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, 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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

- amazing

Skating elements change over time: inventive folks create new moves, while other moves fall out of fashion. And then a basic element grows into something more complicated (a double Axel eventually becomes a quad). Yet despite the wide variety of evolving elements, from my humble audience view as a seasoned observer I would only consider a small handful of moves as amazingly elegant (when done properly). So here are my favorites, in no particular order.

Flying Sit

Every time I see this my jaw drops. How does a skater manage the physics to go from upright jump to seated extended leg without breaking a knee?

Graceful Spiral

Hands expressively moving while mostly leading up, back leg perfectly frozen in place, smiling, full speed across the ice, partially open. Beautiful.

Expressive arm Layback

Slowly into the layback, arms holding a beach ball, but than floating or gently transforming into an expression of a colorful flower or a springtime shower.

"Flat" catch-foot Camel

Oh I've only seen this done well but a couple of times. When a skater can catch her bent back foot in a side flat spin without dropping her head below waistline (with a bit of an arm flourish) it's a beautiful thing.

Slow Bielman

The difference between doing a Bielman and a thing of beauty has everything to do with the slow deliberate management of consistent movement. Add a coordinated flowing free-hand flourish for the whip cream and cherry on top.

I don't mind a graceful jump or two, and these are especially nice if you can perform them differently with interesting arms in flight. In my book though this handful of non-jump moves done with graceful athleticism will impress me more than your jumps every time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

- the point

First there is skating skill, the stroke and the jump, the spins and the footwork. Next comes the imagination, the artistic flourishes using the arms, hands, and a projected imagination. Third comes an audience awareness: sensing what they feel and striving to please them.

The final polish though, that keystone that connects all of the pieces together, is the magical ability to "point:" to connect an active imagination with the ability to direct an audience's attention to that which is being imagined.

Pointing takes just as much practice as all of the other pieces, and arcanely you can only practice it with feedback directly in front of an audience.

If you over-point too blatantly, then you come across as fawning. If you under-point then the audience misses half of your presentation.

The best skaters are aware of what they are doing on all four planes: physically, expressively, impressionistically, and metaphysically. This is the point.