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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

- sensitive choreo

I had some equivocal thoughts after interviewing Kate about choreo I'd like to share and explore. First, the importance of a choreograhper. I suppose you could plan your program's choreo by watching other skaters and their videos, and even by reading books on the topic. There's nothing though like having a choreographer skate alongside to help you at the rink. Your self-impressions of how you look when skating are likely inaccurate; the choreographer can make real-time demonstrations and corrections. An experienced choreographer will also know what is best for you as a skater: she knows the limits of your capabilities and where you might variously run into trouble. Your choreographer likely knows all the ins and outs of IJS scoring. If you are competitive she can impel you to the limits of your skills (adapted to your body type) to maximize your scores.

I asked Kate how she felt about "ethnic" programs; she said they were fine if the skater has the correct style to match what the program requires for handling the music. She did mention an ethnic program obligates the choreographer to show cultural sensitivity: you have to be thoughtful and avoid being disrespectful by falling into stereotypical portrayals.

I also inquired about the pros and cons of IJS scoring compared to 6.0. She felt IJS presents a two-edged sword: on one hand (due to its tight requirements) you need a choreographer to hep you cover everything while still remaining stylish. In other words, the strictures of IJS make it much more difficult to arrive at beautiful choreography just by yourself. The back edge of the sword however is IJS ensnares many skaters and their coaches where the pressures of its scoring inflicts moves upon a skater that are legitimately beyond her capabilities.

Our conversations also got me thinking about the appropriateness of seductive skating across various age groups. No matter what I say many readers will find it a controversial, sensitive, and high-anxiety issue. Nevertheless it merits exploration to clear the air, and as usual YMMV.

I'm neither categorically for nor against seductive skating. It all depends, and I can never tell ahead of time whether this is the right thing for you as a skater. When I am watching a routine I know about halfway through however whether or not your seductiveness strikes the right tone or if it assaults my sensibilities.

To start with what's easy, let's chat about the dress. I don't mind something slightly revealing (if you are twelve or older) but it shouldn't provoke me to be staring at your body more than I am watching your skating. In other words /suggested/ sexiness is better than "turning me on." I am here to watch you skate, not to gawk at your beauty. Specific design details beyond that are difficult, as it varies for each person: something that's too revealing for one skater may be fine for another.

Next, your attitude. Overtly "coming on" to me is never appropriate. Being flirty is fine in moderation: you can wink and wave and blow me a kiss, no problem. How I judge your wiggling about depends a lot upon your age: older skaters can get away with all sorts of shenanigans as long as it's "tongue in cheek" and not overdone. Younger skaters look wrong when they try to move sexily: I prefer the younger skaters strive for cuteness in a Shirley Temple sort of fashion. Where's the age dividing line? I haven't a clue: some skaters mature faster than others. Hint, it's somewhere between 11 and 16.

Trying to look sexy comes across as false when you're in that awkward teen age danger-zone where you've outgrown being cutesy. Again this isn't a specific age but rather when you're old enough to be thinking about it but not old enough to actually know what it's about (enough said). If this is you then please don't try to be seductive on the ice. You can still wink and wave and blow me a kiss though, no problem.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

- becoming a choreographer

In earlier posts I chatted with Kate about what it's like to work with a choreographer, and some of the finer points of that field. Folks choose to be choreographers (rather than say skating coaches) based upon where their heart leads. If you are more interested in nurturing along a skater's development over the years and like to teach jumps and spins, then you tend toward coaching. On the other hand if you don't mind being lesson-to-lesson and gig oriented (and subservient to the coach), and are more interested in movement, dance, and artistic expression in general then you will lean more toward choreography.

You don't have to have a history of figure skating in order to be a good skating choreographer. Phillip Mills, Benji Schwimmer, and several other well-known choreographers started in the dance world and then moved into skating. Say you've become enamored with that idea and would like to turn your dance or skating background into a skating choreography career -- how does one go about such a thing? Herewith Kate gives good starting points for young choreographers regardless of your background.

⦁    Educate yourself! American Ice Theatre offers an online semester-long skating course called Master Choreography Techniques (MCT) that is absolutely wonderful. You'll have the chance to regularly create work, learn choreo vocabulary and be able to speak knowledgeably about movement and how to create a program. (www.americanicetheatre.org)
⦁    The Professional Skaters Association also offers a choreography track through its ratings program – the four ratings for choreographers require you to learn IJS rules alongside music, dance, and skating skills. (www.skatepsa.com)
⦁    For great background, enroll in dance or theatre classes at a college.
⦁    Attend workshops – both American Ice Theatre and Ice Dance International offer these. Various annual choreography and movement festivals occur all over the world. There’s an American Ice Theatre Contemporary Skating Festival coming to Boston in June 2017! Keep your eyes open for opportunities such as these.
⦁    Get involved in your local rink teaching Learn-to-Skate, and shadow coaches or choreographers while they teach private lessons. Build relationships with your local coaches.
⦁    Offer to assist with your Club’s exhibition or Holiday show – choreograph group numbers and volunteer to help the show run smoothly.
⦁    Skate regularly to explore your own sense of movement, style, transitions, turns and steps.
⦁    To demonstrate your style and choreography, perform your own choreo  as much as possible: perform at your Club’s shows and exhibitions, and compete in Showcase events .
⦁    Participate in online choreography contests such as: Young Artists Showcase (www.youngartistsshowcase.net), Quest for Creativity (more info at www.grassrootstochampions.com), or the ProSkaters online competition (www.proskaters.org) .
⦁    Get in touch with someone in the field to mentor you. Skating choreography is a small circle, and everyone from all generations is an available resource.
⦁    Support artistic groups such as American Ice Theatre, Ice Theatre of New York, Ice Dance International, The Next Ice Age, Ice Cold Combos, and more! Attend their shows and contribute in any way you can to the community!
⦁    Post your work online and use social media to get your name out. Ask for feedback of your work from your mentor or other established choreographers.
⦁    For self-promotion, comp a higher level skater’s choreography.
⦁    Create a professional website to organize and promote the work you’re doing with the style you wish to establish.
⦁    Attend dance classes and artistically inspiring events as much as possible.  Critically watch videos from other well-known choreographers.

Most of the technological knowhow required for quality choreography entails learning about music editing software. Most choreographers edit their music with Garage Band, Sound Forge, or a variety of other music editing systems. You can also hire professional editing companies online to edit the music for you. Choreographers will also often video toward the end of lessons, especially for visiting lessons.

New choreographers need to know IJS, especially for footwork and spins. They also need to build relationships with coaches, while assuring them you aren't going to steal their students. As obtaining students is all coach based, building relationships with parents, skaters, and fellow coaches is really the most important thing a choreographer and secondary coach can do.

Since choreographers are a part of the “team” offer to help edit music or assist in a show. Shadow a private lesson in order to demonstrate your interest, capability, and professionalism. Respond to emails in a timely fashion, dress professionally at the rink, and always be prepared with the music. Map out the plan for the skater’s program (or counts for an ensemble piece). Maintaining your professionalism encourages the coaches to recommend you as their choreographer! Never forget that your own personal passion for movement and skating is often a wonderful way to market your capability as a choreographer.

Ideally you will be creating the space for a skater to discover her own muse. A choreographer's job is to reveal the skater's unique expressiveness of her own proficiencies, expanding the skater’s movement, style, and performance to her potential! It’s a really wonderful process! Don’t just project your movements upon them – open up their world and bring awareness to what their body’s innate movement already is; help them refine that movement as they develop and perform.