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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

- blue and gold

When you spend a lot of time at the rink with your kid, you also get to spend loads of time with both her peers and the skating coaches. While sitting quietly and watching the interaction of brains, the flow of love, you will find that the coaches have quite a different dynamic from the skaters.

The skaters feel exciting: they are exploring the new moves, emotions, and feelings attached at the edge of their envelope. They are observing, absorbing, and showing off a bit. They are learning both physical and social skills. They can see and imagine a future path to some glory and critical attention.

The coaches on the other hand watch the skaters with the quiet reserve of a teacher's eye, also with both some nostalgia and some pathos. For many of them watching a student brings back memories of a heartbreak. Or you may see a half smile fleetingly cross her face as a flashy student maneuver reminds the coach of one of the high points of her previous skating career.

Many times a coach will fall into a quiet glumness, realizing that she is "stuck" coaching, that her students' glamour is ahead of them but that her own is behind, that as a coach she is a cog in the process of growing teens. Coaches recognize the actual future of their students and how different it will turn out from their students' dreams.

If not for the love from their students, a coach would mostly prevail through a melancholy life.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

- comedy

A comedy routine is one of the most difficult light entertainment routines to skate. Several factors contribute to this difficulty. For one, you will understand the basis for comedy either from your innate personality trait -- if you're the class clown -- or you will develop it from a keen sense of pratfall and irony (as few class clowns take up skating this means most comedic routines develop from pratfall and irony).

And one of the tougher things to do is to "pretend" to muff a skating move. Seriously, a mistimed pratfall on ice is dangerous. And skating irony tends to be very "inside" -- it relates to plays on existent moves. Only a narrow window of side possibilities exists however to parody a skating move, although often props come in handy here. Yet skating with props also present their own difficulties: props tend to either dynamically alter your center of gravity or confound speed dynamics by adding wind interference. In any case skating a comedic routine means dealing with physics outside of the ordinary; it expands the range of what you might otherwise attempt and rather forces you to stress the boundaries of your familiar physics.

Despite the challenge of skating a comedic routine, it is valuable in how it broadens your aura. First it opens you up to self ridicule -- it destroys the common fault of taking yourself too seriously. One of the first steps in accepting others is to admit your own imperfections. Making a fool of yourself is a sure way to get there. Once you obsess less over your own activities you become more observant of the little foibles of others, and hence become more able to refine yourself.

Finally, skating for laughs improves your audience awareness. Unlike a dramatic program where you are concentrating on expressiveness and performing to the music, you need to tune a comedy routine in front of observers. How else do you know if you are being funny? One thing you learn rather quickly is that we each are rather poor at assessing how entertaining we actually appear to others; a part of developing a sense for this awareness comes from learning to "love" a different part of an observer's brain. Once you become unfixed on your own self obsessions you grow into more social, sociable skating. And it's the most difficult things you do that help you grow.

Monday, June 10, 2013

- a ghost of continuity

One component to any sport that seems sublimely lurking to the new initiate is its sense of history. Naturally when you start out you know of people who have gone before and made certain achievements. Arguably this is one of the draws: you wish to emulate somebody whom you admire. As you start out you may know about some currently famous skaters, for example those you've seen on TV.

Visiting Pickwick for their annual Showcase reminds me that rinks and skating clubs have their own histories as well. This is Pickwick's 40th year of Showcase, and it's quite a production with four spotlights, dimmed rink overheads, dasher thread LED's, an on ice walled-off warm up area, and a show by one of the premier ice theatres in the nation. LAFSC is strong on tradition; it has its regular cycle of annual competitions and shows and a certain pattern of how they raise their skaters.

After several years you recognize that the coaches are in touch with this longer and broader history: they seem to have connections to how the sport "runs." The ghost of figure skating whispers through their unseen chats and backroom staff meetings.

After long enough you sense the slide and the gradual shift in how a tradition expands and its flavor changes. New instructors lend their personality, people move on, skate clubs change their shape or perhaps even switch home rinks altogether. Rinks flip ownership or modify their focus and occasionally even a new rink pops up out of nowhere.

Something vaguely more historical however still lingers. A sport has a past containing venues and skaters yet also has something independent of its places and participants. Maybe this is what it means to soak up the "culture" of a sport: you begin to attach to its history, you merge your flow with a larger continuity.