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”

 

 

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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

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.”

Ice Semble Chicago Celebrates New Talent in Spring Repertory

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Ice-Semble Chicago continues its tradition of bringing the arts on the ice by presenting its spring repertory 7:30 p.m. on Thursday May 2, 2013. The company will present its program at Winnetka Ice Arena at 490 Hibbard Rd. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Ice-Semble web site: http://www.ice-semble.com or at the door.  General Admission is $15.00 for adults and $12 for children 5-12 years old.

Ice-Semble, led by Artistic Director Liz Mc Shane Beberdick, continues its collaborations with American Ice Theatre founder Jodi Porter. Several new choreographers will produce works for the 2013 season featuring pieces such as “Swimming” by Eve Chalom, “Into the Night” by Garrett Kling, “Leaving Again” by Ellen Mills and returning favorite choreographers including Porter debuting “Once Again?”

Chalom, former Ice Theatre of New York company member, joins for the first time this season debuting her contemporary Philip Glass trio piece “Swimming.” Kling, a 2012 Young Artists Showcase finalist, will present a jazz-infused large ensemble piece entitled “Into the Night.” Mill’s piece called “Leaving Again” is a work in two movements set to the music of Kurt Elling. Porter will debut a percussive contemporary piece called “Once Again?” featuring Chalom, Kling, Katherine Hill and Sean Marshinski.

The 2013 Ice-Semble ensemble includes: Hamidah Ahmad, Jill Aybar, Madeline Aybar, Eve Chalom, Agata Czyzewski, Ola Czyzewski, Megan Eurenius, Meah Helfand, Katherine Hill, Garrett Kling, Sean Marshinski, Liz McShane-Beberdick, Tracie Miller, Ellen Mills, Katrina Nelken, and Jodi Porter.

The performance is sponsored in part by Allegro Dance and sanctioned by the United States Figure Skating Association.

WHO: Ice-Semble Chicago presents
WHAT: Spring gala
WHEN: Thursday, May 2nd at 7:30pm
WHERE: Winnetka Ice Arena, 490 Hibbard Rd in Winnetka, Illinois
WHY: A chance to see Chicago’s premiere ‘art on ice’ company presenting an evening of ensemble skating at its best.

TICKETS: $12 TO $15

Buy online for advance ticketing discount or at the door.
HOW TO BUY: http://www.ice-semble.com

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