Interview With Eve Chalom
A three time U.S. medallist and world competitor, Eve Chalom has worn many hats in the figure skating world and done so in each case with incredible passion for the sport. From competing to coaching to performing in ice theatre, Chalom has infused her passion for dance into every twizzle and three turn. Her remarkable story of reaching such success in skating while living with hearing impairment is truly inspiring and her continuining improvement as a skater long after her competitive career ended is the true mark of a skater committed to lifelong learning. In this interview, Eve talked about everything from her competitive career to dance's relationship to skating and how ice dancing has evolved. I think you'll love it:
Q: With your then partner Matthew Gates, you won the bronze medal and then the silver medal at the 1996 and 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and seemed poised to be heading to the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, but finished fourth at the U.S. Nationals the following year. How difficult was dealing with that loss and how did you find the strength to come back the next season and reclaim another silver medal at Nationals and another trip to Worlds?
A: We actually were never able to compete at the 1998 Olympic Games logistically because my partner was from Great Britain. He had a green card, but was not a citizen of the United States. In order to represent the U.S., we both needed to be citizens. However, we were definitely disappointed with our fourth place finish because that meant that we would not get to go to Worlds that year and we had been anticipating that. We did make some changes to our training regimen, which included a move to Dallas, Texas to train with different coaches for our final season. Having a lot of individual attention by living in a training environment where there were no other teams at our level seemed to be a helpful step, but I don’t know if we ever really recovered from that season. I also sustained a shoulder injury the whole Olympic season, which also made training and competing difficult.
Q: Since you stopped competing, how has ice dancing changed for the worse and for the better?
A: I think the skaters have increased their technical abilities a tremendous amount. I think the loosening of restrictions on the types of lifts that can be done has allowed for some beautiful lifts that are much acrobatic and accomplished than the types that were done in the days that I skated but I also think much has been lost in the way of couples dancing together. There is such an emphasis on the technical side now, and there are so many required elements that the dancers are not getting to work on how their relationship and their “dance” is communicated through movement. When I was competing, we spent a lot of time working on the subtleties of how we related to each other and to the audience and the movement was carefully choreographed in a way that would demonstrate that to observers. In this way, the audience and judges were able to follow a story that we as the skaters would tell from beginning to end of a program. It was not just a physical journey of making it cleanly through a program, but also an emotional one. I am not knocking what is done now, because some of it is absolutely fabulous, and it's not that my partner and I were always able to do it successfully. There was an intention of cultivating a dance that would draw the audience in so that they were emotionally invested in our story, like watching a good movie. I don't often see that these days, but I think that with the system the way it is right now there is not much space left for that type of work.
Q: I was and am so inspired by your ability to interpret rhythm and great sense of timing while dealing with hearing impairment. What have been the biggest challenges in being an ice dancer and dancer who deals with challenges hearing?
A: I guess some of the biggest challenges have been personal ones. I have had to learn how to be proactive in making sure that I am watching out for my own interests in situations where I am having trouble hearing. This often means: making sure others are aware of my hearing loss so that they don’t jump to incorrect conclusions or make assumptions about me, choosing my location in the room so that I will be able to hear better, asking for help when I need it, and generally being okay with needing to make adjustments so that I will be able to do whatever it is that I want to do. It is a challenge because it is a lot of work and it's not work that will go away as the years go on. I just get more used to doing the work so it becomes less of a hassle. It is what it is and I am grateful to have found a silver lining in that I think my hearing loss has made me much more sensitive in other ways. It gives me a unique perspective on life.
Q: You have degrees in both English and Philosophy from the University Of Michigan. Having studied English myself and being a huge book lover, I have to ask. What is the last book you've read and what did you find most fascinating about it?
A: The last book I read was "The Golem and The Jinni". I borrowed it from my sister-in-law. A friend of hers wrote it and I totally enjoyed reading it. It takes place in early twentieth century New York City, and it was really nice reading about the old neighborhoods that I was familiar with because I spent ten years living in New York. I also really enjoyed the story and the development of the relationship between the two main characters, who are both different from other people in very specific, unique ways, as well as being different from each other. They are able to meet in those differences in a very beautiful way. Sorry for the spoiler! I also have a Master's Degree from Pratt Institute in Dance/Movement Therapy, so a lot of my reading material is related to movement, the body, psychology, and the arts. I just currently read an interview about a movement form called Contact Improvisation that was conducted with Steve Paxton, who was one of its founders in the seventies.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: Gordeeva and Grinkov for sure. They skated together more beautifully than any other couple I have ever seen. It was a situation where they had very different strengths, but the way those strengths came together created something amazing. I also love Oksana Grishuk, who was an ice dancer with Evgeni Platov. She had the ability to emotionally invest herself in a performance that I haven't seen replicated. She knew the choreography, but she really dived into the unknown with how it was going to feel and where it was going to take her emotionally, and I appreciate that a lot because I know how difficult it is to let go that much. My last favourite would have to be Ilia Kulik. I choose him maybe because of the solidness of his jumps that always had good technique, maybe because he was a fluid skater who was equally balanced in terms of his technical and artistic ability. Also because he stood by Katia Gordeeva after Sergei passed away and continued to persistently make himself a good choice for her to be with, after years of his not settling down. I appreciate the almost fairy tale ending in a way. They went on to have more children together after the daughter Katia had with Sergei and they have their own rink in California.
Q: Working in the dance world now as well as continuing to perform with Ice Theatre Of New York has really afforded you a really interesting balance of two worlds. What can figure skating learn from modern dance and what can modern dance learn from figure skating?
A: I could write a book on this and I probably will one day. One of the main ways that my skating changed after I started doing modern dance in New York was that I learned how to use and become aware of my torso. In ice skating, you hear people talking about shoulders and hips, and of course, legs, arms, head, and feet. But what about the torso? How do we move our stomach, our backs, our ribs? In modern dance, a lot of the expressive movement comes from the torso and how we communicate through our whole body. As a human being, movement is initiated in our core, or our torso, and then we see it more through the extremities that are further out. Once I became more aware of how I was using that part of my body, I was able to become much more powerful in all of my movements, even when it came to stroking.
Q: You have balanced your own skating and dancing with coaching skating for many years since your retirement from the "amateur" world in 1999. What is your proudest moment as a coach?
A: I have a lot of proud moments that happen at home, when a student figures out a new way to do something, or when they have a lightbulb go on. I love those moments. I had a beautiful moment when Kaitlyn Weaver and Charles Clavey won silver in Junior Dance at Nationals a long time ago. They did a beautiful free dance where they were really in the moment, and I was very proud of them for being able to do it under pressure and for enjoying themselves.
Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?
A: I have two cats and I like doing a lot of things by myself like going to a beach to walk around or going to a park. I love being outside in nature.
Q: How would you describe the feeling of skating on the ice by yourself to someone who never has?
A: I feel free. There is a relaxation and a pleasure in the glide that makes me feel like I am swimming in the air and all is nice and peaceful.
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