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, October 23, 2013

- deeper art


In an earlier post I pointed out how along with being athletes, most figure skaters are also artists. They have heightened senses of perception, aesthetics, and sensitivities. And like any artist they struggle with certain challenges related to their creativity, their vision, and wrestling with the tools of their trade.

Boots and blades can be finicky. The ice is never the same one day to the next, and it's different after a resurface. Your own body goes through different moods and it seems your weight distribution gradually changes. Every time you step on the ice it's another relearning experience.

Since seriously pursuing figure skating takes such an inordinate commitment and persistent concentration, a skater is in touch with her craft most of the time. While on ice the repeated physical acts of practice practice practice and adjusting to current conditions can become zen-like in their small adjustments and introspections. After a warm up and a half hour of freestyle a skater easily sends herself into a semi-hypnotic "zone" much like a musician or a painter.

No doubt a skater establishes a certain meditative peace from concentrating on her art. At the same time however a specific mental framework scaffolds this construction: it's almost as if you have your art brain, and your social brain. Your awareness sinks into your art brain while you work; meanwhile your social brain subconsciously ferrets away its tasks for later.

It's not unusual for others to interpret this non-social artistic anti-focus as ''stubborness." And indeed if you're stubborn enough to be a skater, you're stubborn enough for anything. At the same time this obstinance is more or less a critical trait to withstand the long hours you must invest.

Although there is sometimes the perception that a skater's skills evolve from the careful mentoring of her coach, like all artists a skater works within the confines of her bodily and mechanical tools, perceptive abilities, and creative inner life to manipulate an ever changing fractal reality. Careful nurturing from a coach, a coreographer, and a parent are essential, yes, but nevertheless many times the link between a skater's work and her progress is only apparent to the skater herself.

What happens when I lift my heel this way? What happens when I put this arm here on this spin? It's all experimentation and interpreting reactions.

Naturally often the road is frustrating and progress seems elusive, but periods of plateau and quietude are standard fare for any creative person. A skater must keep working during these fallow times as an artistic refresher; often she makes important discoveries while working on the routine, even in hindsight.

Art is about trying to put together ideas, feelings, and techniques -- skaters can plan work up to a point but must always be open to change. A skater must stay attuned to what is truly their expressiveness in the moment, otherwise they risk entering automatic processes that appear hollow.

Finally no matter who you are very few tangible (monetary) benefits are likely to come from figure skating; there seems to be barely enough funds to even keep the sport going. And sure, money might make things easier for you, but it doesn't really do anything to enhance the art in your skating. As skating riches are not a motivation, your satisfaction has to come from the creative process itself.

Figure skaters are solo artists constantly working in a grouped artisinal environment. Persistence, sensitivity, and originality are what set each of them apart. When you finish your program and feel our applause, deep down you'll know what it is all about: we are applauding for the artist that is you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

- lull


Unless you are skating to Flight of the Bumblebee or something equivalently vigorous, most likely your program has a couple dips or pauses in the music, a couple of spots where you can catch your breath and strike a pose. Hey dear, don't just stand there! This is the place for captivating subtle hand expressions and audience mental capture. Smile, make your point, complete the flourish of the music or hint where you are heading next.

At a pause in your music, your artistic expressiveness shouldn't lull.

Friday, October 11, 2013

- palms


Okay one last niggling concern about those parts of your body that don't actually skate: the palms of your hands. I'll accept three positions for your palms while stroking (when you aren't otherwise moving your hands about). Palms down, palms up, or palms forward. Each position expresses something different, yet most of the skaters I watch choose the simple default, palms down.

Palms down is like a plane flying, or a bird soaring. Good for when you want to describe "speediness" or a quiet smoothness. They are also probably easier to manage when you are still working up your shoulder strength. Palms forward (with feather fingers naturally) is like you are catching the wind, trailing a bouquet of colorful streamers. Palms up, the most difficult of the three, is a celebratory showing, carrying two golden orbs, a "ta da."

When you are stroking about the rink for your program take a few moments to consider your palms; what is the music trying to express here? Your palms should match.

Palms in a spin are really a great source for creativity. You can slice the air, you can tangle the wind, you can lift and arise, plus any combination of these. If you're very careful you can rhythmically flutter. Don't feel that you have to constrain yourself to a palm position frozen by the axis of your spin: you can slowly move your palms from one position to another.

Since jumps tend to already push the limits of the possible, palm expressiveness in a jump nowadays is rather an extravagant bit of glamour. If you back off a notch on your rotations however you can then inject some sparkle with your palms. This is easiest on the exit but if you're very careful you can meld them into your takeoff or even your apex. Don't get too crazy here. . . any palm expressiveness at all on a jump is certainly enough.

Edges, stroking, face thoughts, takeoff, timing, grace, arm movements, fingers, palms. Geesh is that enough to think about on the ice? Ya think?