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, August 11, 2014

- showcase

We had the luck and good fortune of hosting the USFSA National Showcase here in Burbank this past weekend; my daughter and I watched a few hours on Saturday. For those of you without a sanctioned Showcase event in your part of town, allow me to describe it.  Primarily it's geared more towards "entertainment" skating rather than the elite athletic end of the sport. Not to say that the participants don't skate well: many of them do just fine on single Axels and all the lesser jumps and spins. But the focus is more on the artistic ends of costume and expressiveness.  They consist of duets, interpretive (we used to call this extemporaneous), light, dramatic and sometimes team events. Most of the events are skated under spotlights in an otherwise dark rink. So like I said, it's more for the "show."

The classification of a couple of the events however leave me a bit confused. In their wisdom USFSA has chosen to specify Light Entertainment as one type of skate, and Dramatic Entertainment as another. What's the difference? A very good question, as in most cases the routines had such a wide range of stylistic overlap that they could go either way. Many of the Dramatic skates were rather Light and entertaining, whereas several of the Light skates seemed to be ahhh, rather quieter and musing. I think drawing a firmer line between the two flavors would benefit both the skaters and the sport, so herewith I gently suggest some guidelines for your humble consideration.

A competition dress for Light Entertainment should be strikingly over the top. When you skate your entrance to center ice your dress should make me go Wow or bring me a smile. A couple of examples... on Saturday I had the pleasure of watching the one-eyed one-horned blind purple people eater, a full-body stretch suit with matching purple head hood, and yep... it looked exactly as described. Awesomeness. Also one gal skated in a patriotic red-white-and blue skirt with ruby red skate covers with sparklies that knocked my eyes out.

On the other hand a dress for Dramatic Entertainment should be as pretty as you can possibly imagine. It shouldn't have to be over the top sparkly, but should exhibit unique design with a pleasant blend of a particular shade, possibly with contrasting highlights. When you skate your entrance to center ice your dress should make me say Wow that's a pretty dress.

Light Entertainment has flashy accessories and showy makeup. On Saturday I saw a spitting image of Willie Wonka with the inventive hat, and a ghostly skeleton from Tim Burton's nightmare before Christmas.

Extensive makeup for Dramatic Entertainment however is probably unnecessary beyond what you would normally wear for your short program. I prefer pulled back hair (into a bun or braids) on your Dramatic.

Around half of the Light programs used a prop. I'm not sure that all props add value to their presentation, so think ahead as to whether you are using the prop just to "be in character" or whether it actually adds humor or spunk to your program. On Saturday a gal did the spoiled Veruca Salt from Wonka: at the end of her program she dropped into a metered box that switched its indicator from Good to Bad; both inventive and cool.

The only prop that should be allowed in Dramatic are chiffon dress sleeve extensions or Japanese hand-fans. Seriously.

I don't mind too much what you use for your Light Entertainment skate as long as it is well edited and mixed. Some skaters try to glue together different related pieces and the jog between the mix jars my attention. Please use an experienced editor from your rink rather than attempting this at home.

I'd prefer a classical music excerpt on a Dramatic skate. Please though avoid the common and hackneyed pieces that everybody skates too... plenty of other musical variety is out there if you search around a bit. Give me a pleasantly inventive choice.

Almost all of the Light Entertainment programs nowadays skate to popular or show music with lyrics. Generally I dislike watching the skater mouth the lyrics or sing along. One gal on Saturday not only sang but got into the full character of a performer, with arm and facial expressions to match her singing. And her performance was wonderful. So if you're going to sing, really /perform/ the song. The skate itself should be expressive and spot on the music. I like to see a nice jump or two just to prove that you can, but Light should be amusement, so do moves that entertain in appropriate concordance with your music and costume.

The program on Dramatic should highlight your particular strengths. Some gals have a unique spiral, some a fabulous spin or two, some a peerless aspect of how they can jump. I want your Dramatic program to be hypnotic. I don't expect the full athleticism of the elite skaters, but you'd best show me a variety of spins and jumps so that I know you take the sport seriously. And if you sing along with the lyrics I will cry, and not in the good sense.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

- couture

When considering dropping a few hundred more dollars onto yet another competition dress, do you go through the same mental gyrations as I do? Sure it's a new program this year and the old dress doesn't "fit" the new music. Yeah your little girl has grown several inches since the last dress so the stretch fabric is a bit tighter. All of her skating friends got new dresses this year. Yeah your kid is dedicated and serious and loves the sport and wants to look like Yuna Kim. So is this just the price of entry? Is it required every year by the sport, on top of coaching fees, competition fees, ballet teachers, skate sharpening?

Also, do you expect something from your child in return? Do you tell your dear skater that Daddy will be happy to get her that new dress if.... she consistently lands her jumps? If she gets at least a B the next time she gets her homeschool test? If she practices the entirety of all of her freestyles?

I agree with Xan here where she says...

... as parents we often want the best for our children forgetting that sometimes the best gift we can give them is for them to work hard...

(and yes please read Xan's post and all of the comments, about things we hate to see at the rink)

Yet I'm not necessarily sure that a parent should withhold a new dress as a bludgeon over her child's head to force behavior.

The money that you spend on your daughter's dress should be just ever so slightly more than skill-appropriate: you want her to feel exceptional about her appearance on the ice, but you  don't want to foment jealousy amongst her fellow competitors  (nor do you want to escalate a dress buying war amongst the parents). You want to encourage her to work hard without demoralizing her with an embarrassingly understated costume. It's a fine balance. Plus maybe there's a bit of unstated cultural inference that you expect a certain womanly behavior as she matures -- you want to set some guidelines that she might adhere to as she eventually grows into buying her own wardrobe.

Not to put any pressure on you parents....

Thursday, July 24, 2014

- unpaired

I'd imagine a solo male figure skater faces a constant challenge dealing with the female skaters. As I watch the rink freestyles it's a bit subtle (but also clearly obvious) that many female skaters wish they could transition over to dance skating. They'd like a pair partner.

I would guess perhaps ten to fifteen times more females than males figure skate; due to this highly skewed ratio the limiting factor of forming a pair is always how to find a guy.

All a guy has to do is smile at a gal and she'll inquire if he'd like to try skating with her. From what I've read a fair number of the accomplished male skaters tend to end up being brats, as they can pretty much dictate their relationship with their female partner. If they dislike her other good female skaters are a dime a dozen.

This implies that if a gentleman artist wishes to persist as solo he has to present a rather aloof front (while he's practicing anyway). Or more typically by the time he's eight years old or so he internalizes a pat set of answers, shrugs, and responses to all the standard female inquiries.

It takes exceptional single-minded focus to be a solo male figure skater.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

- fast and slow

In many sports speed and quickness are assets. In fact they are the entire defining elements of the competitive aspect of some sport. I'm sure you can think of several: running, auto racing, and swimming, just to name a few. In other sports speed plays an underlying dynamic role (in all of the major team sports the fastest players enjoy a competitive advantage).

As figure skating is a hybrid between sport and art, speed figures into the mix within the "sporting" components. Speed on the ice is helpful for establishing momentum for your jumps and angular momentum for your spins. And clean footwork requires quickness. On the other hand both grace and class (elements of the artistic dimension of skating) require demonstratively slower controlled movements.

Skaters who fail to appropriately match the fast and the slow look ridiculous however. It's very difficult to watch an accomplished "fast" skater ruin what might otherwise be a terrific program by the herky jerkiness of her small movements and transitions. It's equally saddening when a beautifully graceful skater can't otherwise keep enough velocity to maintain her spiral the length of the rink.

Be fast of feet and reactivity, but slow with expressive movements. The athletic part of skating is fast, the artistic part is slow. I think ballet (for slow graceful strength) and stroking lessons (for speed) are both helpful here, but it's also about holding the proper "split" mindset. The ideation here is graceful speed.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

- sequins

Glittery sparkle compliments and enhances your competitive skate (even more so if you're skating in a Showcase with spotlights). As in most performance art however, only a narrow range of use achieves the desired effect without appearing overdone. You should strive for an objective of "highlighting" -- rather than always being apparent, your sparkles should accentuate about a third of your moves.

I've seen three sorts of reflective devices: two types are sequins; the last is rhinestones. Rhinestones are small hard cut-glass crystal reflectors, faceted like a diamond with a metal backing. These glue onto your costume and if your dress doesn't already have enough you can purchase them at many craft and bead stores (or online even, see here and here).

The other two types of sparklies are small flat round pieces of plastic sequins with a tiny hole in the middle (to facilitate sewing onto the costume). One type is metallic and the other is semi-transparent plastic. You can buy these at most fabric stores (and some craft stores too).

Unless they're sparingly used and interspersed with the other two types, the reflective metallic sequins look cheap. I am sorry, they just remind me of store-bought Halloween costumes. The semi-transparent tonal plastic sequins are fine to use on a skating dress though.

Although rhinestones and tonal plastic sequins are both fashionable, they provide quite different visual effects. Crystal glass sparkles intensely as pinpoints of light at multiple angles. Xan tells me that a high-end dress for an elite skater can have 1500 rhinestones, which seems a bit excessive to me but okay, if you're going to be on TV then I say go for it (smile).

Otherwise a third of this quantity in strategic visual swaths is sufficient. Again artistic placement is paramount: if you evenly cover your dress with random crystals you won't get the same effect as if you lay them out visualizing how the eye catches your dress as it spins and angles.

Relative to rhinestones the plastic sequins are very inexpensive, and are usually sewn on by the thousands across large areas. The tonal flat sequins give one uniform sublimely gentle flash when hit at their reflective angle, but are otherwise nice as a gradual contrast shifter. As they have a different reflectivity from fabric they tend to make the covered swatch appear to vary in hue at different angles.

Although I have seen a couple nice dresses that made judicious use of both (in moderation) please avoid combining glass rhinestones and plastic sequins unless you're already an accomplished dress designer.

It's not particularly appropriate to use glass rhinestones on a man's costume (okay, maybe just a handful). Plastic tonal sequins are okay in understated moderation. Just my opinion again.

Skaters will try other modes of flashiness: glitter blush or eyeliner, sparkly hair pieces and hair gel. These may be fine if you're hoping for a camera close-up, but when you're on the ice we don't notice these from out here in the audience dear.

Finally although a sparkly dress is a nice highlight to your program, it shouldn't be the main draw. After all we really came here to watch how you skate.