Finding the art of figure skating in a pair of point shoes

Thomas spreads her love of ballet and figure skating to a global community

As a child, Annette Thomas’ favorite activity wasn’t playing in the backyard or swinging on the jungle gym; it was keenly observing her mother teach ballet.

“I would sit by the rosin box and just watch the whole class,” she said. “I loved discussing the class with her afterward. My mother never talked to me as a kid; she talked to me as if I were a partner, a friend.”

Her mother Mika Mingo, a skater and professional dancer, often brought skating friends to ballet class. After the class, Mingo helped her skating friends translate the lesson onto the ice, working on the specific needs for figure skaters to strengthen muscles and improve alignment for on-ice performance.

“My mother mixed the worlds,” Thomas said. “She would tell me to watch the skaters and see the differences in how they moved. We would discuss the skaters and dancers strong and weak points. And so skating and ballet have always been in my heart.”

After her mother’s sudden death at age 17, Thomas continued a career path combining the two passions her mother instilled inside her. Now an international publisher, professional dance teacher, choreographer and mother, she devotes her time spreading the art of ballet to those needing its special touch on the ice.

“Teaching movement is in my soul. Making an image that stays in your head and goes into your heart is what I love to see,” she said. “I want people to understand the beginning, middle and end of each movement. It’s how you tell the story, not the story itself.”

Living in New York City, Thomas never became a competitive figure skater attended skating shows with her mother at Madison Square Garden and loved skaters such as Janet Lynn and John Curry. Her dance background includes extensive training at Carnegie Hall by Maria Nevelska of the Bolshoi Ballet. Gaining experience throughout her lifetime in Flamenco, Modern, Folkloric and Character Dance, Bharata Natyam and Mime, figure skating continued to be a love in which she yearned to be involved. Teaching ballet to figure skaters at rinks throughout the Milwaukee area since 1984, she wanted to see how ballet was being integrated in figure skating training on a national and global scale.

Eric Bensen and Thomas, age 4, at Wollman Rink in NYC. Photo courtesy of Annette Thomas

She got her wish as the technology boom of the 1990s brought an invention: online discussion forums. In 1998, she started the first ever online forum on Yahoo! that specifically dealt with ballet in the field of figure skating.

“It was very informative and rewarding to get high level coaches and ballet teachers from all over the world to contribute and discuss relevant topics and share information,” she added.

The group reached around 50 members, but she decided to close it down after three years when dialogue among members succumbed to bickering.

“Some coaches don’t want ballet teachers telling their skaters things that they believe may be contrary to their progress on the ice,” she says. “What skaters need is a team working together to be able to transfer everything on the ice. What it boils down to is that a lot of ballet teachers are just teaching ballet as a piece of choreography. They are not understanding the biomechanics of the movement.”

Thomas received her Certificate of Completion of the First Class Pedagogical Course for the Study of Classical Ballet in 2005 and has released two books: Fundamentals of Alignment and Classical Movement for Figure Skaters and her latest book Lessons in Classical Ballet for Figure Skaters. She has been mentored by skating legend Ricky Harris and received critical acclaim of her books and material from those within the skating community such as Deidre Arianne Kellogg, Ryan Jahnke, Salome Brunner and Dorian Shields Valles.

With the rise of social media sites, Thomas has rekindled her online presence by creating a Facebook group and continues the up keeping of her website. In June, American Ice Theatre announced a partnership with Thomas that will include collaboration on educational material.

“I’m very grateful that Jodi is reaching out to me,” she said. “Creativity is contagious and we want to share it.”

No doubt Thomas will continue to share it wherever she goes.

“People are just so full of creativity and life and I just want to stir that up,” she said. “I want people to be all they can be creatively and ballet for figure skating is a venue of what’s in my heart to give people. There’s so much in the world that is mundane and brings us down; I just want people to be lifted up.”

Q&A with new Advisory Board Member Audrey Weisiger

Audrey Weisiger is a woman in need of no introduction.

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She possesses a multitude of titles: Olympic coach, radio talk show host, Young Artists Showcase Founder, Grassroots to Champions President, public speaker, choreographer and mentor. The list goes on.

But I like to call her Aud Mama. Affectionately coined by choreographer Amber Van Wyk, it is a title that may just describe her the best.

As AIT welcomes Audrey onto the Advisory Board, I talked with her about the upcoming season of YAS and her visions of where skating will be going in the future.

Q: You created the Young Artists Showcase in 2010 and now it is about to enter into its fourth season. What is different about this year than the previous three?

A: This year there are more theatrical type of challenges. The first challenge is a piece based on ethnic culture. The fourth challenge will be a piece based on a mythological creature. Challenge five is all about using a set of unconventional requirements like skidding, heel work and basic school figures. Tommy Steenberg and I cooked out the stuff that they are going to do. When we first started I had no idea what kinds of challenges or creations the choreographers were capable of concocting, but now I’m aware that more choreographers are welcoming the idea of doing something so out of the box.

Q: A budding choreographer is interested in doing YAS, but they are completely and utterly mortified. What do you tell them?

A: Choreography has to be about the joy of creation. I always go back to watching Cain’s Arcade, because no one told him to make the arcade; it was something he felt in his being that he wanted to make. Skating has to be like that. You go out there by yourself and you make something. Those are very personal moments when you get lost in your creation. That’s the essence of YAS. I tell this to the kids all the time – if you like what you created, then it was worth taking the time to make. It has value because it is done.

Choreography is very personal. I want to encourage choreographers to be creative and to become themselves without fear. I actually think in this day and age with so much visibility and social media, it’s so much more important for kids to stand up and be themselves. YAS really becomes a part of your toughening shell as much as it is an outlet for creativity. There aren’t many opportunities to experience creating something that is different than conventional skating. Continue reading