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, June 28, 2014

- choreography

May I relate my opinions about choreography? Your coach shares her ideas, or if you've been competing a while then you employ a separate choreographer. Fine. Briefly suspend your preconceptions to contemplate these feelings from a long-time skate parent and audience member who has admired thousands of hours of figure skating. This is the eloquence us folks in the stands yearn for, the skating we desire expressively from your performance. This is the reason we watch you skate.

Absolutely, please express yourself! Choose music that moves and touches your soul, and then expound upon those feelings. Also though be the angel that fosters those feelings in the audience. Your performance should flow from your heart but also from our hearts.

Be flexible about the interpretation: let your personality shine through! We want your read on the music and your insight about these feelings. I don't like coyness or melodrama: just present your own honest personality. Still though we'd prefer some boundaries: don't mock the music, the lyrics, the audience, or the skating. Be a performance artist and stop being a show-off.

If you choose a piece with lyrics, primarily skate the meaning of the lyrics first and then skate the feeling of the music secondarily. Avoid a piece with a chorus of more than two occurrences (as this reduces your originality).

Speaking of that, show some ingenuity! Try a new leg or arm sweep, clap your hands, stomp a foot, wiggle your shoulders. Once is interesting. The second time you use the gesture for emphasis, but if you dare repeat it a third time then it is no longer cute but rather boring me to death.

Stay on the music... don't lag a half beat behind it and don't telegraph your move a half beat ahead either.

Does your program tell a story? It should have a lead in, build to a climax, and then finish gracefully or with a touch of class. Strive for a graceful overall presentation (or if you're a guy aim for a classy presentation).

And finally, keep us entranced. Keep me hypnotized throughout your program without distracting thoughts or fallouts. When you finish I should have that shocking feeling of rediscovering myself in an audience of hundreds of people, where moments before I was your virtual partner on the ice.

Personality, Expressiveness, Lyrics treatment, Appropriateness, Novelty, Ingenuity, Timing, a Full story, Grace (or class for a man), Hypnotism. Is all that too much to ask from your choreography? Exactly.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

- accessorized

It's not unusual to bring along an accessory to enhance a dramatic skating program. A hat (top or beret), a scarf (or two), a cane (or a baton), an umbrella (or a parasol), a twirly ribbon, an Asian silk folding hand fan, a fake microphone (or a megaphone), I've seen all of these. Sometimes it seems that the skater brought the prop along just to support the mood already established with the theme of the music, but I've seen a couple of devices that when used actually do add a bit of glamour or some other interesting flavor to a skater's elements.

I can't say though that skating with an umbrella or parasol adds that much to the panache of your performance. Unless you can manage to spin it in the opposite direction over your head as you execute a fast spin (and good luck with that) a parasol just doesn't have much graceful glamor to it.  Plus skating with an open umbrella seems like a particularly difficult task, as the air pressure provides such uneven resistance depending on your direction and the umbrella's tilt.

Skating with a cane or baton is easy enough, and a good little trick is to attach a leather band to the handle to make it easier to twirl. If you're going to carry a cane about the rink then really use it though!  Tap it here and there, twirl it some, use it as a pivot in a move. Please though don't throw it into the air to catch it. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've seen the timing on a program royally screwed up by a dropped baton. And even if you can toss and catch it 90 percent of the time during freestyle, your chances are only about 30 percent during the competition. And if you set it down for some other elements just be sure that you don't lose it in the process -- back gliding over a dropped cane can result in a fairly serious injury!

Many times I've seen somebody skate with one or two small collapsible accordion silk hand fans. You know, the kinds with drawings of Asian bamboo or flowers or dragons. Fans add quite a bit of expressiveness but it takes a bit of practice to control expanding and collapsing them effectively, especially when you're on the move. They are also easy enough to tuck into an elastic band to secure them in place when you want them hidden (stage trick: Velcro).

Skating with hand-held scarves or gauzy trailing things can create some nice visual effects (you know what I mean, those ribbons of lightweight floaty fabric that you hold in your hands or tie to your wrists).  I'm not talking about the ribbon that gymnasts are fond of using for their routine, a long narrow tape on a stick. Although you can use one of those too if you'd like. The real issue with skating with a gymnasts ribbon is that to be effective you really need to keep it moving the entire time, as (aside from dropping it on the ice) there's no convenient way to get the thing out of the way. So that means if you use one, your entire routine is pretty much about the ribbon.

Most popular though seems to be ribbons or swaths of gauzy fabric, but these though aren't without their own problems.  Solid props are much better behaved as they go where you place them; anything with fabric though tends to have a mind of its own.  This is especially a problem on any kind of spin. I was at one event where a skater managed to unintentionally wrap a rather wide chiffon around her head during a spin, and then had to grapple it away before moving onward.  If you're going to skate with something gossamer you need to plan ahead for every spin and jump and decide how you're going to secure the thing, either with some attention to wrapping it around a body part, temporarily scrunching it, releasing it for later, or holding it far enough away that it doesn't become an issue.

Finally, one of the nicer effects I've seen is to attach a somewhat wider swath of chiffon to the tines of a fan.  That way you get a more controlled and sustained width of fabric fluttering about. Again though this makes stowing it away a bit of an issue.

Whatever prop you use, plan the trajectory of its use carefully across the length of your program, and be sure to use it in a way that really adds value to what you're trying to present.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

- hands

Skating embraces pretty much your entire mind and body. During practice the physical focus is on your legs, ankles, feet, and body core; during program development your focus likely switches to the mental aspects such as timing, expressiveness, flow, and grace.  Well and trying to remember how the whole thing fits together. You probably spend most of your time though primarily thinking about your feet, ankles, boots, blades, and everything down at that end. Okay fine.

So what about those extremities three quarters of the way up that stick out to your sides? Hands! What do they have to do with skating? Can you visualize any other sport that is *less* dependent on hands? Okay, soccer. Anything else? Nope. And yet your hands /do/ play a role in figure skating, mostly for expressiveness and grace.

If feet are the sport's skill, then hands are its suave. And like shoes and socks, skill and grace compliment each other so significantly that it's bombastic to have one without the other. When you have to watch an athletically accomplished skater perform a routine without any thought about her hands it's like catching a Ferrari race down the street caked in mud. You don't have the whole package until you've got the hands.

Hands and feet operate in different universes on different time scales.  Much like a pianist plays a separate rhythm with the left and right hands, your feet and hands need to be able to operate independently. Whereas the feet become fully fixated on the variable speed execution of elements, the hands need to flow continuously throughout the expressiveness of your program's music. It's a left brain right brain sort of thing. Or maybe a front brain back brain sort of thing.

Hands should portray the story of the music. A fine line though separates telling the story from overselling it. Hand use in skating is like that Ferrari design: sure it needs to be both impressive and well thought through, but the suggestion of expense is better than outlandishness. No need for diamonds around the license plate on your Ferrari, sweetie. And with your hands the key concept is to be symbolic rather than to overtly describe.

Unless you are deliberately striving to be outrageously over-the-top, you want your fashionable hands to be appropriately understated. Yet as in choosing the car you drive, how you present your hands may depend strongly on your personal viewpoints and yield for whether you favor a demure versus a sparkling approach. I've always felt you should cultivate somewhat lyrical hands, but not necessarily hula-Hawaiian expressive. Your target should be slightly less than fully lyrical hands.

Finally, suggestiveness works best when unbroken. Continuous hand fluidity is quite a challenge, but it demonstrates real polish if you can retain your hand postures between elements and upon exits. A practiced skater lets her hands flow continuously sub-lyrically throughout her whole story.