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 19, 2014

- challenge

Oh man, you want real moxie? Try skating to an extemporaneous challenge. A flight of six or seven gals take to the ice for a short warm up. Then after a couple of minutes the judges play the popular song that they've pre-selected; the skaters have no idea what it might be until they hear it. On the spur of the moment they need to come up with a routine to match the music. Then they play the song one more time with everyone improvising through a second try. Okay, now clear the ice and individually, one after another, show your stuff again to this same song.

This is an entirely different experience for a skater, a parent, or a random audience member. It's quite a chore for a novice audience member to sit through, as normal programs spoil us with the entertainment value of the skating, the costuming, and the variety of music that we hear. To listen to the same song played eight times consecutively gets a bit trying after about the fourth repeat. It detracts enough from the performance that by the time the last competitor takes to the ice you are ready to scream for earplugs.

For a skater this type of event is quite a mental challenge. You already know the variety of moves pressed and hanging at the ready in your closet; the first trick is to associate the mood of an element with the various themed passages of the music to figure out what to "wear". The second challenge is to match the length of the elements and the transitions to both the timing and the rhythm of the music.

Then to compound the complexity you get the luck of the draw: if you were unfortunate enough to be chosen to lead off then those two practice runs were all you got. If you're late in the flight then you can mentally run through your routine with each replay. But if you're toward the end your leaders further challenge you to better all the other skaters that you've already seen.

A parent views this whole bit rather differently; after the first two playthroughs the song disappears as you internalize the concepts of its expressive components. Each skater then immediately strikes you by their approach: some clearly try to shoehorn their signature moves as best they can into the music. Others do a remarkable job matching the rhythm of the piece but don't spend much effort demonstrating their skills.

You'll be lucky if you get a skater in the flight who has both a breadth of interesting moves and the skilled awareness of timing to throw together something moderately impressive. When it happens though you suddenly are watching magic.

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