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, March 25, 2015

- prunes and prisms

In the comments of a prior post where I was chatting about the larger on-ice sliding props, Maria left me an excellent question:

"At some rinks the judges are sitting on the opposite side from the audience. In that case, how should the prop be positioned, so that the audience sees the front of the prop or the judges?"

This is a bit of a "loaded question" -- it's masqueradingly simple with all sorts of complicated contingency answers. It leads down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, from the crawling ants of convenience past the carrot roots of local custom all the way beyond the deep redwood taproots of philosophy.  Are you ready?

I don't think I've ever visited two rinks with the exact same audience seating / judging arrangements. Some  sport giant bleachers on a single side opposite the hockey dugouts. A few have narrow elevated concrete bleachers all the way around. I visited a couple with glass-wall separated viewing areas rather remote from the ice. Some have family-friendly bleachers conveniently located next to a video-game room, snack room, and vending machines.  And every rink sits their judges differently. Heck some rinks I've been to will even seat judges in varying locations for different competitions! Clearly then a generalized answer takes more thorough analysis.

Before we get too deep though, let's start with the obvious answer: "it depends." Among many things it depends upon:

- are you only skating this in an exhibition once, at a single venue?
- is this an annual competition that your coach has been to before?
- how large will the audience be? How far away do they sit? Elevated or right next to the ice?
- how much of the routine is dependant upon a front/back presentation?
- do you skate better for judges or for an audience?

If this is something like an exhibition light entertainment piece for your local club (while most of the time you are a seriously competitive solo skater) then chances are you will practice it for a couple of months and then have fun with it at this one event. Local showcases are usually pretty well attended so maximize your fun and camaraderie with your clubmates and "present" to the audience -- place the prop where the audience can easily see the front of it, and skate your program directed to them. If the judges are sitting opposite then when you slide your prop toward its position on ice rotate it around slowly so the judges can appreciate the effort you put into assembling it: give them a good glimpse of the thing. You can go too far with this "reveal" though -- I've seen some skaters deliberately bring the prop directly in front of the judges and then feign getting stuck before magically recovering maneuverability to final placement. Please don't do this.

If this is an annual exhibition that your coach has been to before then most likely she will remember how the rink sites the judging.  Even if it is the first time for the competition, likely your coach knows the customary seating if it is a familiar rink, as well as what kind of attendance to expect. Therefore it makes a fair amount of sense to review the audience / judging arrangement with your coach well beforehand, even when you are a month away and still practicing.

Now having said all this there might be times when you want to be more presentable to "judges opposite." Say for example that "light entertainment" is what you do -- where you are primarily trying to make your mark in the skating world. Or if you are skating the same program at several small events with tiny audiences. Then facing the prop towards the judges makes more sense.  I'm not saying the audience should only see the back, but you can have the prop askew somewhat so both the judges and the audience see parts of it. In that case it also makes sense to design your program to be more rounded in its presentation, papering the house without specific front/back bias. Design your prop so that it goes around a corner so each side of the rink sees at least a part of it.

Skating orientation in general is quite a deep subject: some competitors are really out there to advance up the ranks and impress the judges. Others are out there for the showmanship and love of the audience. So even without a large ice-sliding prop you still have this issue in most programs: who are you performing for? Okay now let me wax philosophical... what I *really* like to see in an accomplished skater is someone who plays to the audience 80 per cent of the time and the judges 20 per cent. A good skater also evenly addresses the whole seating arrangement of the audience, with acknowledgements to both sides (if so seated). If you're good enough to perform in an arena you'll consider spending a little more loving attention to the 100 dollar seats at center ice.

Prunes and prisms are ten times more complicated when considered in the context of a production number, such as Theatre on Ice. The props are gigantic constructions and the nuances of the choreography pretty much demand a front-side. I feel quite strongly that judges of a Theatre event should always sit along with the primary audience. In fact, gosh darn it rinks, please seat your judges with the audience, always, for all events. Why would you do it any differently?

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