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, October 26, 2014

- dynamics

At a local competition a few months ago I saw a vast variety of musical selections, with the typical flavors of styles and mix of cuts. One number jumped out at me however, for all the wrong reasons. Once she was in pose her music suddenly blared with full speed and intensity and she was off, jump, combo, bing bang boom, chaining one element to the next. All was going along fine technically, but after the initial pop out of our seats the audience dissolved into a quiet funk as the music settled into more standard fare. By the end of her program we had mostly forgotten what had transpired.

You need to be careful when you clip together the musical phrases of your program: what seems to work best is either a crescendo toward the end or something bimodal (like a two hump camel). This gives you the chance to gradually work into your routine and the awareness of the audience to capture their hearts. It also seems to mesh well with the natural nervousness and flow of energy that a skater traverses in her performance. Plan your musical crescendos to match your energy dynamics.

The dynamics of your skate involve quite a bit more though than just the simple up and down mountain profile of your energy. As in dancing you can frame your movements within a flow of expressive parameters. See for example this page, which details most of the currently standard thinking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

- transition

Are your transitions just how you get from one element to the next? Or are your elements those pieces of the requirements that you squeeze in-between your transitions? Most likely (and especially for a beginning skater) it's the former: the transitions are how you get from element 1 to element 2.

For the artistic expression of a musical piece however this presents somewhat of an issue, springing from the culture of how skating is taught. You learn a scratch spin, you learn a waltz jump, you learn a toe loop. Then you glue them all together with some transitions in cadence with your music. When it comes time to put together your program you and your coach think "what is a good move to do with the music /here/" and then the next, et cetera. So your program ends up as a bunch of separate moves glued together.

Ideally for the music however, the transitions and the elements blend together into an expressive piece of movement. The transitions can have an underlying thematic element to themselves. The can suggest a growing sense of urgency, or a crescendoing of artistic complexity. Or you can present the transitions as a consistent counterpoint to the mood within the elements. The transitions can be suggestive of how the elements might relate to one another. Your transitions can create an illusion of place, a sense of theme that ties into a storyline of the music. Transitions can even be suggestive of one another, playing off of each other.

When you build a program from the other end, from the point of view of "flow," certain moves will more naturally flow into others. Then the transitions serve a more practical purpose. They help you "set up" for your next element, in terms of body position, momentum, and posture. They also provide signaling to the audience as to where you're heading, both in terms of what is coming up in the next element but also where you are leading them emotionally through your theme. You can also view your transitions as the punctuation, the parenthesis that highlight or otherwise set apart your elements (you can use this approach gently but if you overdo it it quickly becomes rather crass).

Your transitions shouldn't be such a big mishmash of variety to confuse the audience. You want to establish some baseline for a sense of place or style. You should manage the beat (or pulse), accent (or stress), and tempo (or pace) of your transitions to avoid a random affair. You also need to consider the perspective of the audience viewing your transitions: who are you playing to? Is it bad form to play to both sides of the rink?

In whole, your transitions serve as a binding and connecting mechanism that expresses a theme. Even though your transitions seem to be interspersed amongst your elements (or vice versa) they get perceived as a continuous expression of a dynamically planned flow. It is even possible for the net effect of your transitions to have a storyline and a gentle reveal unto themselves.

That's not to say that all of your transitionsal patterns should be alike. Keep a theme within a certain program, but it's perfectly fine (and perhaps even more professional) to use entirely different thematic transitions in each of your separate programs.

Monday, October 6, 2014

- rink design

During this past weekend of 100 degree weather (in October even) I had the pleasure of cooling off with a couple hour visit to the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace, down toward Irvine.  The obligatory row of headshots of the private coaches was posted on one wall. The rink was a curious design combining many aspects of other rinks that I've seen, but with a total blend of features that I had never seen all together in one place.

It was of relatively modern design, with vapor-tight ceiling wrap, spinning color disco lights, northeast transom windows, and a muted color-scheme in a spic-and-span purely functional interior. The sound system was superior -- the pop music was nearly as clear as if I were sitting at a concert.

Aliso Viejo was built with just one ice surface with two adjoining party rooms, a snack bar, a game area with snack and coffee vending machines, shoe rental, a small pro-shop, and a bank of lockers. It's located in an out-of-the-way part of town that you might call light-industrial, except that the sheriffs office is next door and the city hall is across the street.

Comparing this design to other rinks I could immediately tease out what works well and what doesn't. Granted that each rink I visit caters to a slightly different audience (in terms of wealth or population density), I'm not advocating that all rinks should be designed to be exactly the same. At the same time many features are functionally supportive of figure skating, or promote a certain mood of skating that should be respected.  So let me skate right into the fray with my figure skating Rink Design Best Practices.

Neighborhood, Parking :: It's supremely weird to site a rink in the middle of an industrial area. Yeah I realize that commercial property is cheaper there, but it means that I can't step outside and enjoy a short walkabout while my kid is between her two freestyles. Better to site the place on the border between light industry and residential, where I can at least take a short walk to a nearby Starbucks. Also how about sufficient parking? It's a drag to park across the street and dodge the traffic with a wheely skate bag; this must be even worse for hockey goalies. Wider parking spaces would help too please.

Windows and Scenery :: North side windows to let in natural light are a must. The nicest mood for practice is to have some outside foliage or scenery visible -- Pickwick in Burbank and the Westfield San Diego rink are both excellent in this regard. If the windows are large enough to provide such a view they do however need blackout shades to draw down during competitions: what works well for practice can be distracting for a competition and too bright for a Showcase.

Sound and Acoustics :: Rinks need higher end sound systems with acoustics that pay special attention to avoiding the echo and flutter caused by a hard flat ice surface. I can't place a finger on the cause, but I have yet to visit a rink where you can both appreciate the music and then later understand the voice of the announcer. It seems to be a tradeoff as you either get an announcer with too much echo, or music that is too restrained in its dynamics. Please retain a building acoustics engineer whilst constructing.

Vapor Wrap :: Few rinks manage to combine superior vapor barrier design with aesthetic roof design. Pasadena Ice does a good job but possibly with the tradeoff of having a less permanent structure. Anaheim ice has a magnificent ceiling but it's likely expensive to maintain.

Colored Lights :: I don't know, I just suppose that my idea for the mood of figure skating should be different than that of roller skating. I'm not against some subtle colors; moving brightness though seems to me to be a bit over the top.

Paint job :: It sure is helpful to have something with coordinated colors to rest your eyes upon while you're not otherwise watching a skater or reading on your iPad. Yeah rinks have a large amount of exposed wall space to cover, and you can only sell so much local advertising or hang so many championship banners. The answer lies in an aesthetically designed paint scheme that can be readily touched up as the rink ages.

Viewing Area and Bench Materials :: This is legitimately one of the more challenging areas of design: how do you make benches that are comfortable to sit upon for hours that can still withstand the constant pummeling from skater's blades? The only fully satisfactory thing I ever saw was a sort of cushioned trex material, where a hard surface sits atop hidden styrofoam that gives way a bit.

I prefer that the stands rise from the same level as the rink; benches at a second-floor viewing level are certainly easier to protect from blade pokes but leave the parents too far removed from skating to provide enough interactive love.

Break room design :: Mostly what I care about here is that it has an adequate view to the ice and is easy enough to keep clean.

Headshots :: Names please (seriously). It seems unnecessarily gauche to add much more than that, as anyone who frequents the rink knows how to look up their coach's accomplishments.

That's a fair amount of design constraints. Yet that's only half of it -- that half I can describe as a figure skating fan and parent. Other folks skate here too though (eh, big guys with pucks and hockey sticks) so they certainly contribute additional requirements. And then the architect has to consider the whole business of the physical cooling plant and ongoing operations. Hey nobody ever said that rink design was easy.