Musings from a former figure skater.
Many of you know that I was a competitive figure skater when I was young. As I watch the Olympics this year, I have been realizing how many aspects of performance I learned from skating that I have applied to belly dance. A great performance is a great performance, regardless of the discipline. I encourage all of my readers to seek out videos of great skating. From this year, I suggest Jason Brown’s long program from the 2014 Nationals competition, and Gracie Gold’s long program from the new team event at Sochi, and Davis and White’s free dance from the team competition at Sochi.
Here are quite a few things I’ve learned from skating:
- Have a coach. Whether or not you have to train long distance, Skype, or travel to study with your coach, have at least one person whom you are proud to call your mentor.
- Study peripheral and related disciplines. Figure skaters work with many different instructors and do a lot of off-ice training to perfect their on-ice work. (I took ballet and ballroom dance when I was skating.)
- Always work on your technique, and push to master harder and harder movements. Once I had consistently landed all of my double jumps, my coach had me working on my Double Axel and Triple Salchow. There is no ceiling.
- Fight for those hard movements as you practice. Give it your all.
- A consistent practice is the key to success. My skating practice schedule was so set for YEARS that I still remember when and what times I had practice… 15 years after I stopped skating. I also skated 15+ hours a week, five days a week, on top of being an Advanced Placement track student, a Girl Scout, and working to get into Ivy League universities.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
- Train alongside people better than you. I regularly shared ice with former Olympians like Debi Thomas and Rudy Galindo. It only made me want to work harder.
- There will always be someone younger, prettier, and better (a subjective term) than you. Don’t let that bother you. You are you, and that’s always enough… if you keep working.
- Visualization will get you far. Imagine yourself doing your choreographies, nailing every hard movement, and truly feeling your music.
- Take good care of your equipment. This includes costumes.
- You will have good days and bad days. There were some days when I just couldn’t land any jumps. Other days, I could land them all. Struggle through the bad days, because a good day might be tomorrow.
- Show up to your events on time, unhurried, and composed.
- Your performance begins as soon as the audience (and the judges) can see you, and even earlier…. How you take the ice/stage shapes the audience’s perception of your entire performance.
- Be polite to your fellow performers, even if you can’t stand them.
- Your starting and ending poses matter. They reflect the mood of your performance.
- The costume you wear should echo the choreography and the music… but don’t be a cliche.
- If you mess up, fall, fumble, or forget your choreography, keep going. Positive thinking will carry you further than you realize.
- If your music stops, keep going.
- Secure your costuming. One hair pin on the ice can mean disaster for the next skater, just as one open safety pin on a stage can be incredibly dangerous for the next dancer.
- If a piece of your costume falls off, keep going. Only stop if a malfunction reveals something indecent.
- You are performing, not executing a series of tricks.
- Musicality matters. Being able to time your movements with your music creates a special kind of magic.
- Dance to the classics. How many times will we hear music from: Scheherezade, Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, Carmen, etc. this year at the Olympics? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s how the skaters use the music. These are overused compositions because they work for the art form, just as our oft-heard songs do the same for belly dance.
- Dance to new classics. Skater Ashley Wagner took an artistic risk by using Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” for her short program music, but it works.
- Be passionate, but not egotistical. We can tell the difference.
- Hold your ending pose for at least three seconds. Let the audience see you end your routine with confidence, even if you messed up.
- After you have held your ending pose, do a confident and reverent bow. Acknowledge all sides of the audience (for belly dancers, that includes your musicians, should you be performing with a live band), and your coach.
- Sometimes the judges (audience) are wrong.
- Do it for the joy it brings you.
- Be confident, yet humble. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.
- Rhinestones really do enhance a costume.