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

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.”