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, December 15, 2013

- xmas

A Christmas skating show always has certain familiar components that make me cry (well tear up at any rate); it also always has some consistently weird strangeness. This year I visited a rink in the, uh, less prosperous part of town, Valley Ice, right up the street from Walmart in Panorama City. I arrived a little late -- the skaters and their families had already been there an hour to get costumed and warmed up. The parking lot is full. I walk in the front and a teen guy and gal are attending to the entry desk (white butcher paper and the ghost of former check in badges and CDs) and I say ah, general admission I guess. $5 please, and a rubber stamp on my hand. Ducking in through the hastily hung blackout curtains I see the rink is packed with the skaters' immediate families, and there's no place left to sit.

The place looks interesting: they've wrapped some Christmas lights around the structural columns and blackouts cover the side glass doors. Since the overhead lights are turned off the ice is illuminated instead with a couple banks of overhead l.e.d. panels, casting large blotches of blue and orange on the ice. Two technicians slide small spotlights into the corners awaiting the next skater.

The female rink announcer smoothly introduces the next skaters (it's a duet) and the spots swing to each side of a large hanging velvet-looking curtain as a young gal emerges from each side and poses. The program starts and it's. . . . wait for it. . . . Christmas music. Okay no surprise there. Shows like this are one of the few places you see skating duets, and naturally Christmas music isn't your usual skating fare. Also obviously these gals have been practicing this particular routine just for this show during the past month. You can see the struggling questioning on their faces as they partially remember the routine and improvise the rest. Still though the crowd applauds in appreciation.

Weirdness one: the holiday show is the only place you'll skate a new routine with 1 (or 7) other skaters, a simple program you barely know to music you never skate to, do a moderate job at it, and still get an ovation from a large audience.

Next up the eight senior skaters step out to the ice and skate (yeah to Christmas music) in a circle that shifts into two lines, everybody doing the same coordinated movements more or less at the same time. Weirdness two: I'm a solo skater; I never have to coordinate moves with anyone. Some take to it easily and others are clearly bothered at being faced with adjusting their natural timings. Big round of applause, mainly to see all the seniors skating together non-competitively.

Next up, a twelve year old takes to the ice and the announcer says ". . . she dedicates this piece to her aunt, who now skates with angels." Ahh first watery eye moment. A fair number of skaters naturally perform in silent tribute to someone; rarely though do we hear the announcer come right out and say it. So we send along our mental condolences as she's gliding along the ice.

Next up we have a little pause as the announcer indulges our patience while "we attend to a slight wardrobe malfunction." After a minute eight little tykes shuffle out to the ice, six girls and two boys, a couple of them with antlers. Also one larger skater, clearly one of the school instructors. The announcer queues a warm welcome for our pre-alpha skaters... teary moment two. Pre-alpha is cuteness incarnate anyhow, so to see eight of them all at once, and all of them their first time in front of a skating audience this size, is quite a pull on the heartstrings. They swizzle a bit and go forward and back half a rinks width, and that is that.

Next a number by the rink's sole ice dancers. Two skaters take to the ice, and run through a standard six or seven element routine around the rink a few times. This is very pleasant and relaxing to watch, as I rarely get the opportunity to see ice dance. They stroke smoothly in near perfect synchrony and I notice when they switch from forward to backward-facing travel how the lady carefully places the heel of the blade from her inner foot onto the other side of her partner. Yikes, I think to myself, how many new male ice dancers get the hard tapered back end of a blade stabbed into their shins that way? Suddenly my respect for ice dance jumps fourfold. They finish their cycle and pose at center ice, but their music continues onward. They have either undercounted their cycles or else miscut their music. It's rather embarassing and they don't know what to do. They skate across the ice and take another bow, then leave the ice with the music still going. Usual holiday show weirdness.

Rink announcer: now the surprise you've all been waiting for. . . he now competes nationally but he started here at this very rink (there's a big murmur and I miss his name) and then a clearly Accomplished Senior skater takes center ice to applause; he poses. We wait. And wait some more. The skater tilts his head slightly down to allow his peripheral vision to glance if the music booth needs some help. We wait some more. Finally a muddled CD starts and then stacato skips. He smiles, breaks his concentration while somebody fetches the backup CD. Finally back into his pose and the music starts (yes, Christmas music).

He does a couple moves around the rink and then preps back for a big Axel. A quad, slightly short but still impressive. A couple more moves across the rink. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the sight of twenty girl skaters' heads popping over the opposite dashers, eyes wide and slack-jawed. Accomplished Senior backs into the next big jump and completely totally nails a quad. Big applause, short program, smooth finish.

Yeah we had a couple other skaters interspersed there too, and now they join everybody else out on the ice for a finale; I duck out a bit early to avoid the traffic jam. Another year of skating, blogging, and joyful weirdness under my belt. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

- choosing

Xan recently posted her thoughts on why you should allow your coach to choose your skating music. After a few weeks of subconscious digestion I recognized that ''music" is only a barometer for a wider issue: how your skater relates to both her coach and the sport.

Naturally the manner that your child uses to make choices gradually changes as she matures. When your kid is little they exhibit definite tastes and won't be shy to express what they *dislike*. At a young age they may not however be fully cognizant of what they actually like -- you can expose them to all sorts of musical styles and most will be "meh" but at any rate all of them will broaden your kid's receptivity to expressiveness. At this point in their education I would follow Xan's advice and let the coach suggest the music, within the bounds that your kid doesn't wrinkle their nose too vehemently upon hearing it.

Once your kid hits around ten or eleven and starts competing regularly they are also going to be exposed to the music from lots of other skaters (and from those skaters' coaches). They will quickly discover that many programs prove more "dynamic" (or fall flat) due to the music. Around the age of twelve you and your skater face a critical juncture with respect to choosing their music. This is not unlike (and perhaps coterminous) with a tad of pre-teen rebellion. Continue along and work with the coach in choosing the music? Or step up to the plate and call your own tune?

At this point I say encourage your kid to select her own music. If it helps at all rest assured you're not risking damage to the relationship with your coach (although she may give you some pushback). If she's seasoned your coach has already seen a wide variety of student personalities; a wizened coach will reserve her doubts.

When your daughter chooses her own music it will have two major impacts. First it will tighten her involvement with actually listening to the music and its feelings. She'll begin to evaluate what she hears outside of the rink against what she thinks might be nice to skate to. More importantly perhaps it will shift her focus slightly away from competing and more toward her artistic expression.

Where can she glean new ideas for music? Have her create a Pandora station with a couple songs that she's already skated and see where the new suggestions lead. Having your teen skater choose her own music will make her a more independently artistic performer.