs, but most look like idiots and few seem to be genuinely having so much fun.) It certainly appeared that Christopher Bowman was handling the pressures of elite figure skating just fine.

In this footage, you’ll hear Scott Hamilton squeal with admiration, “Nobody works the crowd like Christopher Bowman!” And you’ll hear Dick Button’s backhanded lament that, “he has an enormous amount of talent. If he’d ever get finished playing around with this sport and not being quite as serious as he could be, then I think he’d be sensational.” When Button said this during the 1988 Olympics broadcast, the competition in which Bowman achieved 7th place on the heels of a National Bronze medal, it could be argued that what he’d already achieved was, in fact, sensational. (Going to the Olympics at all seemed pretty sensational, from where I sat.) Maybe Bowman never did fully take Button’s unsolicited advice and “buckle down” but he did go on to amass an impressive collection of medals.

Probably there are a lot of lessons to be learned from what has turned out to be a tragic story, more details of which will probably be revealed over the next few weeks and years, but I think it’s important to mainly remember the wink and the chuckle Christopher Bowman brought to figure skating, how he didn’t take himself or the skating world too seriously. In one interview, Bowman says, “I don’t see how anyone can do anything and be successful at it without enjoying doing it.” He adds, almost-defensively, since he was always being criticized for his lack of focus, “I feel that there are a lot of wonderful experiences to grasp and I try to grasp as many as I can.”

Ours is a regimented sport, filled with tension, and the stakes seem to just keep getting higher. One hopes that the athletes coming up today can carry on some of his lightheartedness amid all the new rules and regulations and the ever-increasing scrutiny of the media. I hope they can have enough perspective to occasionally laugh themselves. (I hope all of us can.)  After all, to use Bowman’s own words, “Skating is a performance sport.” The world doesn’t tune in to watch a bunch of stiff machines and it’s kind of a drag to be one, anyway.  

In a particularly serious moment, Bowman looks to his interviewer and makes a statement that, in hindsight, is nothing short of heartbreaking. He admits, “I’m doing the very best I can. I’m only human.” In fact, it’s been reported in several places that Bowman had a tattoo on his shoulder that said, “Nobody’s Perfect.” I don’t know when or exactly why he had this etched into his skin, whether it was an apology or some kind of battle cry. Whatever the case, though, he was right.

If nothing else, watch the exhibition footage from 1989 Nationals (link below). You’ll see him perform a slow number to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” followed by his iconic, hammy, Woolly Bully program. At the end, Bowman falls face-down on the ice, as if dead from exhaustion. He playfully raises his head, moves his hand in a comedic “more more” fashion and, as if following orders, the crowd claps even louder. Then he puts his head back down, playing dead again.

                                                       ***

To watch Christopher Bowman in his prime, click: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuCDKDxISUM

Thank you for reading.