Ballet for Figure Skaters releases first DVD

I like to think of ballet and figure skating as friends. In fact, I would even guess they’re related — so let’s say they’re cousins. I can see them both having a great time catching up over casserole at the family reunion potluck. They commiserate over grotesque growths on their heels and ankles, share a laugh while executing a perfect split, and can hum the tune of the Nutracker’s Pas De Deux by heart.

16959_254096422578_1019100_nBoth ballet and figure skating require immense body awareness, balance, muscle control and strength. Yet there are obvious differences — such as surface area, climate and bedazzling sequins — that glaringly separate the two worlds. Ballet has long been a highly favored off-ice conditioning tool for figure skaters, but I believe more and more coaches are favoring other conditioning methods over ballet such as plyometric training due to the higher technical demands of the sport.

Unfortunately this mentality is a terribly misguided choice as correct ballet teaching provides a skater with the correct body alignment, positioning and strength to lower the risk of injuries. Ballet provides the foundation of movement and trickles out to every part of skating whether it be the body alignment and quick snap for going into a double axel or interpreting a piece of choreography with full body movement.

This is why I am so thankful for Annette Thomas and what she is doing to bridge the gap between ballet and movement on the ice for figure skaters. A dancer and choreographer for over 30 years, she has dedicated the past 20-plus years to educate the figure skating community on the most effective ballet curriculum for figure skaters’ specific needs. Her new “Ballet for Figure Skaters” DVD puts the first level of her curriculum onto the screen for skaters all over the world to see.



As the official ballet program of American Ice Theatre, the DVD starts with Thomas teaching the foundational ballet exercises taken from the Vaganova method. What’s so special about this curriculum is that after Thomas goes through a class featuring floor, barre and center exercises, she puts her dancers into skates to repeat how the exercises are done in this new form. This invaluable education provides a skater the skills to directly apply the Vaganova exercises to on-ice movement.

The DVD is broken up into four sections: Preliminary exercises, barre work, center exercises, and then a review of the exercises with skates on. Annette’s education shines through the DVD as she is very thorough and explains every detail for each exercise making it easy to digest and comprehend. As this is the first lesson in the DVD series, it is perfect for beginners and those who may have a limited background in ballet. Annette is also an incredibly nice woman so if you have any questions, I’m sure she would love to chat!

Through my own experience, this DVD is incredibly useful to use being on the road traveling and performing. Since I’m away from home, being able to take a consistent class through this DVD is fantastic as a warm-up, cool down and conditioning session in the studio.This DVD is a precious resource for skaters of all levels to transfer ballet movement to the ice.

To order a copy please email Annette directly at

Aliens, Animals & Artists of the Autostadt: A backstage pass to the German outdoor ice show

On any given night at the Autostadt, its ice show Urmel Aus Dem Eis presents all the ingredients of a professional production – effortless triple jumps, soaring back flips, high-flying bounce spins and fast-paced ensemble numbers. But this show is anything but ordinary.

Here you will find life-sized space ships, Tyrannosaurs Rex’s, meat grinding machines and remote controlled couches. You will see skaters as chocolate tortes and cherry souffles, pandas and parakeets, nuns and priests, runway models and bullfighters, farmers and Carnival showgirls, baroque waltzers and Star Trekkies.

And don’t forget, lots and lots of pyro.

Under rain, snow, sleet, torrential winds and even melting ice the outdoor show must go on. Located in Wolfsburg, Germany, the Autostadt is widely known for its museums of Volkswagen automobiles, but its ice show is the biggest attraction of the holiday season running until Dec. 28.

The entire experience is a whirlwind of rehearsals and performing. An ensemble of 22 skaters collectively learn 46 numbers over a three week rehearsal period in Bad Sascha, Germany. Stephanee Grosscup, the show’s choreographer, sometimes teaches up to four numbers per day in order to finish all the productions.

“We never let up. Everyone starts to get overloaded with steps and stories [however] these young, athletic, creative and talented skaters are a constant source of inspiration to me,” she said. “There is a spirit amongst [them] that is so unique. We are trained athletes first and foremost, but we are dancers, actors, characters, musicians, muses.”

Once they arrive in Wolfsburg, the skaters perform twice each day and open a new show every Sunday over four weeks. Installation for the following week’s show takes place late at night, often in less than favorable weather conditions.

“We have exactly five days [for installation each week] to clean and add huge props, attempt to get everyone through insane quick changes, add numbers to the show if necessary, drive cars, trains, helicopters, ride on fish, fall in ponds and wells, cast spells, have pyro on skates, disappear, reappear, be a dragon, walrus, panda, the list goes on and on,” Grosscup said, who is in her fifth year as choreographer. “In the end, it is over the top hilarity!” Continue reading

Dance2Ice Barre: Moves in the Field

AIT is all about bringing dance to ice.

The Dance2Ice Barre class teaches the foundational tools needed to apply full body movement to figure skating maneuvers. Once a skater has gained proficiency executing skills in the basic two-dimensional realm (linear movement), D2I teaches how to engage the core while moving through three dimensional space (using all levels of the body).

By learning this skill set, a skater establishes an entirely new vocabulary of movement as they gain body awareness and increased mobility. This type of movement is especially important as skaters begin leveled step sequences where they must use full body movement to receive their desired level.

Alongside AIT’s D21 curriculum (promo vid here), another aspect of the program is taking Moves in the Field patterns and revolutionizing them by applying these newfound principles.

In a Level 1 demonstration video below, skaters use a preliminary MIF pattern — the alternating backward crossovers to back outside edges.

Notice the skaters using their core to initiate the movement as they use all levels of their body with their arms, mid-section and knee bend. This not only increases the difficulty in performing the movement, but also adds interest to the audience witnessing the maneuver (a win-win for all involved!).

For some other demonstration demos, check them out here:

Level 2 demo:

Level 4 demo:

Have you tried these Dance2Ice exercises? What other MIF patterns can you make Dance2Ice style? Film your own today and we will feature them on AIT’s Facebook page!







By Renee Austin

Each person has an individual way of moving which becomes a part of his or her personality and uniqueness of communication. It is my purpose to help the skaters appreciate their uniqueness and discover the differences between themselves and other skaters through self-awareness and self-analysis. – Ricky Harris

It wasn’t until Ricky Harris entered the profession in 1972 that choreographers for figure skaters started to become the norm. Harris worked full time exclusively with competitive skaters such as Scott Hamilton, Elaine Zayak, Brian Boitano, Linda Fratianne, Michelle Kwan and the ice dance team of Michael Siebert and Judy Blumberg. The renowned coaches she worked alongside include Don Laws, Frank Carroll and Linda Leaver.

Harris (far left) sitting in the 1984 Olympic Kiss & Cry with Scott Hamilton & coach Don Laws.

Harris (far left) sitting in the 1984 Olympic Kiss & Cry with Scott Hamilton & coach Don Laws.

Harris did not grow up on the ice however. At 18 years old, Harris’ talent and enthusiasm caught the eye of Eugene Turner who first gave her ice lessons. Her ice show career started at the age of 21 with Shipstad and Johnson’s Ice Follies, then to Sonja Henie’s show before marrying and having two children. During that time she went to the University of California, Irvine, obtaining a B.A. in Drama and an M.F.A. in Dance. After a traveling tour as professor of dance aboard a university ship and head of the Dance Department of Chapman University, Harris re-entered the figure skating profession as a choreographer.

In those early times she was often the trendsetter. During freezing cold practice sessions skaters wore nothing over their skating tights for warmth. In the dance world leg warmers were commonly used even in hot studios to keep muscles warm during long hours of practice.

“I pulled out a pair of leg warmers from my bag for a skater to use. The skater did not know what they were, and was afraid her coach would disapprove,” Harris said. “I said I would accept the responsibility. When the coach saw his skater on the ice he was deeply disturbed. I explained that it was not healthy and could be injurious for skaters not to keep their legs warm until they felt their bodies were completely warmed up. I suggested to the coach to check with a doctor to confirm this,” she noted. “It all culminated in a notice that went out to all skaters at that rink to wear leg warmers from then on. Soon there was a company specializing in leg warmers for figure skaters.”

Movement akin to the dance world that Harris choreographed for the ice shocked many within the skating community. She then attempted to educate them on what was going on in the world of performing arts. As part of the coaching team she assumed she could take her place with the coaches at competitions while the skaters with whom she worked practiced and competed. This was not always accepted by others, but she persisted and eventually it became norm. Continue reading

American Ice Theatre in Urban Pic Skate Competition

American Ice Theatre’s Anna Cobb & Garrett Kling perform & skate in “I Like the Way you Walk”

They are entered into a chance to win $750 and the top prize in the 2014 Urban Pic Skate Contest.

You can vote by liking their video on Pic Skate’s Facebook page and sharing it with your friends!

Why Skating Needs to Keep Dancing



Cast of Let’s Dance (all photos by Grace Wiley)

What happens when you get a room full of creatives in the skating world and tell them to put together a show all their own?

No, this time it’s not Strawberry Ice.

You get “Let’s Dance” – American Ice Theatre’s spring gala performance that occurred May 31 in Chicago. The show, produced by Jodi Porter, featured pieces choreographed by contestants from Audrey Weisiger’s Young Artists Showcase, as well as special guest stars like Jason Brown (maybe you’ve heard of him), Ryan Bradley, Rohene Ward, Ashley Clark and Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Guiletti-Schmitt.

photo by Grace E. Wiley

Jason Brown

It’s safe to say it was a success (just being a bit modest, here folks). To a packed house, the show presented styles of classical to contemporary, solos to large group ensemble pieces, laughs and cheers, heart-felt emotion, breath-taking stunts and beautiful choreography.

Most of all, the show brought together a group of people choosing to skate the way their heart tells them.

The voice of criticism grows louder in and out of skating circles about skating’s current state. After the uproar of Sochi’s controversies and debacles, there’s a broken record telling us that skating is becoming irrelevant. This show proves otherwise. Here are some of the most commonly heard slams against skating today and how the joined forces of AIT and YAS are helping change the conversation with a show like this one.

Continue reading


2013- 14 Group shot pic 2 - Version 2

Salt Lake City, UT. (October 9, 2013) —-  A wave of artistic figure skating is flowing into Utah as American Ice Theatre (AIT) opens a new chapter of its company to Salt Lake City. Founder and Director Jodi Porter, B.F.A. in Modern Dance at University of Utah and former resident of Bountiful, has enlisted figure skating coaches Giselle Gorder and Rachel Peterson to be co-directors and continue spreading artistic figure skating throughout the area.

“I believe AIT Utah will be able to offer professional opportunities with the highest artistic integrity,” Porter said. “It is wonderful to see opportunities for skaters continue after a competitive career and I am confident Rachel and Giselle will be able to reach out to the community and generate enthusiasm about the art of dance on ice.” Continue reading