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, February 20, 2017

- mens singles

Xan raised more than a few of my hackles with her recent post about how parents (and hockey coaches) feel about whether boys should figure skate. She posits that the correlation of homosexuality with the arts is what adults perceive as a "risk" to encouraging their young boy to figure skate. Frankly I think this oversimplification misses many subtle interplays between a young boy, his sexual desires, his current muse, each of his parents individually, society, and how the male side of the sport works. I am not doubting that -sometimes- what she observes is true, just that, well, things are complicated.

Firstly many parents do feel that the male side of the sport is effeminate because of how it is currently taught and skated. It doesn't have to be this way, but when the typical parent wanders into the average rink, if there are any male figure skaters on the ice at all, they are skating like a girl -- they are attempting to be graceful. Why? It is certainly possible to skate like a guy.

Secondly what's wrong with a guy skating gracefully? Some guys just express a more sensitive feminine side than other men. Hey big news: some ladies act more macho than other gals. So you know what? Get over it. Your kid will join whatever clique of friends they're comfortable with.

But back for a minute on the culture of graceful male figure skating. You know it would seem totally reasonable to me if they split the men's singles into something like male solo dance and male solo "dynamics". Solo dance could be for the graceful guys, and Dynamics could appeal to the, uh, shredder set. Skateboarders, snowboarders and such. I don't know maybe you could install Teflon jump ramps and ask the guys to wear wristguards or something: X-games for skaters.

Thirdly I think nearly all parents have little to no problem with their boy skating as part of a team, either in dance or in pairs. There's plenty of precedence for suave male partners, and I don't think many parents would have a problem with their son developing some competent dance skills.

Fourthly though if I had a young precocious son I might yes actually discourage him from attempting a -solo- endeavor, but for completely different reasons than homophobia. For one thing there are far too many intelligent athletic adorable gals at the rink. This isn't a problem when your son is 6 years old but when they are 14? Hello! Next if my kid wanted to solo skate l'd want to make sure that the rink had a coach to show him how to exhibit some "class" on the ice. At most rinks this would seem to be a problem.

Finally just as an obvious stickler, how you skate has nothing to do with who you're attracted to physically. Many sensitive guys still want to only bed a gal, and a few guys who you'd take for macho are rather kinky. And neither one has anything to do with your skating style.

The best way to get more men in the (singles) sport is to judge and teach the men's side of the sport differently. Guy's single figure skating is a different sport than women's, and it would likely help if it could be segregated off entirely.

Monday, February 6, 2017

- shows

Most clubs I've been around sponsor some exhibition skates and even a holiday program or two. Showcases may include some duets, ice theater, some dramatic and comedic skates, master exhibition skates, and even some extemporaneous skate challenges.

Additionally the rink management may decorate for a public holiday event. You may already feel a little put out by the demands of freestyle and competitions, and your holidays are likely busy on top of that, but I still encourage you to partake of both the club's and the rink's festivities.

One of my fondest memories is from when our rink sponsored a public-session Halloween bash. I can't skate, but I dressed up anyhow as Frankenstein and sat in the hockey dugout to scare and hand out candy to the little kids.

For a skater, shows and holidays are terrific occasions to socialize and show off a bit without any competitive pressure. For a parent it provides an opportunity to demonstrate friendly support for the general skating community.


Monday, January 23, 2017

- overthought

In a blog post from 2013 World Figure Skating warned about the dangers of overthinking; he maintains that overthinking makes you "choke." On that I would agree, but its scope and timing needs to be clarified.

Thinking interacts with training and performing across a complex dynamic. When you are learning something new you need to think about it constantly. Once you get fully practiced however the learnt behaviors become more deeply internalized into a partially subconscious state. Do you think about the shape of individual letters as you sign your name? You used to when you were little, but now you don't any longer. Portions of skating elements are like your handwriting: you internalize the angle of your foot, how hard you toe pick, how quickly you tuck your arms.

Although I agree that overthought jumps during a competition cause recurrent issues of inconsistent takeoffs, I don't have any particular qualms about your deep cogitations during practice. In fact I actually like to see you thinking deeply the entire time that you're in a freestyle. Try things and think about them -- that's how you learn!

And even at a competitive event I'm perfectly fine with your mental ramblings during your stroking, footwork, or spins. This shows that you're minding the music or planning your ice coverage or capturing your audience.

You will skate better however if you can find a way to approach your competitive jumps with your neurons silenced.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

- the artist

Those inside the sport know this but it's not always apparent outside; I'll post these remarks to the general audience and you skaters can comment your concordances. Figure skating is both a sport and an art, and as such skaters are both athletes and artists. Hence skaters share many of the same characteristics and fight most of the same battles as any other artist (although due to the athletic rigors demanded of them they tend to be "clean" artists, eschewing the mental chemical stimulants of other creatives). Yet the demands of creativity are still the same.

As the medium of a skater's expressiveness is constantly fighting back (and she learns as she goes along) staying focused as an artist requires an extraordinary amount of exertion of will under trying circumstances. There's falls, there's equipment issues, there's meddling competitors. To succeed she must take her art absolutely seriously. A skater must become fully dedicated to her craft as anything less may devolve to become only recreational skating.

Like all artists, a skater thinks a lot about her art even when she is not on the ice; many skaters think about it 24 hours a day, albeit at different levels of consciousness. They live, eat and breathe figure skating. And all of this attention and focus to a single subject tends to isolate a skater from a wide variety of outside activities and also limits her social circle.

A skater tends to put herself into "voluntary solitude;" the intensity of the concentration of her sport demands it. Does a skater's isolation border on self punishment? The ones who keep competing may have a greater capacity for this solitude. Still though as a parent I often had my concerns for my daughter's following an artist lifestyle: the consequence of skating as a serious endeavor invokes a social cost -- by necessity the skater sacrifices common scholastic social entertainment. Does a skater have to overcome this parental bias irregardless?

Since she mostly works alone on her craft the skater is responsible for imposing her own high standards. For the most part she is in charge of her own critiques; a skater is often the only one who really knows what's going on with her own work. Certainly her coach and parents can witness the end results, but the skater faces hundreds of small unseen private battles. Many skaters are filled with self doubt and go through long periods questioning their skills. An artistic vision is therefore necessary to carry a skater through her rough patches.

To a certain extent then rinks are like art colonies (well, after the hockey players have packed their bags). And like any art studio, success comes from making your rink a place where you and your fellow artists want to be creative.

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.