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.

Monday, May 22, 2017

- a perfect layback

There is something sublime and special about watching my daughter in the midst of a layback. Time slows and stretches -- you are aware of the physics and yet at the same time not completely in belief that a person can stretch into that position and still maintain control while balancing muscles, torsion, and grace. There she is, moving along the ice, then a quick three-turn, and now the back is jackknifed, the hands perform air tracery, the trailing foot gradually descending, her revolutions tracing sparkles of imaginations in pinwheel fireworks.

Monday, May 8, 2017

- movement

Almost as complex as a modern paratrooper's clothes, a skating costume is one of the more technically engineered uniforms in existence. The fabric has to keep you both warm and cool yet also dry in an environment that is high humidity and windy (when you're moving). It has to be flexibly non-ripping under stressful body conformations, and it has to provide adequate support for decorative embellishment.

When you buy (or have somebody design) a costume for you, you are really looking for three things. First and foremost technical competence: fabric that flexibly breathes. Skate dress fabric usually must be four-way stretch; if you're making your own here's a site with some good representative examples.

Even though a fabric vendor recommends these I'd still check with your coaches and skatemates; some of these fabrics, although stretchy, may fail to provide effective thermal performance if used too liberally.

Second your dress has to thematically match your program's music. You don't have to aim for an outfit that exactly or literally expresses the song title: no need to wear a faux tux when you're skating to Putting on the Ritz. Yet in general terms your outfit should reflect the mood of your program's music.

And finally, not to belabor the obvious, but the fireworks from a competitive skating costume happens when it moves. It doesn't matter so much whether your costume is imposing on the hanger: what's important is its appearance through your spins, spirals, and jumps. Consider how the sparkles may reflect, how the skirt might extend or ruffle, how you may use extensions like tuxedo tails or arm flares to express specific embellishments.

It's a lot to ask from a dress. Which is why there are designers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

- asceticism

Like any sort of artist a successful skater demonstrates severe focus, and hence possesses a rather strict, ascetic ability to abide by self-denial. In fact the original Greek term for asceticism referred to the physical training required for athletic events. This is a common and simple concept; we bring up most children to understand that deferral of immediate gratification pays off by being able to learn things that can provide greater satisfaction later. Implicit in this is an expectation for a transcendental future reward.

Aspiring skaters absorb this idea socially, mostly by watching other skaters. When a young girl admires a world-class figure skater on TV she senses the immense love and admiration that the skater receives on the podium and during her performance. This goal drives the sacrifices the skater must endure during practice to hone her craft.

As with all artists, the awareness of a future audience provides motivation. Without such motivation self-discipline is meaningless and becomes torture. At the same time however, people have the capacity to deceive themselves into following false surrogate endpoints. Once an artist recognizes that asceticism serves a useful purpose the self-denial may become a goal unto itself. The asceticism can become an addiction for its own sake. Sometimes this works and leads to autogeneration of creativity; sometimes it only leads to self-destructive depression. It does, however, always lead to self-learning.

Like motherhood, daily skating practices involve much silent unobtrusive self-denial, an hourly devotion which finds no detail too minute. People respect and love us for our struggles.

Friday, April 7, 2017

- an insider

When I visited competitions early in my daughter's skating career, I didn't understand a few things. I assumed some of this was due to a shallowness in my knowledge of the scoring. Every so often an average sort of competitor would skate and they would receive a disproportionate circle of applause, and this always flustered me. What was the big deal about that skate? After several instances of this I figured there must be something more going on, but could never quite place my finger on it. That my friend was a long time ago.

Last month I watched adult sectionals at Pickwick. By now I've seen most all of these adult skaters in one place or another and even recognize how several of them skate their elements. In the midst of this entertainment they announce the next skater, and a switch clicks in my mind. Hey, I know that name.  I've emailed this person before to obtain publication clearance on several of my blog posts. I do believe that she chairs one of the local popular skating clubs. I'd never though seen her in person before.

So here she comes, she does her number, nothing particularly special but with a certain amount of nuanced grace and heart, and my eyes sort of tear up a bit. What's this all about? Well, it's respect for somebody who has not only paid her dues but continues to play a big role in providing support to keep the sport safe and popular. Every couple of years her club produces a national level skater. When she finishes she gets the largest round of applause of anyone who has skated, myself included. Eight or nine folks throw "tossies."

Afterwards it occurs to me that for somebody just visiting for their first time, they would have had no clue what that was all about. I guess that makes me an insider now, eh?

Monday, March 20, 2017

- adult sectionals

I encourage parents to drag their skate kid to watch an adult competition. Your kid may be bored that the adults don't do many fancy moves, but the competition will surprise you and is in your long term interests.

Adult competitions are very laid back. The technology is old school, with clipboard scoring and volunteer runners like a local competition. You'll spot the older members of the usual rink crowd. Compared to the real (non-adult) sectionals, the Adult sectionals is easily five times more relaxed. Despite the nonchalance the competitors themselves are pretty urbane about the whole thing, knowing everything involved to nab a ticket to Nationals. Still it's well past time for nervous excitement; it's like being in love for the sixth time.

More than any other skating group the Adults display an extremely wide variety of skating approaches. They show as much variance in their style as the juvenile division, plus everyone skates different elements to boot. Their music is completely all over the map.

There seems to be a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek emoting at Adults. They are well past the age of taking themselves seriously and can't hold a candle to the physical strengths of the younger athletes; the crowd is both well aware of this and is also in on the joke.

Most of the competition's psychic value is sublime -- since the skaters are adults they have full lives besides skating.  Real-life art hides somewhere between the adult skaters and the competitive youngsters. Or to put it differently, the art of life happened in that region in between, where it became impossible to skate. And some of this seeps through to the other side.