Remembering a Legend

Today we pay homage and remember a true legend in figure skating — Ricky Harris. She passed away at her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico at the age of 95. She is referred to as “the mother of choreography education in figure skating” and is known for her work with skating stars such as Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan, Evan Lysacek, Tai Babilonia & Randy Gardner,
She mentored AIT Founder Jodi Porter and they developed a friendship that lasted more than 20 years all through Ricky’s final days. In 2013, AIT gave Harris a Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering efforts to revolutionize figure skating choreography to allow choreographers to be more recognizable, established and appreciated in the figure skating community. In 2013 she also received a Lifetime Achievement Award through the Professional Skaters Association and in 2014 she was inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Thank you Ricky for your amazing career! Her legacy lives on through so many continuing on her methodology and passion.

Read AIT Founder Jodi Porter’s tribute to Ricky

Listen to an interview with Ricky by the Manleywoman SkateCast

Buy her book “Choreography and Style for Ice Skaters”

Buy her book “The Coach’s Manual on Choreography and Style for Skating”

 

 

Why Take an AIT ‘Mini-course’?

my-floor-barre-pics-300x300The new year is here! It’s a clean slate to stop procrastinating, get in better shape, and become the person you’ve always wanted to be!
Okay, all of those things we like to tell ourselves and then by mid-year we fall into a hole of self-pity because well, WE DIDN’T DO THEM.
But thankfully here at AIT, we’ve provided accessible ways to help those looking for improving their careers as a coach, teacher, choreographer and performer. The Ballet for Figure Skaters online mini-courses provided by AIT are a wonderful way to do these things. Here are just a few reasons why you should take a course.
  • Choose from an extensive variety of subjects. These include “Introduction to Ballet for Figure Skating”, “Introduction to Classical Ballet Pedagogy”, “Music Theory”, and “Choreography Basics”.
  • Taught by a master teacher. Annette Thomas has dedicated her life to the art of dance, choreography and pedagogy and has a passion for combining those with figure skating. She is classically trained at Carnegie Hall and the San Juan Ballet Company and tea
    ches ballet using the world-renowned Vaganova method.
  • In-depth college level classes that don’t dent the budget like a typical university course.
  • Individualized lessons in your own home at a time/day which is convenient for you. You set your own schedule with Annette and have the opportunity find the most comfortable place to take class over your own personal electronic device.
  • Each mini-course earns  AIT credits towards full “Ballet for Figure Skaters” teaching certification.

Check out this link for more information on finding the right class for you and how to sign up. You can email Annette at attdance@gmail.com for further questions. Happy New Year!

 

 

2017 Update: Ballet for Figure Skaters releases digital 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” digital DVD puts the first level of her curriculum onto the screen for skaters all over the world to see. Continue reading

PROFILES: RICKY HARRIS

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 OPENS NEW CHAPTER IN UTAH

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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

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

Q&A with Lorna Brown

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lorna Brown over the phone and immediately it is imminent that the creativity inside of her pours into everything she does. Her passion for life is evident in her role as choreographer, activist, mentor, performer and artist. We welcome Lorna as the newest member of AIT’s Advisory Board and would love for you to get to know her a bit better.

GK: You are known for such original program concepts as a professional, but the one that stands out most is a piece you won with at the 1980  World Professional Championships. Tell me about the program and your inspiration behind it. 

LB: It was based upon the movie Jonathan Livingston Seagull (originally a fable written by Richard Bach). It was about a bird who didn’t fly with the rest of the flock. He transcended into other dimensions and was able to dive into the ocean. I could relate to that because I was always a bit different and didn’t follow the flock if you know what I mean. And so that really inspired me to make my program.

GK: You and John Curry have a long history together. Please share with me how you met and what your relationship was like. 

LB: John and I were like kindred spirits. We met in London from a young age and trained together at the Streatham Ice Arena in London. We would talk about the possibilities of doing an ice ballet featuring all kinds of dancing. We would improvise and play Romeo and Juliet on the ice.

Everything that John did, he did with finesse. He knew his music and dancing. He danced onstage with Anthony Dowell, one of the greatest dancers Britain’s ever had. He did so many different styles like contemporary, classical and folk. It was wonderful.

Continue reading

Porter relaunches Ricky Harris Workshops

When Ricky Harris decided to settle down in the mid 2000s, the chapter in her illustrious career conducting global workshops for thirty-plus years closed. Looking through binders and binders worth of material gathered over the years, she decided a new chapter needed to open—one where a fresh voice could bring her workshops to a whole new generation of skaters learning the concepts and methods she devoted her life teaching.

“I felt that the workshops should be developing more and more,” said Harris, 91, who holds an M.F.A. in Dance and Ph.D in Choreography.

Harris began thinking about who could continue her workshops and use her extensive amount of material.

“I wanted to give all my journals to somebody who would really do something with them,” she added.

Harris decided the perfect candidate was someone she had mentored for almost 20 years, Jodi Porter, founder of the American Ice Theatre.

“There was something about her that I could see was just like me,” Harris said. “She is someone who goes in and accomplishes what she’s passionate about.”

Starting this month Porter will relaunch the Ricky Harris Choreography and Style Workshops by presenting the same material Harris taught by offering the necessary tools for skaters to develop their own distinctive style on the ice.

“I’m passionate about continuing her legacy,” Porter said. “I’m so excited we can bring these workshops back into figure skating at such a critical time for the sport where it really needs the artistic component to maintain and flourish.”

Continue reading