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.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

- fantasy

If five hours of watching an Open skating competition has numbed my brain, sometimes I will drift off to a fantasy of my own routine: the program that I would skate (if I were capable of skating). Being an older man the performance would be more dapper and stylish, yet oozing with class and supreme athletics.

I stretch a bit from the sidewall as my program's music starts, something with a haunting jazzy bass drum beat. I reach over the dasher, grab a top hat and a silver and black cane, tap the hat onto my head, and do a jaunty three turn out to center ice, bowing as a jazzy slide trombone emerges with a slow melody.

I head off quickly down the ice, the coattails of my tuxedo flitting out behind me, and as I reach the end I jump to land a perfect double Axel (to polite applause). On the way back I split jump while tossing my cane with a twirl high into the air, turning around after landing to catch it behind my back. The crowd Ahhhs.

Then I am picking up more speed, a triple Axel, straight down into a sit spin, flipping the cane around on the ice beneath me in the opposite direction to my spin. Then rising up to a full stop I pose, and the music pauses as I dip my hat.

The jazz now picks up to a staccato pace, and I do impossibly fast footwork down the ice in one direction, on the return path a spread eagle while twirling the cane above my head and then twice around my body. Then gaining speed down the ice I jump straight up into a laid-out front flip holding onto my hat as my skates vertically pass overhead, landing gently (on one foot!) right into a spiral, the cane gently twirling between my fingers.

Then a final bow, hat in hand. Standing ovation.

Meanwhile back at the actual rink the pre-preliminary group A takes to the ice for their warm up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

- storyline

At an appropriate age (say eleven to thirteen) I'm wondering if it makes sense for figure skaters to enroll in a year or so of dramatic stage-acting lessons? I know they already take ballet, they work out at the gym, maybe they have a jump coach or attend some stroking lessons. They even occasionally retain a choreographer. Do you really need to be spending more toward their skating career?

Well it depends. It does seem that American skaters lack a sense of dramatic projection and the ability to express a story through their skating. This capability varies enormously amongst individual skaters however, even at the local rink. Gals that are naturally expressive tend to enjoy the Showcase events or Theatre on Ice, and that is fine and good. If your technical skater has their sights on Nationals though and is more of an athletic competitor, then their bubbly personality alone may prove insufficient to bump up their Program Component Score, as the objective is to "physically, emotionally, and intellectually deliver the intent of the music and composition."

Russian, Japanese, and Italian skaters already seem to internalize this: it's almost like their culture imbues an innate sense of storytelling; as they inherently value the dramatic they always incorporate it into their choreography.

Dramatic acting is not for everyone though and it takes a couple of years for the gifted artists to "shake out." Sometimes a skater possesses the personality to slip in and out of character while letting their soul temporarily become something else. That skill needs some polish, but for the performer to mature she must learn how to effectively rebound after each performance with a reinvigorating recuperation.

Some skaters are competitive all the way through and through: all they need to stay motivated is somebody to best. But this is a shallow goal. In my mind the purpose of storytelling is more than just boosting your score or providing an entertainment hook. I firmly believe that the story serves as a benign diversion, so that you can accomplish the soul work that you're really out on the ice for. It is only with an artistic soul that a skater has the moxie, motivation, and determination to guide herself through the tough times to ultimately create a skating career.

Friday, February 23, 2018

- care

I see quite the full spectrum of parental involvement at the rink; I suppose that's to be expected: after all some parents are just along for the ride. They nag their kid to hurry and pack the skate bag, drop their skater off at the rink, go run some errands, and then come back and sit in the ice lounge the last fifteen minutes of class. Afterwards they may congenially ask their kid how the lesson went.

My friends, this is not truly a skating parent.

A skate parent reminds his kid when she is packing to make sure that she brought an extra pair of tights. On the way to the rink the parent inquires when the last time his daughter had her skates sharpened.

The skate parent holds the doors open for his daughter as they enter the rink, wraps the scarf around his neck, and assumes his usual seat (with back support) down by center ice. He sets down his thermos of coffee and takes up his pen and video camera.

As his daughter skates he takes notes about her form and style. A skate parent presses his face up to the crack between the panes of Becker plexiglass to yell out how to improve a move. Occasionally he calls her over to a door opening to chat about something different and more expressive that his daughter can try with her arms.

During a break he accompanies her to the heated lounge and buys her a snack, and they chat about skating, school, or friends at the rink.

After practice the skate parent makes sure he thanks the coach, verifies that his daughter remembered her skate guards, and drives her out for a bite to eat. On the drive home the parent lets his daughter watch her practice on the video camera.

A skating parent is indeed crazy to spend this much attention on his daughter if it does no good. But whether or not it makes her a better skater is somewhat besides the point. A skating parent behaves this way because his daughter loves skating. And a skating parent loves his daughter.


Friday, February 9, 2018

- act

An audience contemplates your skating in a slightly different fashion than how a judge scrutinizes your program. A judge watches your blades, how they cut the ice, if your spins precess, if you rotated too short to a landing.

The audience though absorbs your presentation: are you projecting work, fear, or enjoyment? Did you telegraph your jump? The audience tracks your center of gravity, your arm positions, and your facial expressions. An audience observes your thoughts.

One consequence of this is that the audience has entirely different expectations for you when you are skating a novelty program than for when you are skating technical.

We don't mind your slightly suppressed smile when you nail a tough jump, but otherwise those of us watching your technical program expect to see something sublimely reserved, stylishly graceful, and professionally polished.

A novelty skate however is another matter entirely. The audience would actually like you to move your head about and signal some emotion, perhaps four times in a novelty program. Don't overdo it and be a crass wiseass; rather share your emotions gently, matching them appropriately to the theme of your program. Be the cat, or the spy, or the film starlet your program deserves.

You know, out here in the audience, we love you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

- dress design

L.A. SkateDad recently had the opportunity to interview Ximena Davalos who designs skating dresses for the likes of Courtney Hicks.

LASD> Hello Ximena, welcome. First off, do you prefer we call them dresses or costumes?

XD> Costumes!

LASD> Are you a skate fan yourself, or did you used to skate?

XD> Yes, and yes! Very briefly I had two years of skating. I use to love to draw all the costumes I dreamed of having but never did. Seriously, not even a practice dress or skirt.

LASD> What led you into this line of work?

XD> Sketching costumes led me to want to study fashion (I had also been very involved in performing arts in high school) and when I realized college had a costuming program well that was that! I studied Costume Design for Film and Television, but after a few years I didn’t find it was the right fit. I started to transition away from that by working on a Latin version of Dancing With the Stars.

I would mostly work on making and fitting the costumes and realized I was more of a maker and designer. From there I was fortunate to get an opportunity with the ballroom dress company Designs by Kalina, and we started to get skating costumes. Because I knew skating, my boss started to put me in charge of them. I fell in love with skating costume design and with my boss’s blessing I set out to do it on my own.

LASD> How long have you been in the business, how long has it taken you to rise to that level?

XD> Not very long at all actually! I started meddling in figure skating costumes about two years ago, fell in love and decided to go for it.

LASD> You also create ballroom dance gowns: what's the difference between them, what do you like or dislike about each, what carries over, is it a compatible thing.

XD> Oh ballroom (sighs). Well I do work on ballroom dresses, but I mostly get hired to do the decoration of them. The major difference, I think, is the lack of story telling… therefore I see ballroom as extravagantly fun “dresses” and not costumes. Although they do have to allow the dancer freedom of movement.

Ballroom dresses are A LOT more complicated to make and the fit is different. They also don’t have the aerodynamic restrictions of a skating costume. The most relatable things are that it’s a leotard with a skirt, and the crystal work.

LASD> Do you limit yourself to certain geographical areas?

XD> At the moment I do US only.

LASD> Give me an idea of price ranges. Is it a full time job?

XD> Yes! It is a full time job, though I am considered fast, the setting of the crystals still takes hours and hours, especially if it’s a very specific design. My range is from $800 to $5000

LASD> How long does it take to design and finish a dress, from start to finish?

XD> Oh boy! Umm… well it depends on the amount of design work. Because I only do custom it can range anywhere from 25 hours to 60 hours.

LASD> Do you also create men's costumes, or do you shy away from them?

XD> I haven’t had the honor yet, but I wouldn’t shy away!

LASD> How do skaters find you?

XD> (Laughs) Right now through social media and word of mouth. I tried putting fliers up… some rinks let me, some didn’t, I’m sure some got taken down. That didn’t work at all.

My main driver seems to be sponsorship (I currently sponsor Courtney Hicks). It’s something that I actually got from ballroom -- in ballroom you sponsor a top dancer and they in turn bring you clients. Skating doesn’t seem to have that, so I am trying it out. My hope is to eventually be able to sponsor someone in each discipline. Dancing or skating advertisements!

LASD> With my daughter we just asked around the rink for designers, but at your level it doesn't work that way does it?

XD> Oh sure it does! Word of mouth is my best friend!

LASD> When is it time for a skater to kick it up a notch -- when does she move from the rink's local dress lady to somebody with a national reputation?

XD> I think it honestly depends on how much the skater's family is able to invest in a costume. Some months back I actually had a skater tell me that if they got their triple-triple her parents would buy her a dress I already had up for sale… so maybe when they get their triple-triples! (just joking).

LASD> How much do you negotiate price with the parents, especially if they can't afford what you're asking? Is there price flexibility?

XD> Somewhat for sure, every price bracket I offer can be customized. Also I do offer just decorating services if they want to send me a dress to only put crystals on. They can even send me the crystals they want -- that way they can still get something customized without the major price tag.

LASD> How much of a lead time should a skater plan before ordering a dress, to avoid a crunch?

XD> Right now it’s 6 to 8 weeks from order to finishing. Though delivery can be affected if I send a costume out for fitting and they don’t get it back to me in a timely manner, or if there is a delay in payment.

LASD> How many sketches and meet-ups do you conduct, and do you get the coach, parent or choreographer involved. Do you listen to the program or watch the skater before you design?

XD> It all depends. If I have east coast clients it’s all done through email and mail (for the fittings). If they are within driving distance then I’ll go and do the fitting. It does vary whether the rest of the team is involved. Sometime they are and sometimes they are not. I do ask for the music, and ask questions of what story they are trying to portray. I usually start with 3 to 4 sketches and that has proven to be enough.

LASD> Where do you get your inspiration: where do your ideas come from?

XD> I mostly get inspired from the music, and also images of the color and texture the skater provides. I also get inspired by the present trends in fashion, but mostly it's from the mood of the skating music.

LASD> How do you settle in on a specific design? Do you prefer to design a dress to match a specific program? Is it a choice for the parents or the skater?

XD> Sometimes the skater wants a more specific look for a program, but I still like to have fun playing around. I usually give a variety of sketches, sometimes with a blend between them. I do make sure to ask what they *don't* like. Most of the time the parents let the skater make the design choice herself.

LASD> Do you get ideas from other skaters you watch?

XD> (Laughs) Well sometimes, it’s good to keep an eye out there as maybe there'll be a fashion trend happening among the elite skaters.

LASD> Yeah I remember a couple years ago everyone wanted to look like Ashley Wagner. Do you model the dress in motion, while it is moving?

XD> I don't really have a way to model it as it might be seen on a moving skater, so I try to light and film it with a camera from different angles and at different times. Viewing it through a camera really gives me the best idea of how the audience will see it.

LASD> How do you feel about… ah… "flappy bits," you know pieces of fabric that trail off from the main costume?

XD> Well I can see why people think flappy bits can be distracting, but I like them generally, as long as they aren't distracting and complement the program. For example Karen Chen has a nice one now with her Golden Pond costume.

LASD> Do folks bring in photos (say of Lady Gaga dresses) and ask you to make something similar?

XD> Haven’t had any yet, but I’m currently working with a dance troupe that wanted very Ga-Ga-esque costumes. Some costumes can be pretty wild, but skating is a bit more restrictive in that costumes have to be aerodynamic. It's fun to think about how to make it work, and that’s why we do a fitting, to see what would work or not work.

LASD> Do you design more for the skater, or more for the audience?

XD> Really, I want my costume to make the skater feel confident, but it's also good for the audience to be captivated. Mainly though my priority is for the skater. I want to enhance what the skater is expressing: it's not about the costume, it's about helping the skater tell their story.

LASD> Do you have to follow certain standards or regulations?

XD> Yes, there are rules that are set and have to be followed (understandably). It does seem that some rules are evolving though and rules sometimes change, especially in dance to tailor better to the genre.

LASD> Sequins or rhinestones?

XD> Sequins or hand beading are really okay, many of the Japanese designers do this. It all depends on the effect you are trying to achieve and whatever are the current fashions. For me rhinestones mostly and some hand beading. Though I’m not opposed to sequins, some designers use everything, especially abroad.

LASD> Glue gun, or do the pros have a better way for attaching rhinestones? Is it something to keep you occupied while you're watching TV?

XD> (Laughs) Oh I don't think a glue gun would work with skating, I'd be afraid the crystals would fall off. I use E6000 glue in a syringe and a crystal katana. Sometimes, like if I'm doing a simple sprinkle of crystals I can try watching (more like listening to) something else, but most of the custom designs are planned in greater detail and take a lot of concentration to implement the design.

LASD> If a skater has a problem with her dress, how amenable are you to fixing it (and how difficult is it to fix)?

XD> Well to start, I do leave a seam allowance for the fitting, and then I just remove any excess afterwards, so that is simple enough. Fixing a mistake on the crystal work though can be tough but not impossible -- if the skater complains, then I need to come up with some creative solutions. This though is why I draw detailed illustrations, to help avoid misunderstandings during the crystal setting.

LASD> How does dressmaking for an ensemble number work; do you subcontract out the construction or what?

XD> Since I am the sole employee to myself then yes, I have a group of peers I would bring in to help. Depending on the group, one can just use general S, M, L patterns since they are usually not paying for the custom made-to-measure piece. So it can have parts that are easier to execute, but of course it would depend on the design.

LASD> How does a person learn to do skating costume design -- does FIDM teach what you need to know?

XD> No FIDM didn’t really teach me this specifically, I learned it mostly from working “in the field” on a dance show from people already skilled in this type of garment and also from a ballroom gown maker. So I guess it was a sort of an apprenticeship.

LASD> Do you spend a lot of time walking around with fabric vendors in a garment district, or do you just go to Joannes fabrics?

XD> I did walk around fabric vendors when I was in LA and they are still my "go-to" shops for fabrics, I also have a rhinestone supplier that I use.

LASD> How do American costume designers compare to other countries?

XD> Well I do feel like there’s a bit of a different aesthetic -- I do see more fashion trend influence in the designs here, whereas in countries like Japan… even Russia there is something that I find more organic… if that makes sense.

LASD> Do you have any favorites that you have made?

XD> One of the first skating costumes I made was one that the skater had designed. After I made sure all the finishings were up to par with the design, when the skater arrived for the final fitting she started crying because it was exactly what she imagined it to be. Also I love the costume I made for Courtney's short program this year: they chose what was one of the most organic designs I sketched, which was really influenced by the music and colors she wanted. I loved how it turned out in the end.

LASD> Thanks for the interview Ximena, you've been wonderful. Are there any folks you'd like to shout out and acknowledge?

XD> Yes thanks, I'd especially like to thank the whole team at Designs by Kalina for setting me out on my path. Also of course Courtney Hicks and her whole team.

LASD> Thanks again! Readers please be sure to check out Ximena's skating costume designs here.