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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

- beginning choreo

We never actually retained a choreographer when my daughter was skating: she already had enough to learn, plus her coach seemed to have the instinct for promoting rink coverage and expressiveness. As I've watched tons of other skaters over the years however I've noticed that most of them seem to be stuck in unglamorous rink-coach mode. Although their programs do their best to match their music they seem to lack imagination. Targeted toward squeezing in the required elements, they fall short of making an artistic musically coordinated statement.

You know, you can retain a choreographer.  Since I had no clue how you go about such a thing I contacted Kate McSwain ( from Boston to find out more. Hopefully in the next couple of posts I can summarize her information well enough to fill us both in.

Early learn-to-skate programs focus on form and balance. Edges, arms up, stroking, posture. Many six year old skaters hit the ice for a show looking like tiny robots.  Once your kid gets her balance and stops falling every time she runs through her program, it's likely time to loosen her up a bit. You can start this as early as FS1, when a skater is seven years old or so.

Check with your kid first and then chat up her coach. Does your coach know a choreographer? Sometimes this is a delicate conversation and you may have to be more firm: some coaches may dissuade you from bringing in someone who they may view as an impediment to their own influence. Push harder. Or casually check with another coach at the rink, or chat up other skate parents.  Choreographers generally don't market themselves directly to skaters -- they all work through coaches. Your role as a parent is to get everyone onboard.

The good news is choreographers charge pretty much the same hourly rate as regular coaches. If your rink doesn't already have a resident choreographer then you can expect to reserve time with a visiting one -- many of them travel around. Kate said she plans on spending an hour of time with a skater for each minute of her program. For your typical skater (say with two programs running) getting your programs designed comes out to approximately 6-8 hours of choreo per season, so certainly affordable. After you've got your programs all layed out figure you'll want an additional 6-8 hours of advice over the course of the season for stylization and polishing your routines to perfection.

Monday, October 17, 2016

- the whole spectrum

Now, enter the parents. Naturally some of the parents are more competitively inclined; others have more aesthetic sights. Crossing the expectations of the parents with the body-types of the skaters blossoms the whole interesting range of the skating spectrum.

The competitive parents with the slender daughters end up with hyperactive kids, coerced into ridiculously sublime attempts at ever more complicated jumps. The parents hold their breaths and clap when the kids land their jump; the kids push themselves so much that they exclude all room for art.

The slender kids with the aesthetic parents have an interesting dilemma: they are driven by their peers in one direction but by their parents in another. They show an inherent tension in their skating -- not a bad tension, but a tendency to take a quick jump to impress their coach while their parents covers their eyes and berate them afterwards.

The large-boned kids with the aesthetic parents are in stage-performance heaven. Their parents love them and they garner grace, elegance and admiration from the audience. But they don't move very far up the competitive skating ladder and hence remain trapped with small audiences.

Ah, but amazingly enough the middle ground of skaters (who are average, in almost all respects) are the skaters that gradually move up through the ranks. They grind away at the competitions... a first place here, a second place there, surviving on that rare combination of artistic grace with just enough athletic talent to make some of the moves.

This is my daughter. It is a challenging place to be, because you are often spurned by the slender gals since you have more grace than them, and you can't compete with their jumps anyway. And you are shunned out of jealousy by the large-boned gals. The middle ground makes you lonely, but if you have the self-discipline it also is the road to ever larger audiences.

There is a sort of bittersweet resignation in all but the top competitors. Most of this simply comes from their acceptance of their physical body size and shape that has the affect of limiting their skating physics. And after all, they put up with us parents.