January 29, 2009

You Tell Me ...

Are we (by that I mean the US) asking too much that we have the top skaters all the time?

This article was in the Washington Post two days ago and it maked me wonder if is the American public at large or the media itself crying out for a skating star, wait make that a starlet. Judging by the comments left in the Washington Post, most of the public were angry that this article appeared front page and "above the fold" - a sign to me that skating's not very popular right now.

I like seeing any skater - no matter what country they're from - do their best. I think you bloggers out there do too. But tell me what you think .... America's Golden Girl from the public or media? Here's their article:

Where Are the Golden Girls?
Once Dominant in Figure Skating, U.S. Is Facing a Steep Decline

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 2009; A01

CLEVELAND, Jan. 25 -- The questions usually begin now, a year out from the Winter Olympics: Which of the United States' top female figure skaters is most likely to win the gold medal?

This year, the question is different: Do the U.S. women have hopes of winning any medal?

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which ended here Sunday, offered further evidence that the U.S. women's program is mired in its deepest drought in at least 14 years -- and possibly several decades -- with the Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., just over a year away.

"We just don't have that star," said skating coach Robin Wagner, who led Sarah Hughes to her 2002 Olympic gold medal. "We're so used to having the queen of figure skating in our country."

Figure skating is arguably the most popular of the Winter Olympic sports; certainly it draws the largest television audiences. It usually provides both fans and advertisers with the "face" of the U.S. Winter Olympic team -- think Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan and Tara Lipinski. And it gives the United States -- not a power in many winter sports -- a boost in the medal table. In the past three Olympics, American women won five of the nine medals available in the individual event.

This year's U.S. champion is 21-year-old Alissa Czisny, who won the title here Saturday night despite falling on one jump and hitting just three triple jumps rather than the customary five or six in her long program. The other top finishers, silver-medal winner Rachael Flatt, 16, and bronze-medal winner Caroline Zhang, 15, have never won a senior event of any sort.

Among the reasons for the apparent decline, skating insiders say, are the new judging system introduced in 2004 that has shifted the emphasis from artistry to technique; the rise of skating's popularity in Asia since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan; and the departures in 2006 of Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen, who won 15 Olympic and world championship medals between them.

"It's an extraordinary situation," said 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Scott Hamilton, now a commentator for NBC. "Unusual circumstances are producing extraordinary results."

The world championships in Los Angeles in March will provide a pivotal test for Czisny and Flatt. Should neither finish in the top three, the U.S. women will have failed to win a medal at three straight world championships for the first time since 1964 -- which came after the entire figure skating team had been killed in a plane crash on the way to the 1961 world championships.

Czisny's and Flatt's performances will also determine whether U.S. women are allowed to enter a maximum three skaters in next year's Olympic field. If their combined finish does not equal 13th or better (such as a sixth and seventh place), the United States will only be allowed to send two women to Vancouver. That has happened only once since 1924.

"It's obviously a very critical event for us in terms of who gets to the Olympics," said Wagner, who also coached Cohen, who won a silver medal at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. "All of us are keeping our fingers crossed."

In recent years, Japan has made the biggest rise in women's skating, winning seven world championship medals since 2002 after winning just four in the previous 95 years. Shizuka Arakawa won the 2006 Olympic gold; Mao Asada won the 2008 world championship gold; and Miki Ando won it the year before -- when Asada finished second. Meantime, South Korea's Kim Yu-Na has won two straight world championship bronze medals.

"I don't really think it's quite as much that the American ladies are deteriorating as much as other countries have gotten a great deal better," said longtime U.S. coach John Nicks, who has coached Cohen, Fleming and Yamaguchi. "Except from [1992 Olympic silver medal winner] Midori Ito a few years ago, we didn't have any threat in skating from Japan or Asia."

It's not as if the United States isn't producing young stars. At the 2006 world championships, Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, Md., won the world title at just 16, but she has not excelled in any international events since and pulled out of this year's U.S. championships because of an injury. Last year's surprising U.S. champion, then-14-year-old Mirai Nagasu, blamed changes from puberty and her response in part for her fifth-place finish this year. Rather than casting off as the next great star, she struggled all season.

Some figure skating insiders say the new judging system, which was adopted just before the decline, might be contributing. Because the system emphasizes technique over pure artistry, they say, the United States has lost one of its historically greatest assets in the sport. Also, they say, pre-pubescent skaters who can best execute difficult spins and jumps with their small, lean bodies are best suited to accruing high technical marks.

In the old system, judges gave skaters just two marks on a 6.0 scale immediately after they skated; the new system relies on judges casting element-by-element evaluations of each skater's program that are merged into one final point total.

"In the United States, we have emphasized crowd appeal, the artistic side of it, everybody being unique and having a real sense of showmanship," Hamilton said. "That doesn't seem to be as valued as in the past."

Even so, Wagner and Nicks said they believed a young skater could yet emerge to produce a medal for the United States at the next Games. The first step will be the world championships in March, and with the Olympic slots at stake, the pressure already is on.

Winning a "medal is very important," said Richard Callaghan, who coaches Meissner and once coached Arakawa. "But I think the three spots for the Olympics is equally important. We need to get a force back in there."

January 25, 2009

With all the attention going to Nationals ...

and, really, that's where it should be. Since I have nothing to add, I'm relying on the skating blogs that know the scoop and instead I give you ...

a skating bear ... please to enjoy

January 22, 2009

More On Disney

I got this post from Karen - thanks, Karen! - giving you a behind-the-scenes look at auditioning for their show.

If you're interested in auditioning, here's the website for the article. Plus I posted it below. But if you really are planning to audition, email me and I'll put you in touch with someone who's been there recently (or knows someone who has) and they'll give you the whole story.

Disney On Ice Presents "Worlds of Fantasy"

Mix one part pixie dust with four of your favorite Disney tales for a five-star enchanted evening you'll never forget! Lightning McQueen, Tinker Bell, Simba, and Ariel have laced up their skates to bring you "Worlds of Fantasy," the latest entertainment extravaganza from Disney On Ice. Performances filled with spectacular precision skating are scheduled for a 70-city, two-year tour. So how does such an amazing event come together?

Veteran figure skater Judy Thomas, now the Talent Director and Production Coordinator for Disney On Ice, explains how shows develop. "I start casting every spring and find skaters around the globe. It took approximately six months to fill all the roles for 'Worlds of Fantasy.' The best part of my job is hearing the skater's excitement over the phone after offering them a role ... I really wish I could capture those moments."

Joining Disney On Ice is the opportunity of a lifetime for many young skaters (who wouldn't do quadruple jumps for the chance to play Ariel or Tinker Bell?), but skaters must meet rigorous standards to make the final cut. According to Judy, skaters must be high school graduates and at least 17 years old, though the average age is 22. "There are 38 skaters in 'Worlds of Fantasy,' ranging in age from 17 to 41, plus the stage crew and staff. For some it's their first time away from home so I'm like the den mother. Besides an incredible way to see the world, I want to give the skaters support and career guidance as well as the ability to make good choices," she says.

Ariel's curiosity, Simba's good-heartedness, Tink's irrepressible spirit ... it takes more than the right look to portray the world's most popular characters. Judy continues, "Based on what the producer and choreographer have in store, candidates must skate as singles, pairs, or both. Tinker Bell's role required singles as well as pairs capabilities with the right enthusiasm, skating energy, and ability to handle a physically demanding role. I needed a skater who could truly capture the Character's exuberance and BreAnn Brown fit perfectly. Everyone's here because I see something in them ... there's quite a process behind bringing skaters to the point where they can depict certain roles."

Once the skaters were selected, "Worlds of Fantasy" summer rehearsals revved up in Lakeland, Florida, the first stop on the show's 2008-2009 domestic tour that launched in late August. "Although there were six months of preparation leading up to the first rehearsal, it was exciting because everyone finally got to meet each other. There were many long hours, costume fittings, and a physically exhausting schedule ... but at the end of that five-week period we had an extraordinary product that everyone contributed to," she adds. Technical rehearsals - the final stage before show time - included layering in production elements like props, lighting, fog, pyrotechnics, and other special effects.

Months of intense work pay off every time the skaters' blades touch the ice and audiences are whisked away into a night of pure enchantment. Act One stars Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy as they land in Radiator Springs and the world of "Cars," the waves of Ariel's undersea kingdom, and finally in the "Circle of Life" with "The Lion King." Judy describes "The Little Mermaid" segment as "Breathtakingly visual ... beautiful flowing silks portray the water. It's stunning."

New to Disney On Ice shows, state-of-the-art animatronics transform the antics of a full-scale Lightning McQueen, Sally, Tow Mater, and the Radiator Springs' crew into freewheeling fun. Guests are in for a treat as every jump, spin, and turn down the frozen highway leads to even more amazing Disney magic.

Connecting classic tales with current Disney Characters, Act Two features Tinker Bell and her Fairy friends from Pixie Hollow as the ice is transformed into a springtime wonderland bursting with blooms. Reflecting the story of the new "Tinker Bell" movie, the Fairies' secret place in nature is revealed in a most magnificent way.

Seeing Tink come to life on the ice brings back heartwarming childhood memories for Judy. She recalls, "Growing up in Canada, my favorite Disney memory was watching the 'Wonderful World of Disney' with my family on Sunday nights. I loved seeing Tinker Bell fly around the castle. It was a very special time ... and a world that I certainly thought I'd never get this close to!"

Thanks to "Worlds of Fantasy," audiences will treasure special memories like Judy's -- the skaters' passion creates electricity in the air at every spellbinding performance!

January 16, 2009

Disney Live! but not On Ice

I took my daughter to see Disney Live (Cuentos Clasicos de la Princesas - as it was called here) and she was not disappointed.

But I was, somewhat.

Oh sure, the costumes were great, the songs (on the pre-recorded soundtrack) were fun to hear again. Who can keep from clapping, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Work We Go."

But, it didn't have the same appeal as the ice show, because the characters just stood there ... with the exception of the opening scene, in which Goofy comes gliding out, holding on to a costumed mannequin on coasters - a la the traditional pair skating hold, if you will.

To me that was symbolic ... it told me that the folks doing this show, wish they had more to work with than those silly princess pantomimes and a few waltz turns. It's not that those princesses couldn't dance (from past experience I know that the dancers at Tokyo Disneyland are some of the best dancers in the world ... why? ... because they are some of the best paid dancers in the world) but the choreographers, or producers, or some stuffed-shirt calling all the shots didn't let them dance.

Why? That one I don't know. Maybe too much dialogue.

That's one great thing about Disney On Ice ... at a certain point, the skaters get to skate. They stop those same silly princess pantomimes and go out and give us the best four-minute long program they can pull off wearing a waist-length, one-pound red wig attached to their head. Hello, Ariel?

Indeed, I was disappointed when I saw Monsters, Inc. On Ice because cute little Boo, who made an excellent Boo btw, didn't do a single jump or spin in the entire show! (By jump, I mean anything more than a little kid-looking waltz jump and by spin, I mean at least six full revolutions in each position.)

But, I must say, Disney On Ice, or Disney Live for that matter, probably doesn't care what I think. They're zeroing in on my five-year old daughter and all the other little pre-pubescent, soon-to-become the High School Musical/Hannah Montana devotees out in the audience.

And I tell you what, Disney, not to worry, she loved it!

January 12, 2009

World's Largest Ice Rink By Night

I returned to the rink, not to get in line to skate, but to see what the square looks like at night.

It did not disappoint. I think it's more impressive after the sun goes down.

When we first got there, the rink was PACKED with skaters. Then they resurfaced the ice and by the time I got to take this picture, the rink was only half full.

This photo gives you a view of the entire square including the "mountains" to slide down, which my daughter loved, and the miniature snowman-making station in the foreground.

This whole operation was provided by the mayor, who wants to be President next, free of charge to the public. Many people complained that money could be put to better use, (this country has a lot of poverty issues), but the mayor felt it was important for those who can't afford to ever take a vacation to experience snow, to bring it to them.

It was a big hit and I think it will be back next year. I better get in line right after Halloween!

January 6, 2009

The World's Largest Ice Rink

... is in my town. Since it is only open for 3 more days, I decided to skate on it yesterday.

I dragged my skates with me on an 8-stop, 2-transfers metro ride and found a line that was up and down and wound around an entire city block. Because they claim 4 million people will skate over the three-and-a-half-week run, I should not have been surprised by the line. When you do the math, that's about 16,000 skaters a day! What was I thinking?

Ice Charades does not like to wait too long in lines and considering I've done a bit of skating in my day, I wimped out and didn't wait. What I need is for Susan at Lifeskate to visit next year and do a report so I can tag along (and not have to wait).

I did get up close to the ice, as you can see here, and considering the weather is 80 degrees and sunny every afternoon, the ice was in good shape.

At least my daughter didn't have to wait in line for the sledding attraction. She went down three times and had a ball. I was amazed there was no line, but it makes me happy to know the top attraction was ice skating.

January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

It was twenty-five years ago, 1984, but I still remember the New Year's Eve party for my first ice show, Holiday On Ice. You always remember the first, right?

It was in Germany and our company manager asked for one skater or crew member from each country to get on stage and wish everyone a happy new year in their native tongue.

We had sixteen different greetings. Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the US, Canada, Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa. That was an international cast! Luckily for me, the dominating language was English. So at least I went through the shock and (and awe?) of rehearsals knowing what the choreographer and performance director were yelling at me. I felt sorry for the rookies from Poland and Czechoslovakia who had to wait until one of their compatriots had enough time between counts of eight to translate.

However you translate it, Happy New Year 2009!