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, 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.