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.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

- frustratingly connected

World competitions are distinctly different in a peculiar non-intuitive way, from the combined effect of cultural differences and a language barrier. Almost uniformly the skaters both admire their competitors and yet skate completely insulated from one another. Outside of a nod of appreciation or a smile, how else can you get closer to a fellow artist who doesn't speak your language? In a sense all the skaters share is their artwork and a common reverence for how much hard work it requires. The communication gap is frustrating, as they want to say so much to one another about their lives beyond skating. The strange mix of being joined but being insulated is most peculiar.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

- non-elite

Although I link to a few "fan blogs" on this site, I certainly recognize how irrelevant they are to what you actually face day in and day out. Only the tiniest most miniscule percentage of skaters have the financial resources, body type, dedicated time, and fortune of being in a locale that provides the type of training support to become national-level competitors. Hence watching the elites can be disheartening if you view them from a point of view of jealousy. Like a twenty foot pole vault crossbar, the elites do set the highest level goal of the maximum expectations that you might wish to achieve. What you can absorb from them most readily though is performance demeanor.

How do they address the audience? What are their entrance, exit, and off-ice routines? How do they spin the audience love? Most of their presentation dynamics have been honed by hundreds of competitions, so it makes sense to closely observe their pre-ice routines. What you find, still somewhat typically, is that they are no better nor worse than your local competitors at managing their nerves and their "game face." This is a bit of a relief: it validates that your stage-fright trepidations are entirely normal, even at the highest levels.

Although you won't learn how to jump a triple by watching the elites, you will however pick up many stylistic clues by viewing the international competitions. Jumps are jumps but spins and arm movements throughout the program (along with certain signature moves) vary substantially in style across the continents. I wouldn't suggest you try to directly "copy" a move you have seen at Worlds, but it's perfectly fine to incorporate ideas that you've seen into your own original manifestations of them.

I know that some skaters avoid watching the elites entirely as it makes them feel too frustrated to realize that many things are unattainable. Mainly though, it's better to be comfortable in your self and view those with better circumstances as sources and inspiration for your own creative ideas.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

- prunes and prisms

In the comments of a prior post where I was chatting about the larger on-ice sliding props, Maria left me an excellent question:

"At some rinks the judges are sitting on the opposite side from the audience. In that case, how should the prop be positioned, so that the audience sees the front of the prop or the judges?"

This is a bit of a "loaded question" -- it's masqueradingly simple with all sorts of complicated contingency answers. It leads down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, from the crawling ants of convenience past the carrot roots of local custom all the way beyond the deep redwood taproots of philosophy.  Are you ready?

I don't think I've ever visited two rinks with the exact same audience seating / judging arrangements. Some  sport giant bleachers on a single side opposite the hockey dugouts. A few have narrow elevated concrete bleachers all the way around. I visited a couple with glass-wall separated viewing areas rather remote from the ice. Some have family-friendly bleachers conveniently located next to a video-game room, snack room, and vending machines.  And every rink sits their judges differently. Heck some rinks I've been to will even seat judges in varying locations for different competitions! Clearly then a generalized answer takes more thorough analysis.

Before we get too deep though, let's start with the obvious answer: "it depends." Among many things it depends upon:

- are you only skating this in an exhibition once, at a single venue?
- is this an annual competition that your coach has been to before?
- how large will the audience be? How far away do they sit? Elevated or right next to the ice?
- how much of the routine is dependant upon a front/back presentation?
- do you skate better for judges or for an audience?

If this is something like an exhibition light entertainment piece for your local club (while most of the time you are a seriously competitive solo skater) then chances are you will practice it for a couple of months and then have fun with it at this one event. Local showcases are usually pretty well attended so maximize your fun and camaraderie with your clubmates and "present" to the audience -- place the prop where the audience can easily see the front of it, and skate your program directed to them. If the judges are sitting opposite then when you slide your prop toward its position on ice rotate it around slowly so the judges can appreciate the effort you put into assembling it: give them a good glimpse of the thing. You can go too far with this "reveal" though -- I've seen some skaters deliberately bring the prop directly in front of the judges and then feign getting stuck before magically recovering maneuverability to final placement. Please don't do this.

If this is an annual exhibition that your coach has been to before then most likely she will remember how the rink sites the judging.  Even if it is the first time for the competition, likely your coach knows the customary seating if it is a familiar rink, as well as what kind of attendance to expect. Therefore it makes a fair amount of sense to review the audience / judging arrangement with your coach well beforehand, even when you are a month away and still practicing.

Now having said all this there might be times when you want to be more presentable to "judges opposite." Say for example that "light entertainment" is what you do -- where you are primarily trying to make your mark in the skating world. Or if you are skating the same program at several small events with tiny audiences. Then facing the prop towards the judges makes more sense.  I'm not saying the audience should only see the back, but you can have the prop askew somewhat so both the judges and the audience see parts of it. In that case it also makes sense to design your program to be more rounded in its presentation, papering the house without specific front/back bias. Design your prop so that it goes around a corner so each side of the rink sees at least a part of it.

Skating orientation in general is quite a deep subject: some competitors are really out there to advance up the ranks and impress the judges. Others are out there for the showmanship and love of the audience. So even without a large ice-sliding prop you still have this issue in most programs: who are you performing for? Okay now let me wax philosophical... what I *really* like to see in an accomplished skater is someone who plays to the audience 80 per cent of the time and the judges 20 per cent. A good skater also evenly addresses the whole seating arrangement of the audience, with acknowledgements to both sides (if so seated). If you're good enough to perform in an arena you'll consider spending a little more loving attention to the 100 dollar seats at center ice.

Prunes and prisms are ten times more complicated when considered in the context of a production number, such as Theatre on Ice. The props are gigantic constructions and the nuances of the choreography pretty much demand a front-side. I feel quite strongly that judges of a Theatre event should always sit along with the primary audience. In fact, gosh darn it rinks, please seat your judges with the audience, always, for all events. Why would you do it any differently?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

- 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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

- adults

When you are raising kids, one of your larger concerns is how to choose the quality of the adults that they get exposed to. For most parents a lot of this concern gets played out in the evaluations they go through when choosing a school for their kids. It also influences the types of friends you encourage them to hang out with: by association the attitudes of their parents filter through their kids. When your kid attends school, they get a new teacher every year, and once they reach middle school they get several teachers every day, and then a whole new slew each semester. In total your kids tend to spend more time with adults who are teachers than with their own parents.

When your child skates competitively though the only adults she spends a lot of time with are her coach and perhaps her ballet teacher. These usually remain the same people year after year. Choosing the coach that matches the personality of your kid and likewise meets your desires for the proper role model therefore gets to be a bigger deal.

Oddly, skating or coaching ability tends to fall out of the equation; unless your kid has demonstrated national abilities at an early age, any coach you choose from the rink who has skated competitively herself and who is a member of PSA will have adequate skating skills to teach for local competitions. Therefore spend a bit of time when your kid is little to soak in how the coaches interact with their students, from a personality perspective. You are choosing those ideals in an adult mentor that will serve your child well beyond her skating career.