This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

- at the top

Even at the highest levels much of the psychics and recourse to practice strategy remain the same. After all there are only a certain set of attitudes, spells, prayers, and thoughts that a person can entertain.

Of course at this level the skaters see each other all of the time. They also have a peculiarly warped sense of worldview, not so much from the daily practice routine (that is gruelingly ascetic) but rather from a hotel-and-tourist approach to the world... living half their life from rolling luggage and eating in restaurants with their moms, coaches, or skate friends.

To some extent this familiarity and shared worldview tends to swing the top-level skaters toward being a bit more courteous.

Fairly remarkably even at the top you see the same wide range of body types, although the variety spans a somewhat narrower band. Also rather oddly you can still fall short of reaching a more ebullient level of grace: the same top artisanal qualities exist at the local rinks as at the worlds (although of course few of the local skaters are landing triple axels).

Monday, August 8, 2016

- sitting rehearsal

The grounding culture of skating oddly presents the antithesis of glam & glitter... outside of the high pressure public-eye view of the on-ice competition, the rest of the tableau is fast food, really hard metal bleachers, and lots and lots of standing around.

The skaters endure downtime for the Zamboni, breaks to allow another skater to run through her program, and standing on the ice to stretch, rest, or socialize. And a parent is almost on a continual standby break.

As a parent, you want to avoid hovering over your child critiquing every toe pick. You want to allow them the space to experiment, socialize, learn on their own, and have fun too. But since you want to be available should they need you -- either for a snack or a critique -- you need to find ways to occupy your seated time. The environment you do this in can be utilitarian and gauche.

Neighborhood rinks vary in their amenities and comforts, but with few exceptions they are pretty Spartan. Even at the globally competitive level the practice rinks are makeshift chained-off areas, piles of cables and thrown up curtain dividers, in high school auditorium settings with cheap hard plastic seats in the nearby snack room.

To a large extent this is acceptable because of the foundation of mutual discomfort that it establishes: it "levels" what could otherwise be the sense of exclusivity of the participants. And more than anything this is the key dichotomy to being a skate parent: high expenses for very brief moments of glitter, while the vast overarching majority of time you're watching the competitors from very hard and cold seats, nibbling on a small package of vendor trailmix.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

- duck

Many things happen at the ice rink that are a private experience for the skaters: activities the general public never sees. Skate parents are privileged however with a glimpse of the inside occasionally.

One early memory that still comes freely to mind is when, around the third year of skating school, the kids learn to "shoot the duck." This is skating forward while crouching down in a position nearly sitting on one foot, with the other leg extended straight out in front. It's hard to drop down to, looks ridiculous, and is pretty much impossible to rise up from.

Shooting the duck always seems like such an odd maneuver. You never see it performed in competition but that is not its point. Skating teachers use it to weed out who actually has potential: the posture requires a combination of both the finest sense of balance and considerable strength.

Once my daughter got into competing more seriously she would still occasionally during practice -- and just to goof around -- drop into a shoot the duck and ride it out all the way to a complete standstill. It's a bit of a nod to the coaches and the other skaters at the rink: hey, remember this?


Saturday, July 2, 2016

- unchoreoed

As a parent I was vaguely aware that once skaters got up to a certain level of seriousness (or if they had particularly wealthy or hard-driving parents) they retained an actual skating choreographer. Everyone had a ballet instructor and several had an off-ice personal trainer. But only a very select few managed to land a choreographer. I was left with the impression that hiring a choreo was difficult due to scarcity or expense.

Ahhh, but those lucky few who -did- have a choreographer skated to a whole 'nother level. Naturally it didn't make them any more proficient athletically: they couldn't land more jumps or hold a firmer spiral. It did however change their artistic mien: they were more connected to the audience, they had way better ice coverage and pattern, and tons more expressiveness.

I full well realize that for most skaters their coach also does their choreo. This leaves quite a bit to be desired. I think it's a little much to ask a coach to also be an expert choreographer: choreo takes a different focus and a special kind of creativity. I get the impression that choreographers are more "out there" on the artistic edge, whereas coaches deal a lot more with the day to day routine wonkiness of the ice rink and the skating parents.

It does seem though that there's a wide gap between demand and supply at the levels below national. Or to phrase it another way: there should be some superb opportunities for a professional group to offer less expensive (albeit less artistically advanced) choreo to half the skaters at the rink.

I'm miffed that I can't just log into something like the National Assn. of Ice Choreographers or the Ice Choreography Guild and find certified practitioners in my area. You would think in this day and age it would be simple enough. Given the other professional skating groups it seems choreographers don't, as an organizational infrastructure, have their act together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

- statement

What are your opinions when watching a skater use her craft to present a political statement? Unless you go to the local club shows you're unlikely to see such a thing, but once or twice a year most clubs take a break from the rigors of official scoring to offer a free-form exhibition.

Several times during such shows I've watched skaters (usually young adults) present a protest program. It might be a skate to protest discrimination, or inequality, or women's rights, or even a memorial to somebody.

When I watch a protest skate I harbor mixed emotions. On the one hand an artist is certainly free to express whatever she chooses. If in doing so it moves her soul along a positive path toward a better direction, then more power to her.

On the other hand I sense a bit of resentment in myself and the other audience members. It's not so much that we disagree with the content of the protested expression per se. Perhaps it's more that the aesthetics of skating accustomizes us to its appeal to grace and beauty, rather than a sense of worldly purpose. We enjoy watching skating because it allows us a bit of escape from the hard issues of humanity. To smack us in the face with them directly seems somewhat discourteous.

At the same time though, maybe that's the whole point.