Seeing the pros on ice is one thing. Seeing a family member on the ice is quite another, much more spectacular, event. The children may only be doing simple forward skating, but parents gushing over the sight of their shining star out on the ice will never be as excited about Michelle Kwan or Jeremy Abbott. The major figure skating club shows usually occur in the spring with an exhibition in the winter months to bring in the holiday season. Various levels of effort are expended to make these showcases occur. Some rinks practice for months while others only for weeks, but at the end of the day the stands fill with parents and the show begins.
Growing up, I had the privilege to skate in a great ice show. At the time, I had no idea that I was part of something special. I assumed all ice shows had former national champions as guest skaters and that having two acts full of diverse skating was the norm. I could not have been more wrong. My show included at least ten group numbers pulled from the Basic Skills 1-6 and Freestyle 1-6 classes. These numbers were choreographed by the rink coaches and taught to the skaters in the month before the show. In addition to the group numbers, we also had about ten solos given to skaters with enough charisma and skill to hold the attention of the audience. This meant the solo skaters were often drawn from the skating pool outside the rink. Although this decision was met with some bitterness from the Learn to Skate program skaters, it meant the show was entertaining and the skating engaging. While taking a more open approach can be good for building confidence, it is rarely good for creating a good show. Solos of all levels are better left to the winter exhibition.
Not only were the solos restricted, but they always had something to do with the theme of the show. Although I was never in a solo, owing to my terrible skating skills at the time, I did skate in several smaller group numbers to come pretty fantastic music. In the Hollywood on Ice show, I skated to Mission Impossible, which is perhaps the most exciting piece of music ever created. Spy hijinks on ice can never go wrong, right? Well, we had a pass through shoot the duck, one foot out in front with the bent down low, that ended in disaster on two show nights (we performed three shows). Regardless, we had a blast. Good themes make or break a show. A good theme allows a large variety without loosing focus of a central theme. I’ve seen some pretty good themes over the years: Broadway on Ice, Skating through the Times, A Night at the Movies, Fairy Tales on Ice, Ice School Musical and Circus Dreams on Ice. Good music must also be selected to meet the demands of show skating and the theme. I have skated to flapper music, Native American music, Cabaret, Mission Impossible, music from The Mask, and Elivis’ Three Bears. Each of these shows had a cohesive feel while providing numbers for skaters that did not all appear to be pulled from the same choreographic motif.
Circus Dreams on Ice at the Westminster Promenade was especially impressive for several reasons. The first is that, by default, the Promenade has good skaters. They know how to perform and their soloists are chosen from successful regional competitors. While this is undoubtedly elitist of them, it also provides really good skating and at the end of the day I think the system is a good idea for a competitive rink like the Promenade. For the Dreams show in particular the choreography was done to make the show run continuously. This means that instead of black outs between numbers, the action simply began at another place on the ice or made an entrance that interacted with the skaters already on the ice. Something was always going on and that something was usually interesting. In addition, the costumes were fantastic. As a case in point, the skaters in the Firefly number were wearing light-up Halloween wings on their back as they skated in near darkness. The effect was stunning and what I would call a choreographic epiphany. Many times ice shows use the same patterns and choreography from previous years and they always fall flat. Unless choreography is directly informed by the music and the skaters CURRENTLY present, the piece can become banal.
So what makes a good club ice show? Lots of creativity on the part of the coaching staff. Doing the same thing year after year will quickly drive down enthusiasm about the show. Seeing children skate the same steps for years is quite frankly boring. A good show shakes up the status quo and takes artistic risks while pushing the skaters to truly show off their skating talent. This requires a coaching team willing to live outside the box.