If you don't love Rory Flack, then there's just something wrong with you. It's as simple as that! Winning the 1986 junior bronze medal at the U.S. National Championships, Rory competed for a few years at the senior level then turned professional, and that was where the real success in her skating began. Winning both the U.S. Open Challenge and Masters Cups, she later went on to win the American Open title and compete in many other competitions. She also has starred in Ice Capades, Nutcracker On Ice, has performed around the world and has this intangible quality and innovative and expressive style that make her one of a kind - the kind of skater you just can't not watch. Her own skating hasn't been her only success either - she is a much sought after coach and choreographer, and has choreographed highly talented U.S. skater Keegan Messing's programs since the start of his career. One of only four ladies skaters that I can think of in the world to do the backflip (the others being Lori Benton, Surya Bonaly and Ashley Clark), she is always a fan favourite and an intriguing and heartwarming skater to watch. It was my pleasure to have the opportunity to interview her!
Q: I have to start by saying what a huge fan I am of your skating. Your performances just exude personality plus on the ice and you are unbelievably creative with the performances and choreography you put out there. What do you think differentiates a good skater from a good performer?
A: Well, you can’t truly be a good performer without having a solid foundation in technique. I think they are complimentary of each other. I think the more confident you are as a skater allows the emotion of performing to translate to those watching. Performance to me is a joy of what you are doing, when there is confidence in the ability the joy is more evident. Being a good skater allows for you to feel comfortable to perform on the ice.
A: Coaching in Alaska is similar to coaching everywhere else besides that I am coaching with my ex-husband Ralph Burghart, and my son Remington. That makes it different because although we coach as a team we have different emphasis on what and how we teach our kids. As a family we have a great relationship on the ice, and coaching. Ralph and I bring that family feeling to all our skaters in Alaska, and I am just so blessed that one of those skaters is my son. I am very lucky to have Remington there as one of my skaters, and I am very lucky that he has the ambition and desire to be as good as he wants to be.
Q: What was your transition from amateur to professional skating like and what would you say to a skater thinking about making that transition?
A: To me, it was exciting. It was exciting to have a new goal in life. I still had that little bit of competitive feeling because you are transitioning from competitions to auditions. It is a different area of emotion and expression. For me I was excited to bring out more of my personality, and more of my own style to the surface. The greatest thing about being a performer is realizing that a choreographer does not create your style. I was so blessed to have found the greatest choreographer Brian Wright, who helped me bring out my own individual style.
Q: Where did you come up with your "Brass In Pocket" program? That was the first program I ever saw you skate at the 1995 Riders Ladies Championships and I thought it was SO much fun!
A: I have to laugh a little. I came up with that program at my dinner table with my then husband, Ralph, and a couple of my friends. We were just having a good time, and I love that song, so I started singing it and someone at the table said “you should skate to that!” I agreed, and made it what I thought it could be. We had just moved to Alaska, and so it was the beginning of a new time, and a chance for new creation. It was a great experience to perform at Riders Cup.
Q: When and how did you learn your backflip and INSANE Russian split jumps?
A: The split jumps were more of a self challenge. As a child, I could do splits in the air on the trampoline, so I figured I should be able to do it on the ice. I was in gymnastics for a short period of time and I would practice my different moves on the trampoline telling myself that one day I would do them on ice. The backflip, I wanted to do since I was 17 because my coaches Lori Benton, and Darren Berner, at the time both could do them. When I saw another woman do it, I thought to myself that I could to. After I turned pro, I had an opportunity to do a backflip in competition because as the rule stands you can only do them as a pro. My friend Doug Mattis told me while we were performing in a show together that he would teach me how to do it. It took me two months to build up my courage to do it on the ice. Two months of gliding around trying to build up the guts. One day it was like “just do it.” After that moment I was so excited and thought it was easy!
Q: Who are your favourite skaters to watch and who were your role models growing up in the sport?
A: I honestly have to say that my favorite skaters to watch are all the children I work with. I like to watch them grow, and develop their own way. They get better every day. Growing up, I definitely liked watching Robin Cousins, and John Curry, they were great skaters and great performers who put everything out there. They put their emotion out there.
Q: Are you pleased with the direction the sport is going in with new CoP/IJS system of judging? How can the way the sport is judged be improved?
A: I actually am becoming fonder of the IJS system. As a teacher, it is fun for me to create more elaborate spin positions or creative footwork. I am learning things too, and when I see what I have visualized come to life over the development of a program it is always a joy. I like that the footwork is becoming more intricate, it reiterates the skills that I grew up skating with. The brackets and loops that have to keep their integrity is more challenging for the skaters, and for me to create new innovative step sequences.
Q: Your aunt is the fabulous Roberta Flack! What is like having two dazzling divas in one family?
A: I love Roberta and I love our relationship. If there is an opportunity for me to see her, I do that whenever I can. We enjoy the time we have together immensely and so that is a very special thing.
Q: What are your favourite songs?
A: I am quite a fan of "Thrift Shop". It provides a lot of entertainment between my kids and I. "Johnny Appleseed" is also one my favourites. That song has to be hits my mind at least ten times a day so I guess it must be a favourite. I really just enjoy all types of music, so it is hard to decide on favourites.
Q: What is your favourite performance that you have skated?
A: "Bridge Over Troubled Water", that program is one that I would love to do again one day. Everything about that performance was so moving and touched me in such a powerful way that it will always stuck with me. Another thing that made that program so very special was being able to perform it for Aretha.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to skaters around the world, what would it be?
A: That is a tough one. I think I would tell them to keep their minds open. Everybody has something to offer.
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