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, December 19, 2018

- comedy


A comedy routine is one of the most difficult light entertainment routines to skate. Several factors contribute to this difficulty. For one, you will understand the basis for comedy either from your innate personality trait -- if you're the class clown -- or you will develop it from a keen sense of pratfall and irony (as few class clowns take up skating this means most comedic routines develop from pratfall and irony).

And one of the tougher things to do is to "pretend" to muff a skating move. Seriously, a mistimed pratfall on ice is dangerous. And skating irony tends to be very "inside" -- it relates to plays on existent moves. Only a narrow window of side possibilities exists however to parody a skating move, although often props come in handy here. Yet skating with props also present their own difficulties: props tend to either dynamically alter your center of gravity or confound speed dynamics by adding wind interference. In any case skating a comedic routine means dealing with physics outside of the ordinary; it expands the range of what you might otherwise attempt and rather forces you to stress the boundaries of your familiar physics.

Despite the challenge of skating a comedic routine, it is valuable in how it broadens your aura. First it opens you up to self ridicule -- it destroys the common fault of taking yourself too seriously. One of the first steps in accepting others is to admit your own imperfections. Making a fool of yourself is a sure way to get there. Once you obsess less over your own activities you become more observant of the little foibles of others, and hence become more able to refine yourself.

Finally, skating for laughs improves your audience awareness. Unlike a dramatic program where you are concentrating on expressiveness and performing to the music, you need to tune a comedy routine in front of observers. How else do you know if you are being funny? One thing you learn rather quickly is that we each are rather poor at assessing how entertaining we actually appear to others; a part of developing a sense for this awareness comes from learning to "love" a different part of an observer's brain. Once you become unfixed on your own self obsessions you grow into more social, sociable skating. And it's the most difficult things you do that help you grow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

- not baseball

When I visit local competitions, nobody is in the audience outside of some parents and a few skaters from the club. This makes sense if you view a local meet the same as say, a little league baseball game -- the little league stands are also just filled with parents and siblings. There's a little league game every weekend, the sport is there to burn off energy and teach the young kids good sportsmanship, and if you miss the game this time you can go next week and it will still be the same.

But a skater attends a local competition maybe three or four times a year. It takes months of practice to reach reasonable competency on a skating program, and there's the added expense of coaching and a skating costume. Practicing for the event is a five-hour-a-day endeavor, six days a week. Sorry, even a local skating competition is much more like a college baseball playoff game than like a little league weekend scrimmage.

The other place where this analogy breaks down is that the skill gap between little league compared to MLB is magnitudes wider than that same gap between a local skating competition compared to, say Worlds. For example I've attended some local Open competitions where a budding elite world-class skater would show up and skate, either to get in a good competition-mood practice session, or to motivate the friends in her club. Can't say though I've ever heard of a little league game where Kershaw pitched an inning or two.

A great deal of this difference in the sports naturally flows from the paucity of participants in figure skating (compared to baseball), and the compressed timescale over which competitive participation is viable. Skaters and little ballplayers can start at five and six years old, but you don't see a lot of Grand Prix skaters past the age of 25. A good number of MLB gents are in their late 30's.

Also different from baseball, there are no minor-league clubs in figure skating: everything is based upon individual athletes who affiliate with a local club forever (until the USFSA sponsors them globally). Ashley Wagner skates for Wilmington when she is a twelve year old novice as well as when she is the national champion runner-up. As a skater, this puts you in the "big leagues" pretty much as soon as you qualify for Nationals.

So why are local skating competitions so poorly attended? Besides simply a lack of marketing I can understand several other reasons: it's because watching the competition is cold and boring, it takes so long, there isn't enough variety, and the seats are hard without a backrest. If you're not an aficionado then there simply isn't much to see here.  Frankly, in the United States figure skating's present appeal as a sport is rather limited.

It didn't always used to be that way. Back fifteen, twenty years ago you would get a reasonable crowd at the local competitions. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and neighbors a short drive away would all show up to enjoy the music and skating. It was more like coming to watch an inexpensive amateur Ice Capades. People could spend a couple of bucks for a couple of hours of artistic entertainment.

Monday, October 22, 2018

- deep aesthetic thoughts


When done right, the negative-space artistic perspective of the sport is exactly concordant with the positive-space version. More than just a balance between physical agility and artistic expression, there is the baseline point that the act itself, the expression of lacing up leather attached to steel and stepping onto frozen water in specialized attire to move the ether with your music and balance both defines the purpose of art and makes a mockery of it at the same time. It is as abstract as abstract can be while at the same time being as physically concrete as is physically possible. Everything about it should be impossible, and yet it happens anyway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

- to judge?


A reader recently inquired whether I would ever be interested in becoming a figure skating judge. Even though I love watching skating, the short answer is No. Nope, no thank you. The long answer will stretch out below for paragraphs and paragraphs.

I have considered the possibility of judging; I definitely have my ideas for how I'd like to see the sport performed. I feel that figure skating judges perform a civic service, much as a lifeguard helps out at a public pool, or an attorney might provide pro bono work for a worthy cause. Without judges the sport would only consist of recreational shows.

I did judge an event once -- sitting in the stands opposite the actual judges -- using my own scoring system. It was not an enjoyable experience. I got some nasty glares from the actual judges: apparently my thoughts were too distracting! The main challenge however is keeping a full mental inventory of what you are watching without letting your eyes drop to a scoresheet; then you jot it all down after the skater finishes. It's mentally quite taxing.

Yet judging supports scoring which encourages both accomplishment and commitment. Quite like any creative art, the presentation of a blank canvas lacking guidelines or limitations can be quite intimidating. The scoring system provides that scaffold: the outline for building a creative skating program.

And the judges have these boffo electronics and nice event hospitality rooms! If you watch closely you may catch the camaraderie as they enter and leave their stations. Occasionally you even get the pleasure of brushing shoulders with former national champs, now doing a round of judging themselves. I've even had the privilege to sit behind a group of a dozen aspiring judges to observe as they were mentored through a competition with phony scoring equipment and thick trainee manuals.

Have you ever walked into a Starbucks half a world away only to be comforted by the same color schemes, attention to decorating details, and identical social atmosphere? The same seasonal stickers on the windows? You know how they do that? Have you ever seen a 'bux training manual? The managerial teams there are a pyramid of conforming non-conformity.

ISU judging is no different. USFSA has a well established program for growing judges, see here for example. On one hand, it's quite an accomplishment. On the other hand it's an extremely narrow perspective of the world. Make no mistake about it, ISU grooms judges up through a tightly controlled and socially restrictive culture that inculcates their exact desires.

I can see where it just has to be that way, but that is not for "me." Am I a bit of a rebel? I love skating for its artistic outlet, and I am always overjoyed with the opportunity to muse. But judging? God bless the judges, but no thanks (wink).

Friday, August 17, 2018

- priorities

Sometime in your child's skating career you will be faced with some tough decision making. I was recently reminded of this after reading a tweet from a concerned parent, suggesting that her kid's coach may have been contributing to an eating disorder by encouraging her skater to throw up after eating. This was so she could lose weight and hence better achieve her Axels.

To begin let me state unequivocally that as a parent you are fully and spiritually charged with insuring the long-term health and safety of your child. Now however comes the complications.

Perhaps the soul of your skater needs to achieve art. Now I'm not saying that being a skinny Axel jumper is necessarily artistic, but let's use that as an example for a valid artistic goal (you could substitute any skating element here really).

Given any artistic goal, there will be sacrifices your child is willing to make to acheive those goals. This holds true for any artist: Art requires sacrifice.  Once they've decided to make that sacrifice then they may find the methodology, the madness to those ends, from their coach, from their friends, or maybe even online or in a book somewhere.

This is where parenting gets difficult. You don't want to squash the dreams, art, and expressionism of your child. At the same time, as an adult with an extended viewpoint on life, you recognize long-term tradeoffs and risks with certain lifestyles. This is where love, and positive and open communication with your skater is so important. A parent's role is to provide that long-term wisdom.

If you suspect abuse by a coach you may report their behavior at https://www.safesport.org/. But also please speak openly and honestly with your skater about balancing their artistic skating ideals with a lifestlye that will be beneficial for the rest of their life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

- the cusp of boredom


I caught just a glimpse of my daughter becoming bored or perturbed with her practice. Once I understood it I drew a parallel to my math excursions from when I was her age. A person gives their heart and soul to what they find they are initially good at, only to eventually run out of steam when opposing ever tougher competitors.

Of course I love her whether she decides to pursue skating her whole life or becomes jaded.

Maybe this is what defines the long-term skaters after all: they are driven by their desire to express themselves through the performance artform. It becomes a matter of survival; it becomes their sole outlet for their creativity. I'm unsure yet whether or not my daughter possesses this trait.

Monday, July 23, 2018

- triumph


It seems natural as we are growing to attach our selves to things. It starts with a connection to our mother, then to toys and friends, then interests, workmates, and lovers. As souls follow their paths however, unfortunate worldly circumstances may cause disconnections, and hence sorrow.

We may defray this sorrow by attention to physical activity, "centering," or by shifting our attention to art or entertainment, thus joining a larger global culture.

Skating meets all of these needs: it is artistically entertaining, physically demanding, and culturally enthralling.

Is sorrow necessary to be a good skater? Otherwise you are just skating for attention, fun, peer or parental approval. When you are skating to relieve sorrow though, something else is in play.

Skating is also one of the few sports that relies on near total physical detachment. The skater uses just her mind, body, and some steel blades to excel in her sport while only attached to the world by a thin layer of water melted over ice.

Skating demands that the skater connect to a larger, longer-timelined culture. It requires intense attention to physical centering. And it constantly reattaches the skater through love to her coaches and to her audience. She does all this only because it is what physics allows.

Skating is the triumph of physics over sorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

- discomfort


I suppose it shouldn't come as any surprise, but like any elite athlete a skater has to put up with a considerable amount of discomfort. It's not just the demands of physical exertion under the duress of awkward postures and strange forces. It's not just cold feet hours inside of those darn boots. It's not even the bumps and bruises from an unforgiving ice. Or the early practice hours, dramatic stress, or clique snubs.

The real discomfort is that skating is strangely isolational. Much like say a boxer, when you're away from your coach you are in a room with people you see all the time, but you are mostly practicing alone.

It's not a lonesome activity however. In fact quite the opposite. When you're in a classroom with fifty students you get most of your thoughts to yourself, as the constantly changing linkages scatters your love. When you're in a room with just a friend however, your love beams concentrate on each other and you become locked into mutual attention, without escape.

Skating practice is like that, and hence the discomfort. Yep, at the rink everyone knows what everyone thinks about everybody else.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

- styled


You realize of course that what makes a skating program stylish has a lot more to do with the mode of execution than simply what elements your program contains. In fact I'd argue that any particular element in and of itself is not more stylish than any other element: a stag jump and a Bielman are moves that can both look either amazing or crappy, depending.

Okay so perhaps a Bielman has greater *potential* for stylish embellishment. This is because if you break the move down into quantum atoms, it has more moving parts.

First you lead into it with your pre-entry spin. Then calf up, hand drop, skate grasp. Then a pull upward, other hand grasp, more upward pull while spinning. Then spinning in final posture, added embellishment, and graceful exit. So watch this video.

There you go, what did you see? Of course, a Bielman. Now watch this one.

Okay, same element really, yes? But styled very very differently. Denise has something to say with her move, her approach is deliberate and gentle, she wants to use the move as a vehicle for expression on entry, spinup, and graceful exit.

She's not just doing a Bielman.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

- atypical

A few weeks ago I invited a friend to our rink's "Showcase" event. Afterwards I recognized she might take me as quite eccentric. Of course it's not like asking somebody to Nationals, where they can expect top-flight skaters in highly manicured, exorbitantly costumed, athletic exuberance. On the other hand it's neither the faux pax of asking a friend to your kid's little league baseball game.

Yes these are local skaters, some with talent, some just getting up to speed. What's makes competitive figure skating quirky is the expense and life-consuming time commitment creates a "clique" sport, and these confines produce (especially at a local competition) a broad mix of skill levels. Even a local event might include one or two national-level skaters.

Hopefully my friend won't feel slighted by the invitation and will join me for the subsequent viewing, provided she has the time. After all it takes patience to watch a figure skating competition (even a quarter of the competition can run to half a day), but championing the boring skaters will likely be awarded by the sparkle of one or two stars.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

- simple


You know it's very difficult to be right on the money all of the time. Sure you practice your toughest elements in aim for including them in your program when you are at your best. Yet it's self-deceptive to expect that you will always be in top form.

It makes some sense therefore to occasionally practice a subsumed program -- something that is simple, follows your music, and completes most of your ice coverage. One way to look at this (to frame it in your mind) is to imagine the unfortunate situation that you fall ill a couple of days before a competition. Hey it happens.

Say you come down with the flu. Now what do you do, scratch? After having prepared your coach and family, reserved a hotel room, and paid the entry fee? Sure it's unfortunate, but I've known it to happen to just about everyone.

The solution is to skate the "simple" version of your program. No it won't impress the judges, but your coach will understand, and your family won't be left with the feeling that they completely wasted their time.

Once a month or so practice the simple program. If nothing else, it's insurance.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

- master


Folks who skate nationally and then retire from competing, but who then keep on skating into their adult years, are an interesting bunch to watch.

Some of what makes them captivating is that they have many quiet and intense experiences that they relive through their skating. Some of it is that they are a bit of a throwback to an older era, when the sport itself was different.

More interesting is that, if they so desire, with a flick of the skate blade they can show you more suave, more grace, or more class than most everyone else at the rink.

A rink will often allow for a flight of Master level skaters at an exhibition. If you can by all means stick around to watch: you won't learn any new elements this way, but you'll learn some things that are far more important.

Friday, April 20, 2018

- friction


No matter how involved a skating parent nor how proficient a coach and her staff, you're still going to find some friction between a parent and the coach. The basis for this is joint and several.

Some is the natural conflict inherent in loco parentis where every day a coach temporarily transmits some of her value system to a student. Some of it may be a lingering suspicion from the parent that the coach's goals don't align exactly with her own. Some of it may strictly be a cost/benefit complaint. Some of it may be disdain toward the lack of authority or control the parent has over the coach (who appears to primarily be an employee of the rink).

At the foundational level though, all this appears to mostly result from a complicated "agency" problem: several parties stand between the service provider (coach) and the buyer (parent). Analogous to how companies buy health insurance for their employees, a parent buys coaching for her child. This transaction is not perfectly transparent however: few parents comprehend the intricacies of skating and the communication between a parent and her child are often less than clairvoyant.

There also seems to be a moral hazard always lurking beneath the surface: is the coach actually managing your child strictly to retain a long term client? Is that in your child's best interest? Does the coach give you false hopes of grandeur in return for a longer lasting revenue stream? In other words is the best interest of your skating child at odds with the best interests of her coach?

A parent of a serious skater may need to consider how to incentivize her kid's coaches to achieve the skater's desired results. Should you tip your coach for exceptional accomplishments? Should you have a contract with your kid's coach with performance incentives? Should we be encouraging skate parents to share their feelings about the quality of their coaches?

Yeah it's a lot of questions and I don't know any of the answers. Frankly a parent can be a bit of a cad to bring these up in public to begin with. Still it's something to think about (and perhaps discuss on blogs or on skating forums).

Monday, April 9, 2018

- literal


Skating with expressive style to a musical piece is a good trick; staying stylish when the background contains lyrics is even more of a challenge.

I'd prefer that you didn't, but if you absolutely must skate to music with lyrics, please avoid running the unfortunate risk of taking the words too literally. Just because the lyrics say "breaking my heart" doesn't mean that you have to clutch your chest, seriously.

Although the music usually gets written as an accompaniment to the lyrics, if we wanted you to skate to the words alone we would ask you to skate solely to spoken poetry.

What makes music magical beyond the lyrics *is* the music. The music is the showy sizzle, the lyrics are the poetic scaffolding.

That rather sets the stage for what we are asking: use the higher level, the music, as the framework upon which to build your performance. The lyrics are still there, so don't controvert their meaning. But it's a nobler cause to skate to the feelings of the music.

And when the lyrics say "he shot her" don't cock your fingers into a pretend gun to shoot. Seriously.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

- fantasy


If five hours of watching an Open skating competition has numbed my brain, sometimes I will drift off to a fantasy of my own routine: the program that I would skate (if I were capable of skating). Being an older man the performance would be more dapper and stylish, yet oozing with class and supreme athletics.

I stretch a bit from the sidewall as my program's music starts, something with a haunting jazzy bass drum beat. I reach over the dasher, grab a top hat and a silver and black cane, tap the hat onto my head, and do a jaunty three turn out to center ice, bowing as a jazzy slide trombone emerges with a slow melody.

I head off quickly down the ice, the coattails of my tuxedo flitting out behind me, and as I reach the end I jump to land a perfect double Axel (to polite applause). On the way back I split jump while tossing my cane with a twirl high into the air, turning around after landing to catch it behind my back. The crowd Ahhhs.

Then I am picking up more speed, a triple Axel, straight down into a sit spin, flipping the cane around on the ice beneath me in the opposite direction to my spin. Then rising up to a full stop I pose, and the music pauses as I dip my hat.

The jazz now picks up to a staccato pace, and I do impossibly fast footwork down the ice in one direction, on the return path a spread eagle while twirling the cane above my head and then twice around my body. Then gaining speed down the ice I jump straight up into a laid-out front flip holding onto my hat as my skates vertically pass overhead, landing gently (on one foot!) right into a spiral, the cane gently twirling between my fingers.

Then a final bow, hat in hand. Standing ovation.

Meanwhile back at the actual rink the pre-preliminary group A takes to the ice for their warm up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

- storyline

At an appropriate age (say eleven to thirteen) I'm wondering if it makes sense for figure skaters to enroll in a year or so of dramatic stage-acting lessons? I know they already take ballet, they work out at the gym, maybe they have a jump coach or attend some stroking lessons. They even occasionally retain a choreographer. Do you really need to be spending more toward their skating career?

Well it depends. It does seem that American skaters lack a sense of dramatic projection and the ability to express a story through their skating. This capability varies enormously amongst individual skaters however, even at the local rink. Gals that are naturally expressive tend to enjoy the Showcase events or Theatre on Ice, and that is fine and good. If your technical skater has their sights on Nationals though and is more of an athletic competitor, then their bubbly personality alone may prove insufficient to bump up their Program Component Score, as the objective is to "physically, emotionally, and intellectually deliver the intent of the music and composition."

Russian, Japanese, and Italian skaters already seem to internalize this: it's almost like their culture imbues an innate sense of storytelling; as they inherently value the dramatic they always incorporate it into their choreography.

Dramatic acting is not for everyone though and it takes a couple of years for the gifted artists to "shake out." Sometimes a skater possesses the personality to slip in and out of character while letting their soul temporarily become something else. That skill needs some polish, but for the performer to mature she must learn how to effectively rebound after each performance with a reinvigorating recuperation.

Some skaters are competitive all the way through and through: all they need to stay motivated is somebody to best. But this is a shallow goal. In my mind the purpose of storytelling is more than just boosting your score or providing an entertainment hook. I firmly believe that the story serves as a benign diversion, so that you can accomplish the soul work that you're really out on the ice for. It is only with an artistic soul that a skater has the moxie, motivation, and determination to guide herself through the tough times to ultimately create a skating career.

Friday, February 23, 2018

- care


I see quite the full spectrum of parental involvement at the rink; I suppose that's to be expected: after all some parents are just along for the ride. They nag their kid to hurry and pack the skate bag, drop their skater off at the rink, go run some errands, and then come back and sit in the ice lounge the last fifteen minutes of class. Afterwards they may congenially ask their kid how the lesson went.

My friends, this is not truly a skating parent.

A skate parent reminds his kid when she is packing to make sure that she brought an extra pair of tights. On the way to the rink the parent inquires when the last time his daughter had her skates sharpened.

The skate parent holds the doors open for his daughter as they enter the rink, wraps the scarf around his neck, and assumes his usual seat (with back support) down by center ice. He sets down his thermos of coffee and takes up his pen and video camera.

As his daughter skates he takes notes about her form and style. A skate parent presses his face up to the crack between the panes of Becker plexiglass to yell out how to improve a move. Occasionally he calls her over to a door opening to chat about something different and more expressive that his daughter can try with her arms.

During a break he accompanies her to the heated lounge and buys her a snack, and they chat about skating, school, or friends at the rink.

After practice the skate parent makes sure he thanks the coach, verifies that his daughter remembered her skate guards, and drives her out for a bite to eat. On the drive home the parent lets his daughter watch her practice on the video camera.

A skating parent is indeed crazy to spend this much attention on his daughter if it does no good. But whether or not it makes her a better skater is somewhat besides the point. A skating parent behaves this way because his daughter loves skating. And a skating parent loves his daughter.

(repost)

Friday, February 9, 2018

- act


An audience contemplates your skating in a slightly different fashion than how a judge scrutinizes your program. A judge watches your blades, how they cut the ice, if your spins precess, if you rotated too short to a landing.

The audience though absorbs your presentation: are you projecting work, fear, or enjoyment? Did you telegraph your jump? The audience tracks your center of gravity, your arm positions, and your facial expressions. An audience observes your thoughts.

One consequence of this is that the audience has entirely different expectations for you when you are skating a novelty program than for when you are skating technical.

We don't mind your slightly suppressed smile when you nail a tough jump, but otherwise those of us watching your technical program expect to see something sublimely reserved, stylishly graceful, and professionally polished.

A novelty skate however is another matter entirely. The audience would actually like you to move your head about and signal some emotion, perhaps four times in a novelty program. Don't overdo it and be a crass wiseass; rather share your emotions gently, matching them appropriately to the theme of your program. Be the cat, or the spy, or the film starlet your program deserves.

You know, out here in the audience, we love you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

- dress design

L.A. SkateDad recently had the opportunity to interview Ximena Davalos who designs skating dresses for the likes of Courtney Hicks.

LASD> Hello Ximena, welcome. First off, do you prefer we call them dresses or costumes?

XD> Costumes!

LASD> Are you a skate fan yourself, or did you used to skate?

XD> Yes, and yes! Very briefly I had two years of skating. I use to love to draw all the costumes I dreamed of having but never did. Seriously, not even a practice dress or skirt.

LASD> What led you into this line of work?

XD> Sketching costumes led me to want to study fashion (I had also been very involved in performing arts in high school) and when I realized college had a costuming program well that was that! I studied Costume Design for Film and Television, but after a few years I didn’t find it was the right fit. I started to transition away from that by working on a Latin version of Dancing With the Stars.

I would mostly work on making and fitting the costumes and realized I was more of a maker and designer. From there I was fortunate to get an opportunity with the ballroom dress company Designs by Kalina, and we started to get skating costumes. Because I knew skating, my boss started to put me in charge of them. I fell in love with skating costume design and with my boss’s blessing I set out to do it on my own.

LASD> How long have you been in the business, how long has it taken you to rise to that level?

XD> Not very long at all actually! I started meddling in figure skating costumes about two years ago, fell in love and decided to go for it.

LASD> You also create ballroom dance gowns: what's the difference between them, what do you like or dislike about each, what carries over, is it a compatible thing.

XD> Oh ballroom (sighs). Well I do work on ballroom dresses, but I mostly get hired to do the decoration of them. The major difference, I think, is the lack of story telling… therefore I see ballroom as extravagantly fun “dresses” and not costumes. Although they do have to allow the dancer freedom of movement.

Ballroom dresses are A LOT more complicated to make and the fit is different. They also don’t have the aerodynamic restrictions of a skating costume. The most relatable things are that it’s a leotard with a skirt, and the crystal work.

LASD> Do you limit yourself to certain geographical areas?

XD> At the moment I do US only.

LASD> Give me an idea of price ranges. Is it a full time job?

XD> Yes! It is a full time job, though I am considered fast, the setting of the crystals still takes hours and hours, especially if it’s a very specific design. My range is from $800 to $5000

LASD> How long does it take to design and finish a dress, from start to finish?

XD> Oh boy! Umm… well it depends on the amount of design work. Because I only do custom it can range anywhere from 25 hours to 60 hours.

LASD> Do you also create men's costumes, or do you shy away from them?

XD> I haven’t had the honor yet, but I wouldn’t shy away!

LASD> How do skaters find you?

XD> (Laughs) Right now through social media and word of mouth. I tried putting fliers up… some rinks let me, some didn’t, I’m sure some got taken down. That didn’t work at all.

My main driver seems to be sponsorship (I currently sponsor Courtney Hicks). It’s something that I actually got from ballroom -- in ballroom you sponsor a top dancer and they in turn bring you clients. Skating doesn’t seem to have that, so I am trying it out. My hope is to eventually be able to sponsor someone in each discipline. Dancing or skating advertisements!

LASD> With my daughter we just asked around the rink for designers, but at your level it doesn't work that way does it?

XD> Oh sure it does! Word of mouth is my best friend!

LASD> When is it time for a skater to kick it up a notch -- when does she move from the rink's local dress lady to somebody with a national reputation?

XD> I think it honestly depends on how much the skater's family is able to invest in a costume. Some months back I actually had a skater tell me that if they got their triple-triple her parents would buy her a dress I already had up for sale… so maybe when they get their triple-triples! (just joking).

LASD> How much do you negotiate price with the parents, especially if they can't afford what you're asking? Is there price flexibility?

XD> Somewhat for sure, every price bracket I offer can be customized. Also I do offer just decorating services if they want to send me a dress to only put crystals on. They can even send me the crystals they want -- that way they can still get something customized without the major price tag.

LASD> How much of a lead time should a skater plan before ordering a dress, to avoid a crunch?

XD> Right now it’s 6 to 8 weeks from order to finishing. Though delivery can be affected if I send a costume out for fitting and they don’t get it back to me in a timely manner, or if there is a delay in payment.

LASD> How many sketches and meet-ups do you conduct, and do you get the coach, parent or choreographer involved. Do you listen to the program or watch the skater before you design?

XD> It all depends. If I have east coast clients it’s all done through email and mail (for the fittings). If they are within driving distance then I’ll go and do the fitting. It does vary whether the rest of the team is involved. Sometime they are and sometimes they are not. I do ask for the music, and ask questions of what story they are trying to portray. I usually start with 3 to 4 sketches and that has proven to be enough.

LASD> Where do you get your inspiration: where do your ideas come from?

XD> I mostly get inspired from the music, and also images of the color and texture the skater provides. I also get inspired by the present trends in fashion, but mostly it's from the mood of the skating music.

LASD> How do you settle in on a specific design? Do you prefer to design a dress to match a specific program? Is it a choice for the parents or the skater?

XD> Sometimes the skater wants a more specific look for a program, but I still like to have fun playing around. I usually give a variety of sketches, sometimes with a blend between them. I do make sure to ask what they *don't* like. Most of the time the parents let the skater make the design choice herself.

LASD> Do you get ideas from other skaters you watch?

XD> (Laughs) Well sometimes, it’s good to keep an eye out there as maybe there'll be a fashion trend happening among the elite skaters.

LASD> Yeah I remember a couple years ago everyone wanted to look like Ashley Wagner. Do you model the dress in motion, while it is moving?

XD> I don't really have a way to model it as it might be seen on a moving skater, so I try to light and film it with a camera from different angles and at different times. Viewing it through a camera really gives me the best idea of how the audience will see it.

LASD> How do you feel about… ah… "flappy bits," you know pieces of fabric that trail off from the main costume?

XD> Well I can see why people think flappy bits can be distracting, but I like them generally, as long as they aren't distracting and complement the program. For example Karen Chen has a nice one now with her Golden Pond costume.

LASD> Do folks bring in photos (say of Lady Gaga dresses) and ask you to make something similar?

XD> Haven’t had any yet, but I’m currently working with a dance troupe that wanted very Ga-Ga-esque costumes. Some costumes can be pretty wild, but skating is a bit more restrictive in that costumes have to be aerodynamic. It's fun to think about how to make it work, and that’s why we do a fitting, to see what would work or not work.

LASD> Do you design more for the skater, or more for the audience?

XD> Really, I want my costume to make the skater feel confident, but it's also good for the audience to be captivated. Mainly though my priority is for the skater. I want to enhance what the skater is expressing: it's not about the costume, it's about helping the skater tell their story.

LASD> Do you have to follow certain standards or regulations?

XD> Yes, there are rules that are set and have to be followed (understandably). It does seem that some rules are evolving though and rules sometimes change, especially in dance to tailor better to the genre.

LASD> Sequins or rhinestones?

XD> Sequins or hand beading are really okay, many of the Japanese designers do this. It all depends on the effect you are trying to achieve and whatever are the current fashions. For me rhinestones mostly and some hand beading. Though I’m not opposed to sequins, some designers use everything, especially abroad.

LASD> Glue gun, or do the pros have a better way for attaching rhinestones? Is it something to keep you occupied while you're watching TV?

XD> (Laughs) Oh I don't think a glue gun would work with skating, I'd be afraid the crystals would fall off. I use E6000 glue in a syringe and a crystal katana. Sometimes, like if I'm doing a simple sprinkle of crystals I can try watching (more like listening to) something else, but most of the custom designs are planned in greater detail and take a lot of concentration to implement the design.

LASD> If a skater has a problem with her dress, how amenable are you to fixing it (and how difficult is it to fix)?

XD> Well to start, I do leave a seam allowance for the fitting, and then I just remove any excess afterwards, so that is simple enough. Fixing a mistake on the crystal work though can be tough but not impossible -- if the skater complains, then I need to come up with some creative solutions. This though is why I draw detailed illustrations, to help avoid misunderstandings during the crystal setting.

LASD> How does dressmaking for an ensemble number work; do you subcontract out the construction or what?

XD> Since I am the sole employee to myself then yes, I have a group of peers I would bring in to help. Depending on the group, one can just use general S, M, L patterns since they are usually not paying for the custom made-to-measure piece. So it can have parts that are easier to execute, but of course it would depend on the design.

LASD> How does a person learn to do skating costume design -- does FIDM teach what you need to know?

XD> No FIDM didn’t really teach me this specifically, I learned it mostly from working “in the field” on a dance show from people already skilled in this type of garment and also from a ballroom gown maker. So I guess it was a sort of an apprenticeship.

LASD> Do you spend a lot of time walking around with fabric vendors in a garment district, or do you just go to Joannes fabrics?

XD> I did walk around fabric vendors when I was in LA and they are still my "go-to" shops for fabrics, I also have a rhinestone supplier that I use.

LASD> How do American costume designers compare to other countries?

XD> Well I do feel like there’s a bit of a different aesthetic -- I do see more fashion trend influence in the designs here, whereas in countries like Japan… even Russia there is something that I find more organic… if that makes sense.

LASD> Do you have any favorites that you have made?

XD> One of the first skating costumes I made was one that the skater had designed. After I made sure all the finishings were up to par with the design, when the skater arrived for the final fitting she started crying because it was exactly what she imagined it to be. Also I love the costume I made for Courtney's short program this year: they chose what was one of the most organic designs I sketched, which was really influenced by the music and colors she wanted. I loved how it turned out in the end.

LASD> Thanks for the interview Ximena, you've been wonderful. Are there any folks you'd like to shout out and acknowledge?

XD> Yes thanks, I'd especially like to thank the whole team at Designs by Kalina for setting me out on my path. Also of course Courtney Hicks and her whole team.

LASD> Thanks again! Readers please be sure to check out Ximena's skating costume designs here.

Monday, January 8, 2018

- humility


I suppose it is okay to be proud of the moves you have learned and that you can perform with some skill, grace, and panache. So yeah in your program you are showing off, a bit. After all, your program is a beautiful blossoming flower. At the same time however, a graceful skater recognizes that she is still just sprouting, forever climbing up the long skating-career trellis. Your program is in no way the only blossoming flower, and hence we gardeners request some humility.

How do you demonstrate respect for the sport and deference to the judges? Well for one thing, don't show off so much. Avoid doing a split jump directly in front of the judges. I am sorry but up close this looks ridiculous: it is like a flower spritzing a burst of pollen in your face. Off toward a third point of the ice works just fine.

Performing your best and most difficult jump directly in front of the judges is quite a risk: if it's perfect you are showing off, yet if it is imperfect then you are so close that imperfections are what the judges will remember. A wonderfully colorful and symmetric bird of paradise blossom may look gorgeous from fifteen feet away, but up close the tatters in its leaves are visible.

Treat the judges and the audience equally overall. Unfurl your jumps with a sprinkling around the rink so everybody receives a good view. Share the bouquet with everyone. Perform your spins in the central half length of the ice, centered across the width.

Smile, but it is also okay to acknowledge how much effort your program importunes. Finally when you finish, courteously curtsy to both sides of the rink. And smiling with a slight wave to your dad in the audience is cool too.