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

 

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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.

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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

I’m (here) but I want to be (there) so how do I…

Sometimes it feels like gloppy-oatmeal is saturating my brain. And that’s because I too often try to take over the world.

And by taking over the world, I don’t necessarily mean starting up my own green NGO on climate-control or spearheading the latest-and-greatest method of education reform. But it does mean that in my own, minuscule universe (with my gloppy brain) that I become too eager to be THERE when I am just HERE.

Let me explain.

First to preface: even though I am coming from my point of view (as performer and choreographer), you can insert any other passion or career path into this post — musician, carpenter, pharmacist, snake milker.

Yep, it’s legit

So anyway, for me as a performer and choreographer, I dream of being THERE – meaning I want to create really awesome stuff that I feel proud of and for creativity to erupt in a massive volcano of amazingness.

But that’s the thing – right now all of that is kind of in my head. I make stuff happen now, but it doesn’t always translate into what I envisioned or I feel like the process just goes haywire halfway through, thus becoming more damage control than an actual work of art.

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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.

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How I applied to YAS and why you should too

 

Hey there! So you’re on the fence about applying for the Young Artists Showcase? I know the feeling. It’s that teeter totter scenario — one day you feel up for the challenge and believe the world can be conquered one choctaw at a time.

The next, you hit a rut and in a flash that confidence disappears as we belly flop into the water.

 

I’m going to be very honest with you: If you decide to apply, the roller coaster of emotions are only beginning.

Getting a school report card can be stressful enough, but this is as if your grades were posted all over the internet with professors, loudspeaker in hand, telling the world their opinions of your work.

YIKES! Holy freakin’ cow of milk. It can be scary.

But if you don’t get anything else out of my spiel, please get this: YAS is absolutely, entirely, and whole-heartedly worth every single minute. YAS has kickstarted a career so that I’ve gotten to do all of this:

My beginning into choreography has been a process of intense education, study and motivation. But it started in a lot of fear.

If fear of failure is holding you back, channel it into opportunity. Make it happen for yourself. Let the world see what you can do. One huge lesson I’ve learned from YAS is that fear can be as big or small as I let it — the hairy, mammoth monster waiting to chomp my head off or the house fly I flick away with my finger.

Now that my Oprah moment of motivational speaking is over, I’ve gathered three common responses people give for not applying to YAS and I’ll elaborate on my experience dealing with those same thoughts.

1) “I’m not going to apply to YAS because my work isn’t good enough.”

When I first heard about YAS, it was right before the first installment got underway in 2010. Since being a youngster, I had always wanted to create on the sheet of ice I called home. Discovering that there was a competition for skating choreographers was the most thrilling opportunity of a lifetime. I knew this was the gateway into the world I had always wanted to enter into. Except there was one wee little minor issue: I missed the cut.

Here’s where that word comes in: FEAR. Meaning the hairy-mammoth-monster kind of fear. Suddenly a slew of thoughts went through my head and back out like a continuous flow of projectile vomit. Cue in the sob story vocal track:

“Maybe I am not made out for this?” “I just don’t have enough talent.” “My opportunity just isn’t going to come.” Cry me a river, etc. etc. etc.

After the sob story and a few visits to Dr. Phil, I decided to do something about it. I made myself learn more about the choreographic process, get mentored, and learn from others. Having ideas were never the issue for me – it was about learning the translation of those ideas onto the ice. It fueled inside me a new passion to organize my philosophy, thought process and work ethic.

So if you don’t think you’re good enough, realize that you probably never will. It’s that perpetual motion of false perception where we need to “feel” like we are good enough in order to do something. That’s all a lie the hairy, mammoth kind of fear tells us. Strive to get better because that’s the only way to move upward.

2) I’m not going to apply to YAS because I can’t handle the criticism.”

When the time came for YAS2, I was beyond excited. I promised myself I would take the opportunity and was thrilled to get selected as a contestant. The competition itself was a whirlwind of emotions and placements. One week I won a challenge, the next I was near the bottom. One challenge I got five stars from a judge and two stars from another. And it’s all happening via YouTube, the most public forum possible.

The worst criticism will come from yourself. After posting a challenge, a flood of thoughts would overwhelm me on ways I could improve this or that. I would over-analyze and psyche myself out. But let your criticism fuel your progress instead of being a detractor.

When you get criticism from a judge, take it all in — the good and the bad. I used to look at challenges I scored poorly on and get down on myself, but now I take a different approach. I look at every single challenge as a stepping stone. Getting feedback every single week from a different panel of judges with varying backgrounds, lenses and perceptions is truly educational. Every week I was challenged on the way I viewed choreography.

Know that every challenge will change you. You are an artist constantly evolving. And that’s really the goal isn’t it? To be able to continually create, learn and mature in our craft.

3) I’m not going to apply to YAS because I don’t think I have the time for it.

I decided to do YAS3 because I knew I wanted one more chance at it with all the education I had been getting. I took more dance classes, took MCT, studied all types of choreography and continually kept creating myself to keep ideas flowing.

And I got organized.

I finished runner up and feel like a large contributing factor was simply being organized. You’ll never feel like there’s enough time to do a challenge and often times unforeseen circumstances will bite at the last minute, but be prepared for all scenarios. Get your talent lined up, have at least three ideas for each challenge as a back up, appoint video people, start talking to your rink about ice time, etc. There’s a lot that goes into it, but in my experience most people are cooperative when they realize what a cool thing YAS is.

So I hope I’ve convinced you to take the plunge and apply. Take a risk — YAS teaches you how to do that pretty quickly. When you take a risk, we have to throw away that fear, so flick it off with your finger. There’s an entire YAS community waiting to usher you in and we promise we won’t let that hairy, mammoth monster of fear get near you.