Fort Delaware, Civil War Ghosts And The Great Skating Escape

With Hallowe'en only days away, I thought it only appropriate to look beyond the spooky stories in the Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular and look at another eerie story where the worlds of skating and parapsychology met on center ice. This story takes us to Pennsylvania, a state well known for its high number of ghost sightings over the years. Pennsylvania is also the birthplace of many elite skaters - Johnny Weir, Adam Rippon, Caryn Kadavy among them. In his 2012 book "Cheltenham", Philadelphia poet Adam Fieled wrote "Ghosts By The Ice Skating Rink", referencing ghosts by the ice skating rink in Elkins Park Square in the Philadelphia suburb Cheltenham:

"Each thinks the other a lonesome reprobate.
That's what I guess when I see the picture.
It's Elkins Park Square on a cold spring night;
they're almost sitting on their hands. One
went up, as they say, one went down, but
you'll never hear a word of this is Cheltenham.
They can't gloat anymore, so they make an
art of obfuscation. That's why I seldom go
back. Elkins Park Square is scary at night.
There are ghosts by the ice skating rink."

Whether or not Elkins Square is haunted or not is another story, but there is certainly a lot of speculation about another Pennsylania location: Fort Delaware with a skating connection. In 1859, Fort Delaware was constructed on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware. The fortress was constructed to protect the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington, and was certainly an ominous looking structure with 32 foot high granite walls, gun emplacements and a moat. In 1862, a complex was built outside of the sport to house 10,000 prisoners during the Civil War. The garrison became a P.O.W. camp. After the Battle Of Gettysburg in 1863, there were over 13,000 prisoners being held in captivity at Fort Delaware. By April Of 1864, hundreds had died of malaria and dysentery and by the end of the war, 3,200 inmates had left Fort Delaware in pine boxes. Union reports document 273 escapes but there have been over a thousand as no official tally of escape attempts. Many died trying to swim to freedom in the strong currents of the Delaware River. Legend has it that one man actually skated to his freedom from the Fort. As Union soldiers skated for pleasure on the frozen Delaware River in the winter of 1863/1864, the guards (as the story goes) decided that it would be a laugh to watch some Floridian men try to skate, being strangers to the ice. One gray coat apparently acted like he couldn't skate, repeatedly falling down, each time a little closer to the shore. It was apparently all an act and he made a break for freedom wearing skates. This story was recounted by Jackson Wrigley of the 21st Georgia Infantry and was retold by his great-great grandson Stan Wrigley, of Lubbock, Texas, in the Fort Delaware Society's "Fort Delaware Notes" in April 1981: "The guards strapped skates on the prisoners and took them out on the river. The Floridians of course were falling continuously with the guards laughing uproariously at them. One kept getting farther and farther out on the river although he was having some of the most hilarious pratfalls. But as soon as he was out of musket range of the guards, he set off down the river like a professional skater and was never seen again."

Photo courtesy Historical Society Of Pennsylvania

Fort Delaware remained active as a coastal defence during the Spanish American War and both World Wars. In 1951, the outdated Fort became a state park. Many believe that the Fort is haunted. The officer's kitchen is currently staffed and used as a living historical exhibit where foods of the Civil War era are prepared and served for guests. The Kitchen Ghost, as they are called, is often known to hide and move spices, utter names and tell people to "get out". One and only one appearance by the Kitchen Ghost as an apparition was ever reported. Several women were cooking in the kitchen when suddenly a woman none of them was acquainted with appeared and inspected the food on the stove and the table. She gave the shocked cooks a grin, turned around, and walked through the wall. Another spirit said to reside in the ford is the earthbound spirit of Confederate General James Jay Archer, who was given free run of the fortress after promising Commander General Albin Schoepf he wouldn't try to escape. After Archer when back on his word and attempted to escape, Schoepf sentenced him to solitary confinement in a windowless powder magazine, where he became very ill. Visitors and fort employees have reported seeing a bearded man in a gray uniform in the area Archer was imprisoned.

Other earthbound spirits are said to haunt the fortress - a 9 year old drummer boy who tried to escape the fort by escaping in a coffin and was buried alive in that same coffin as the work detail of rebels who were in  was switched at the last minute... a spectre that has tugged at people's clothing on a staircase or send a flock of birds flying down the Fort's closed Endicott staircase to try to make staff lose their balance and even a second Kitchen Ghost, a more kindly female spirit who has threaded needles and collected and strung together loose buttons in a nineteenth century laundromat area in one of the old officer's kitchens. In the officer’s quarters, there's allegedly a ghost of a child that roams the second floor, and a lady-in-waiting. The boy reportedly tugs on the back of people’s clothing and his laughter has been heard echoing from within the Fort. In the same officer’s quarters there's the ghost of a lady (perhaps the same one from the officer's kitchen) who taps on a people's shoulders or takes them by the hand, as if to lead them on a tour of the rooms.

Books have fallen on their own, crystals have swayed when there is no draft or breeze. Lights have been seen on at night by passerby on boats when no one is on Pea Patch Island and the generator is shut down. Confederate soldiers have been spotted under the fort's ramparts and on parade grounds. One visitor snapped a picture of a rebel soldier in the Fort's archway. There have been many orb photos taken in the Fort, sometimes with as many as eight orbs or auras at a time. Disembodied voices have been heard throughout the fort as has harmonica playing. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the stories of this Fort are certainly enough to make you question whether or not you'd spend a night alone there. For the one Florida man who skated to his freedom, there were thousands who didn't make it out of this garrison-turned-P.O.W. camp alive. One thing's for sure... the frozen Delaware River is one place I wouldn't be skating anywhere soon. What about you?

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Richard Dornbush

After making his debut on the senior level at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Richard Dornbush took the 2010/2011 figure skating season by storm, winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, coming out of nowhere and winning the free skate to finish 2nd at the 2011 U.S. Nationals and finishing in the top ten at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships. After a disappointing 13th place finish at the subsequent year's U.S. Nationals, Richard rebounded strongly last season with 4 top 6 finishes at international events (including the Four Continents Championships) and a 6th place finish at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska. A technically gifted and consistent skater and also a skater that excels in the showmanship department, Dornbush is a skater with a serious future in the sport and the drive to achieve every success he aims to. We talked about his success to date, goals for the future, backflips, balancing skating and school, Tammy Gambill and much more in this interview.

Q: You have competed at the U.S. Championships eight times (on the novice, junior and senior levels), winning the silver medal in the senior men's event in 2011 and winning the free skate that year. Of all six of your trips to Nationals, which was the most memorable and why?

A: The year I won the free skate was definitely the most memorable. I went into the rink planning on skating a program just like the one I had put down in practice the day before - clean. I was down lower than I would have liked in the short (eventually costing me the gold) and somehow I had to put that behind me and focus on the long. Well, I had done it a couple times before in junior and under more troubling circumstances if you can believe it (12th and 13th in the short) and had pulled up with clean longs both times, so I knew I could do it. I put a plan in play, trained right, and with a little luck, nailed it more than anyone else could that night taking home the silver in the process. It was pretty awesome!

Q: In 2011, you represented the United States at the World Figure Skating Championships. What was your favourite moment from your first trip to the World Championships and how determined are you to compete on that stage again?

A: Favourite moment: staying on my feet in the short program after a couple of very nervously rough practices and (the next day) settling down to almost (that salchow!) do a clean long at my first World Championships. So far as how determined I am to compete at that highest level, I would very much say that it is indeed very much. Last year I had a great run into the season but suffered a difficult injury. The rehab on my ankle took months because I first hurt my ankle one week before my first Grand Prix and did not have the time to fully recover from it until after Nationals. I dealt with it as much as I could. I took two weeks entirely off after my second Grand Prix, didn't jump for a couple more weeks, not even trying quad toes until the week before Nationals, and I eventually got a cortisone shot to get me through both Nationals and Four Continents. I think that the fact I was able to hold it together so well was a testament to the condition I was in after the pre-season and leading up to my Grand Prix assignments. Unfortunately, after several months of restricted training I was not able to compete at the level that would earn me a spot at Worlds. This year, I am feeling stronger, healthier and more cognisant of the types of issues that give me problems that could eventually lead to injury. I am extremely determined not to let the history of the past two years repeat itself. I am excited for this prospect!

Q: What can you share about your goals and programs for the upcoming season?

A: My number one goal for this season is to win the U.S. Championships and make the Olympic team. This year, I am holding nothing back. I have two great programs by Mark Pillay to “The Sons of Italy” (short) by Mancini and a Beatles Medley (long) by well, the Beatles... haha. With these programs and the work I've put into getting my quads consistent, I am hoping to accomplish my goals.

Q: You have been coached by Tammy Gambill since you started skating. What is your relationship with Tammy like and why do you feel she's the best coach for you?

A: Tammy has been my coach for the entirety of my career. I even had her in group classes. I think it's proof of her ability as a coach that she was able to take a student from swizzles to the World Championships in Moscow. It's no wonder that she has won PSA's developmental coach of the year so many times, as she has helped develop so many skaters to a high level. Tammy and I are very close (probably because of the sixteen years we've known each other), and I think I can honestly say that there isn't another coach/skater team that has a relationship quite like ours. She has had so much influence on not only the way I've developed as a skater but also the person I've become in other areas of my life as well.

Q: You have been very active in Parker Pennington's Skate Dance Dream events. What makes these events so unique and special in your opinion?

A: The great thing about Skate Dance Dream is that there are absolutely no pretenses as to what the aim of the show is – to give kids a chance to skate under a spotlight with professional skaters (or dance with pro dancers). Everything that goes into the show is for them, from rehearsals, to the seminars the performers put on, to the duets that kids can win as a prize for selling tickets. I think this ultimate goal of the company is what really makes them special and sets hem apart.

Q: What has been the best part and worst part of balancing skating and your secondary education?

A: The worst part has definitely been sleep deprivation... haha! It's definitely an added stress being in college (I was full time in the spring) while in training. I missed about three and a half weeks of lecture in the fall because of competitions and shows, which is a huge difficulty because not only do I have to focus on performing well in my shows but also on teaching myself the material I'm missing. When the material is Differential Equations, Linear Algebra and Physics, that can be an extremely daunting task all on its own! The benefit is that both skating and school are great diversions from the other. There's always something to turn to if either one seems insurmountable. Another great thing is that I can't remember the last time I was nervous for a test. I actually mentioned in my application essay to UCLA about how strange it would be to worry about an exam when just a week earlier I could literally have fallen in front of thousands of people! I also feel like skating taught me how to be an excellent student. I have a 4.0 and I can tell you without reservation that the reason for my good grades is preparation. I think about studying for a class the same way I do about training for a competition. You have to practice enough to be confident not in winning, but merely being in the top percent, which as difficult as it is isn't as bad as trying to outskate the best in the world.

Q: I read that you played the violin for six years. Do you still play and how do you feel a background in playing music helped you to relate to music on the ice as a skater?

A: I did play the violin for a long time! Eventually it was a matter of time commitment. It takes A LOT of work to be a proficient player, and with school and skating I just didn't have the time to maintain my skills at the level at which I enjoyed hearing myself play. One thing violinists are good at is differentiating pitch and we are very good at knowing when something is out of tune. Unfortunately that can be a very aggravating problem when you can hear that your off but don't give yourself the time to practice enough to make it better. So my answer, I guess, is that yes, I do still play, but rarely. If it's Fourth of July I might break out some patriotic sheet music or if it's Christmas some favorite carols, but that's about it. Also, if you don't exercise the motion often the correct holding/posture can be very painful and lead to some nasty shoulder cramps; those are no fun.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and who is one skater you've never met that you'd most like to meet?

A: That's a tough one. My favorite program of all time is a piece that Kurt Browning did as an exhibition called “Rag-Gidon-Time”. Just skater-wise though, that's a bit more difficult. It's really hard for me to pick just one skater because I like so many skaters for so many different reasons, some of them not even reasons related to skating. I recently did a show with Brian Boitano, and it never ceases to amaze me how focused he is for every performance even after an entire career of it. He gives his all to every show, and I think that's something to which I can aspire. I'm also a huge fan of Michael Weiss, but I might be kind of biased as he's an awesome guy and has done so much for my generation of skaters. I truly believe there's not another skater who has given back the way he has. I was very happy to hear of the recognition he received for his work by winning the PSA award for dedication to the sport.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I'm not sure. I'm a pretty open book. I guess something that peple might not know is how much I love learning. I always seem to get caught up with infatuations where I learn a whole bunch about one thing for a little while and sort of spend all of my time doing that thing. This year I learned a whole bunch about the suspension on cars, mostly because I had a whole bunch of work needed done on my car and I couldn't afford it, but also because learning about my car and how to fix it myself was also pretty fun for me. I probably saved about $2,000 doing the repairs myself and had a lot of fun doing it. I also learned a bunch about remodeling as I'm in the process of redoing a room in my parents house.

Q: How do you keep skating fresh and interesting to you every time you are on the ice?

A: That's a tough thing to do for someone at my level, once you get to a point the rate of learning new tricks certainly slows down. I guess a way to keep it fresh is to reinvent your style. That is usually done each year in the competitive program but it's also fun to experiment with different styles when developing a new show program. This year I kept things fresh by learning some new show tricks - namely a backflip and a b-twist (not quite ready for the program, but definitely a fun one).

Q: What is your biggest dream in life?

A: Okay, this one is seriously an impossible question... haha. The Olympics is obviously a huge dream but I think it's part of a bigger picture. What I want is to be at the highest level of skating consistently. I want to reach the level where being at the top is almost a habit. I want the kind of domination that few skaters have achieved, something like a Meryl Davis and Charlie White status. At the same time, I want to be more than just a skater. I do consider myself as somewhat of an intellectual, as I really enjoy being at college. I am excited for the time and opportunity where I can skate and pursue my education, if only part-time, concurrently.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

ICE:DANCE And The 2013 ITNY Gala

Photo courtesy David Seelig

In her book Choreography & Style For Ice Skaters, brilliant choreographer Ricky Harris shared the Nico Charisse quote "Painter's art is two dimensional. Sculptor's art is three dimensional. Dancer's art is fourth dimensional, embracing space and time". Over the coming nights, the Ice Theatre Of New York will be bringing the art of dancing on ice to a whole new level, showcasing some of the most amazing choreography that the Ice Theatre has ever presented in a three day spectacular presentation of ICE:DANCE at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

David Seelig photo of Roots by Douglas Webster, premiering tonight in NYC with Eve Chalom, Carly Donowick, Ryan Bradley, Brent Bommentre, Erin Reed, Jonothan Hunt and Kim Navarro

The Friday night Gala will honor 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning and his wife Sonia Rodriguez, prima ballerina with the National Ballet Of Canada. In addition to Kurt's iconic "Singin' In The Rain" program (which I was lucky enough to see live at Stars On Ice here in Halifax in April), three new repertory pieces will be presented at the Gala by choreographers Edward Villella (founder of the Miami City Ballet), Chucky Klapow (Emmy Award winning choreographer) and ITNY's Artistic Director Douglas Webster.

Although the Friday Gala is definitely a must see event, the Thursday and Saturday shows are NOT to be missed. They will be much more of a full length showing featuring wonderful pieces from the Theatre's repertory and showcasing amazing skating by 7 time British Champion John Kerr (who's just adorable I must say... for the 50th time!), U.S. Men's Champion Ryan Bradley, World Team members Kimberly Navarro, Brent Bommentre and Eve Chalom, Aerial Ice's Joel Dear, 6 time Finnish Champion Jessica Huot and many more. "The mission is to develop dancing on ice as performance art," explained ITNY Artistic Director Douglas Webster, who stressed that ALL THREE SHOWS are definite must see skating.

David Seelig photo of Reveries, choreographed by Edward Villella and featuring Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre. This piece will see its New York City debut tonight!

If you're in New York City or planning to visit over the next few days, PLEASE take the time to treat yourself to some wonderful skating with depth, character and verve. You'll thank yourself for it. It would simply be rude not to. That's the long and short of it. All shows are at 7 PM, tickets for the Thursday and Saturday shows are $25 (students and seniors $15) and the Gala on Friday featuring Kurt Browning is $45. For more information or to purchase tickets, you can give ITNY a call at (212) 929-5811 or visit If you're unable to attend but would love to support what ITNY (a non-profit) is doing to better the world of skating, you can donate to their Kickstarter Project to offset gala costs at

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

From Lutzes To Lasagna: Happy Birthday Brian Boitano!

If there's one thing I enjoy just as much as figure skating, it's delicious food... and the birthday boy today is a master of both.

If you looked back four years to the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, it wasn't 'supposed to happen'. Brian Orser had won both the short and long programs at those Olympics yet lost the gold to Scott Hamilton owing to the results of the compulsory figures. Brian Boitano had been fifth that year, and with exceptional free skaters like Orser, Alexandr Fadeev and Jozef Sabovcik in the mix, there were certainly other favourites looking forward to the next Olympics in Calgary. But he did it... and he did it in showing the excellence not only in his jumping and technical skills but by his mastery of the art of performance as well. Winning the "Battle Of The Brians" with two OUT OF THIS WORLD performances and Olympic gold wasn't where it ended for Brian Boitano. It was where it began. He starred in his own skating tour with Katarina Witt (Skating) and in Carmen On Ice, won a RECORD 6 World Professional Figure Skating Championships, came back to the eligible ranks in time for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer (where he laid down a gorgeous free skate to finish fifth) and returned to the professional ranks. In recent years, he's not only been still performing his soaring spread eagles and huge jumps for adoring fans but he's been a'cookin' something up - a hugely successful career showcasing his exceptional prowess in the kitchen.

Today Brian Boitano celebrates another birthday and I think it's only right that we take a moment out of our busy days and lives to celebrate the amazing contribution he's made to figure skating and watch "The Music Of The Night". We all need a little magic and inspiration in our lives. You'll thank yourself for it. Happy Birthday Brian... and many more!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

2013 Skate America

Skate America, the first Grand Prix event of the season wrapped up on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. This competition established a few things about this season's skaters and personalities very early on... some of them obvious, and some more subtle in nature. I'm going to take a look at some of the performances and skaters that really stood out in my mind (keeping in mind I haven't had the opportunity to watch everything yet) and share a few thoughts. I want to thank all of my readers who have been wonderful lately... I've been going through a difficult month and a move and haven't had chance to do as much writing and interviews over the last few weeks as I'd hoped but rest assured that I've got lots more coming your way over the coming weeks and months. Now... Skate America.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White's dominance in ice dance at both Skate America and in general is
pretty much absolute. Posting an overall score like 188.23 this early in the season at a Grand Prix
event and receiving the kind of reception that they did for their "Sheherazade" free dance only shows
just how they are going to be to beat this season. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir might have more work
cut out for them than previously thought, but as I stated in my blog article Meryl And Charlie .VS.
Tessa And Scott: New Free Dance 101, I think there is certainly a depth and maturity to Tessa and
Scott's program that will still make for a very compelling competition as the season goes on... and
when the two teams meet for the first time and looking towards Sochi... you know, the city in the
country that Sarah Palin can see from her back door. Amurica!

Ashley Wagner! God, I love her. She went out there guns blazing and really proved that she's serious
about this season. Was that a surprise? There's such a quiet intensity and drive to her skating that
I admire, plus the fact that she's basically one of VERY few skaters to have the balls to open her mouth and oppose the whole anti-gay Sochi foolishness only makes me adore her even more. I think that her programs can and will continue to grow and improve... and the fact that she's doing the triple flip/triple toe combo is HUGE. Mao Asada's showing she's in fine form and also is a good bet for a podium finish in Sochi, but Ashley's relative proximity to her score wise (less than 10 points) shows that with continued improvement on her jumps (especially the lutz), Ashley's (in my opinion) stronger presentation could be the deciding factor in contending more than people would ever think this year. Sarah Hughes? Kimmie Meissner? She wouldn't be the first American ladies skater in recent years to do it, by any stretch of the imagination. Although she finished third in the free skate, Liza Tuktamysheva's 9th place finish in the short program nails home the fact that an injured Alena Leonova still has a chance. I'm crossing my fingers, toes... and yours when you're not looking! haha

Like Davis and White, Volosozhar and Trankov have made it very clear that they are a team that is going to be extremely hard to touch this season. They're also human and face their biggest competition from Canadians - not only Moore-Towers and Moscovitch who showed that they are VERY much in it to win it but the obvious threat of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, whose programs this season not only showcase their obvious technical edge above the competition but a huge development in the artistic field. Both Canadian teams once again look very strong this season... and there are also the Germans to think of. I think pairs is going to be one of the most exciting disciplines this year.

Among the men at Skate America, I noticed some subtle things to keep an eye on. Daisuke Takahashi, as established as a star as he is, finished off the podium. Tatsuki Machida won (rightfully so). I think Machida is definitely a skater who, like Takahashi, excels in the PCS department... and I am comfortable sharing that in my humble opinion, these 2 Japanese men are stronger artistically and in the area of musical interpretation than the other Japanese men... including the obvious threats. This competition was full of great artists on ice... Adam Rippon, Jason Brown... and Rippon edging Max Aaron (who rebounded VERY strongly after a disappointing short program result) showed to me that all three of these men are ALL contenders on an even field. We're talking a ten point difference in overall results from Rippon with 241.24, to Aaron with 238.36 and to Brown with 231.03. That's a gap that can be bridged and with so many more great American's skaters yet to compete on the Grand Prix and ultimately at Nationals, it's going to be fascinating to watch the drama unfold. I don't think there's a clear front runner or a dark horse yet. There's also no Evan Lysacek... or Johnny Weir yet. Rulebooks aside, if you believed the media (real and sensationalist) over the last few months, you'd think the drama wasn't over until one of the two stormed the ice at U.S. Nationals or they showed up in Sochi to perform a Blades Of Glory duet to angst-filled Russian classical cover of Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" in matching Vera Wang black bodysuits.

The lesson in all of these rivalries and results in early season competition isn't who wins or loses
but in the stories that unfold in their own unique ways on their own time. We'll see people who
fell on every jump last week win two weeks later, skaters who we've written off win medals and people that we think unbeatable prove once again that they are unbeatable. Carving out stories on the ice is no easy feat and it's our responsibility as skating fans to always be conscious of the fact that the stories of the ice are as winding and convoluted as a serpentine step sequence. I can't wait to see how they all play out this season!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Brooklee Han

From Newington, Connecticut to Melbourne, Australia, Brooklee Han trained on two continents all in the hope of achieving a dream that she has now realized. Beginning her skating career in New York at the age of five, the eighteen year old skater advantageously used her father's Australian roots to her advantage and embarked on a career representing Australia. Finishing 2nd at the Australian Nationals last year, Han went on to represent Australia at the Four Continents and World Championships and in laying down two solid skates at the Nebelhorn Trophy Olympic qualifying event in Germany and finishing 5th earned her country (and herself) a trip to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Brooklee took time from her very busy fall competitive season to talk about her Olympic dream, her travels, goals and much more in this fantastic interview:

Q: In finishing 5th at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, you earned your country a spot at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. That's huge for you! What does it mean to you to have earned your country this spot and to have skated so well when it counted?

A: My goal going into Nebelhorn Trophy was obviously to qualify a quota spot for Australia for the 2014 Olympics. It felt great to achieve my goal and I was so glad to be able to put out a great skate when it really mattered. The Olympic Qualifying experience was definitely a bit stressful, but still a very exciting experience. It felt so great to qualify a quota spot and it was even more exciting that the rest of my team mates also qualified!

Q: What is the qualifying process for the Olympics like now? You still have Australian Nationals to contend with in December. Will that be the deciding factor as to which Australian ladies skater goes to Sochi or will they also take international competitions and your result in Oberstdorf into account?

A: According to Ice Skating Australia, the governing federation for Australian figure skaters and the Australian Olympic Committee, the policies state that the skater who earns the spot will be the one representing Australia in the Olympics.

Q: You live and train in the United States and represent Australia as your father is from that country. How often have you traveled to Australia to skate and compete and what are the biggest differences between skating in the U.S. and skating "Down Under"?

A: I have been traveling back and forth to Australia since I was 8 weeks old. We go over a couple times a year for me to compete and to visit family. When I train in Australia I skate at Medibank Icehouse in Melbourne, Victoria. Icehouse is a beautiful facility with two gorgeous rinks. Training in Australia is not very different for me from training in the U.S. I am able to get in the same number of hours in on the ice as I would in the US, with the only major difference being that the ice is very early in the morning with the first session starting at 5:45 AM. However, I don't mind this change because I am done with all of my on ice and off ice training by about 10.

Q: You have made three trips to the World Junior Championships and have also competed at the Four Continents Championships and World Championships. Who are the most interesting people you've met while competing and of the places you've traveled, which are your favourites and why?

A: I am very lucky that I have been able to travel so many exciting places and meet so many different people through my skating. By far my favorite place on earth has to be Oberstdorf, Germany. I love absolutely everything about Oberstdorf from the mountains, to the village, the wonderful people and educated skating fans, to the gorgeous rink and of course my favorite food schnitzel! Runner-up to Oberstdorf would have to be Slovenia. The forests, lakes and Julian Alps make Slovenia an incredibly picturesque country and somewhere I would love to go to again. Finally, like most skaters, I love skating in Japan. My first experience skating in Japan was this past year in Osaka at Four Continents. The fans there are amazing and so supportive of all the athletes no matter which country they represent. I felt so privileged to skate in front of such an amazing crowd and I cannot wait until the next time I get to skate in Japan. As I stated before skating has also allowed me to meet some really great people. One highlight would have to be Carolina Kostner. I grew up watching Carolina compete and when we arrived in Toronto, Canada she was one of the people waiting with us to get picked up and brought to London for the World Championships. All of a sudden she just comes over and introduces herself to me and starts chatting. That was pretty cool! Another highlight would have to be skating in the gala at Nebelhorn Trophy. In September of 2009 I did a show in Simsbury, Connecticut at the International Skating Center with Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda and it was so amazing to get to do another show with them in Oberstdorf not as one of the kids, but as a future Olympian. And finally, I am a bit of an ice dance dork and at this year's World Championships and Four Continents I got to meet Meryl Davis and Charlie White, which was AWESOME! I absolutely love Meryl and Charlie's skating and it was just so exciting to even be at the same events as they were.

Q: With the Australian National Championships coming up, what are your goals for this season?

A: For the rest of the season, I just hope to keep improving the quality of my performances at each of my events and to skate clean and solid programs.

Q: In what area has your skating most improved this year?

A: Over the past year, I think the two aspects of my skating that have really improved are the quality of my jumps and my artistry. With my new long this year I feel like I am really able to express to the music and bring the judges and audience into the performance.

Q: When it comes to other skaters, who are your role models in the sport?

A: Figure skating is a very difficult sport, and it is very hard to master all aspects of it. Due to this, I look up to many different skaters for many different things. I really admire Alissa Czisny, Akiko Suzuki, Carolina Kostner, and Michelle Kwan for their elegance and artistry on the ice. I love Midori Ito’s jumps and power. Kurt Browning, Scott Hamilton, and Ryan Bradley are all fantastic showmen, and their enthusiasm and ability to pursue certain characters in their programs is quite inspiring. Finally I really admire, Alexei Yagudin, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Urmanov, and Shizuka Arakawa for their ability to posses the whole package, so to speak. These skaters had the jumps, the spins and incredible presentation, making them truly inspiring and a joy to watch.

Q: What is one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I guess one thing most people don't know about me is that I ride horses. My father was the Junior Young Rider Eventing Reserve Champion of Australia and my mother worked for the US Eventing team so I was brought up around horses. The first time I sat on a horse I was 6 weeks old and I competed in my first horse show at 20 months old. I have a pony named Fatboy and I have had him for almost 14 years. Fatboy's favorite sport is figure skating as the more time I spend on the ice the less time I spend riding him. He wants to be sure he is true to his name.

Q: What do you enjoy most about skating?

A: There are a lot of aspects I love about skating. One of them would definitely be the spins. I love creating new spin positions and coming up with new combinations to do in the programs. This task is often quite challenging but is something I really enjoy. I also love jumping. Mastering a new jump or combination is such a rewarding feeling and it is so great to know that all of my hard work has paid off.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Merry Neitlich and Tom Zakrajsek

For every skater that masters their first double toe-loop and layback spin, there are coaches, choreographers and whole teams of talented and caring professionals who ensure that each skater receives the BEST possible care and education on the ice that's out there. Merry Neitlich is not only a competitive figure skater herself but a long time educator and professional communicator. Her
programs through The Coach's Edge have helped offer a whole new level of depth to the on ice education experience. Through seminars and instruction, The Coach's Edge breaks down the theory of successful coaching and puts research about effective coaching methods and techniques right in coaches and skaters plans. Recently, Merry worked with renowned Olympic level skating coach Tom Zakrajsek (one of the U.S.' leading competitive skating coaches) in presenting The Coach's Edge I-SPEAK Your Language program. This joint interview with Merry and Tom well explains the importance of looking at the process of coaching through different eyes, recognizing the bearing of communication skills on a skater's success and the paramount importance of education in the sport:

Q: What can you share about what first drew you to the sport?

A from Merry: I was captivated by the sport when I was 5 years old. I was a figure skater in Long Island, New York until I was 14 years old and stopped skating when I went into high school. I always regretted quitting the sport and finally when I was 47 I started to skate again. I began competing the following year and have not stopped since. I take my skating very seriously. My amazing coaches
have helped to earn more than a dozen podium finishes at the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.

Merry at age 9 skating in Carol Heiss Jenkins' dress

A from Tom: What first drew me to figure skating was the ability to "fly" when jumping. I felt so free when I was learning new jumps and moving around the ice. I felt like a superhero.
Merry competing at the 2012 U.S. Adult Nationals

Q: How important is "thinking outside the box" when it comes to looking at the kinds of training tools that will culminate in a skater's ultimate success and preparedness for competition?

A from Merry: Since every skater learns a bit differently and needs their own special competition focus many coaches develop their own unique way of thinking and preparing for each skater. In 2009, I was drawn to start The Coach’s Edge. With a masters degree in education and communication skills, I was trained in a learning theory model from the UCLA Graduate School Of Education called the Design For Effective Education. It offers sound training in various aspects of learning theory such as retention theory and motivation theory. Through a 2010 survey, I developed for the PSA we learned that many coaches never had formal training in how people learn. The content of the Coach’s Edge curriculum was designed to combine proven learning theory with coaches already strong coaching skills to perhaps add an edge in their repertoire.

A from Tom: It is very important to think outside the box since no two athletes are alike. I use a very refined periodized training template which I have developed over 23 years of coaching. This framework, which is grounded in sport science principles, must always be modified for each skater I am working with especially when I develop them over time from the grassroots level to the World level like I have with Rachael Flatt, Ryan Bradley, Jeremy Abbott and Alexe Gilles.

Q: The two day seminar that you presented to these skaters really worked on preparing skaters (and coaches in turn) mentally for an adverse situation and developing their communication skills. How important is the line of communication between skater and coach?

A from Tom: Communication is paramount to a successful competition for the skater since the "language of skating" varies from coach to coach and since all skaters learn in different ways. Perception is everything and once there is common ground between coach and athlete, then success will happen and happen year after year. Many skaters can have 1 good season with a coach but it
is rare for skaters to continually dominate. I think Rachael and I had 7 years consecutively that were full of high achievement and success and I am very proud of our coach/student relationship. The I-Speak revealed how similar we were in our communication styles both during training and under the stress of a competition.

A from Merry: When coaches and skaters start to understand that everyone relies primarily on one of four basic communication styles the lines of communication open up and effective communication can happen faster. I use the I-SPEAK Your Language model in my training with coaches, parents and athletes.

Q: What are three things that every coach should ALWAYS bear in mind when working with a student... and vice versa?

A from Merry: When coaches understand their primary communication style and that of their athletes it opens the door to increased and more effective learning with less frustration. Coaches learn that some of their skaters, for example, like a lot of detailed step-by-step verbal instructions while others prefer a more visual approach. With a solid base in understanding how each skater learns best and communicates most effectively, coaches can decrease the time it takes to learn new skills.

A from Tom: The three things from a coach's view point are: 1) What is the focus point for the session/lesson? 2) Where is the skater developmentally in the four year plan (we always create quadrennial plans for all of my athletes) and how are they functioning (are they on target?) within their given yearly plan? 3) What is important for them to learn for their next competition? I rarely teach a lesson without a long term plan in mind because I feel that teaching a skater soley based on what I see that day or what they feel like doing that day DOES NOT produce any long term (or satisfying) developmental result. The three things from a skaters viewpoint are: 1) Do I understand what my coach is asking me to do? 2) Is the process of learning fun? 3) Am I giving full effort to the task/lesson that I am taking?

Tom on the ice

Q: What kinds of training techniques do you feel are not being utilized enough in the sport by coaches?

A from Tom: Periodization is key to developing sport skills for any athlete over time. I feel the most beneficial thing I did as a young coach was study sport/exercise science in a formal undergraduate and graduate program at the University level. This allowed me to understand the athlete as a whole human being (mental, physical, technical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual).

Q: What is the key to success, in your opinion?

A from Merry: To increase the probability of success in learning, refining and mastering skating skills, coaches hold many keys in which to communicate their knowledge. We know from solid educational research that if coaches set firm expectations for their skaters the athletes tend to skate up to meet those expectations. We also know that incorporating proven learning theory into their coaching arsenal can increase the rate and degree of new learning. We can also help our athletes internalize ways to take on more responsibility for their own training, practicing and successes.

A from Tom: The key to success is an intense burning desire channeled toward a specific goal. In order to be the best everyone on the "team" must give full effort everyday. This requires self-discipline and sacrifice. 

For more information about The Coach's Edge and I-SPEAK Your Language, PLEASE visit For more information about Tom Zakrajsek, be sure to visit

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Figure Skating Hodge Podge

If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the best and freshest vegetables. It just warms your soul. I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. In the Maritimes, we use the expression "hodge podge" to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating is such constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop. I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have one common denominator... they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. From lesser known comebacks to judging scandals to Olympic medallists changing disciplines, let's take a look at a hodge podge of 6.0 fascinating stories from the skating world:


After winning her second Olympic Gold Medal at the Nagano Games, Pasha (Oksana) Grishuk turned professional and competed professionally with Alexander Zhulin, competing against her former partner Evgeny Platov who had teamed up with Zhulin's former partner (and ex-wife) Maya Usova. Throw in some romance and this whole drama was nothing less than anything you'd expect from Pasha during her skating career... nor on Coronation Street or General Hospital for that matter. When the partnership with Zhulin dissolved, Grishuk decided to try to develop a solo career. Ekaterina Gordeeva had done it after Sergei Grinkov's tragic death, but Pasha was an ice dancer. How was that going to go? In an interview at the time, Pasha said "I love the freedom of single skating. I love the freedom of only relying on myself and the freedom of movement it gives me on the ice". Pasha actually surprised everyone with her singles skating prowess, skating in shows and hitting double axels, double salchows and double toes in her performances and even landing triple salchows in practice. The solo career did not last for any extended length of time though; she was slated to compete in the 1999 ESPN Pro Championships (against Tonya Harding) but withdrew. She did go on to do solo skating in the Nutcracker On Ice tour. Now a mother, she reunited with former partner
Platov in Nagano in February 2008 for the ten year anniversary of their second Olympic win.


Shannon Allison at the 1988 Canadian National Championships 

When the ISU decided to allow skaters to reinstate in time for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, some of skating's greatest were right there and ready to attempt to reclaim their previous glory or in many cases, come back to push themselves, better themselves and have another shot at the Olympic experience. We all know how things played out for Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and the rest... but what about the other skaters who attempted comebacks during that era until the ISU closed that door in 1996? Two of those lesser known comebacks came from right here in Canada. And I'm not talking about the absolutely heartbreaking comeback of Josee Chouinard during the 1995/1996 season. Vern Taylor, a 3 time medallist at the Canadian Nationals in the 1970's and the first person recognized to have successfully landed a triple axel in competition at the 1978 World Championships, furnished a comeback of his own. Competing at the 1994 Canadian Nationals, he did not crack the top 10 but still showed he could do triple jumps and his love for the sport. Two years later, Shannon Allison, who won the bronze medal behind Liz Manley and Charlene Wong at the 1988 Canadian Nationals and effectively just missed a trip to the Calgary Olympics, came back as well in 1993. Like Vern, her comeback wasn't as victorious as her previous efforts. She was struck with bronchial pneumonia and finished 11th at the 1996 Canadian National Championships, which she qualified for by finishing 2nd at the Western Canadian Championships that year. Allison happily moved on and returned to coaching and her education.


After the judging scandal to end all judging scandals took place at the Salt Lake City Olympics, external and internal scrutiny was certainly at an all time high at the 2002 World Figure Skating Championships in Nagano, Japan (the site of the 1998 Olympics). Lithuanian ice dancers Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas had a scandal of their own on their hands... and it wasn't anything THEY did wrong. After losing the bronze medal in a 5-4 split to the Israeli team of Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski of Israel, the Lithuanian Skating Federation filed a protest with the referee of the ice dance event Courtney Jones regarding the judging of the event. Bulgaria's Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski circulated a petition supporting Drobiazko and Vanagas' deservedness of the bronze medal. The letter sent by the Lithuanian Skating Federation urged Jones to look into the result and said that the Federation felt "the result was clear for our team". In all fairness to the Lithuanian Federation and Drobiazko and Vanagas, it totally was. Drobiazko and Vanagas (and Denkova and Staviski) gave a press conference where they alleged the father of Israeli dancer Galit Chait made payoffs to judges and that physical intimidation against several couples occurred. Although these allegations were not included in the dispute with Jones, it appears he and the ISU dismissed it without a second look even without that information. At any rate, this unfortunately was one of many raw deals that Drobiazko and Vanagas got in their skating career... they were an underrated, expressive and very strong team that unfortunately got the short end of the stick far too often.


Tara Lipinski at the 1991 U.S. Artistic Roller Skating Championships

How they do it, I have no sweet clue. It's funny, I have NO problem on a pair of figure skates, but put me on a pair of rollerblades or roller skates (or even hockey skates for that matter) and I'll end up falling in a garbage can (true story... it happened!). Competitive roller skating (if you ever have watched it) is actually quite similar to figure skating although some of the elements and the ways they are performed are quite different. There's really something quite distinctive to the spring and jumping technique of roller skaters that I think has a lot to do with the takeoff. Two examples of skaters who transitioned from roller skating to the ice with great success are 1998 Olympic Gold Medallist Tara Lipinski and German Olympian Marina Kielmann. If you look at their jumping technique comparitively (and even the spins) you'll notice some strong comparisons that are very indicative of roller skating. 2 time World and European Roller Skating Champion Dario Betti of Italy is the latest skater to turn in rollers for toe picks. His performance at this season's Lombardia Trophy showed that he's VERY quickly translating his jumping ability to the ice. It will be quite interesting to see how he skates and places at Italian Nationals - he certainly looks like he has the ability to play 'spoiler'.


Helena Pajovic and her father in Metulla, 2000

Skating is full of tragic stories of skaters we've lost too soon... the accidental drug overdose of Christopher
Bowman, the murder of Kira Ivanova, the suicide of Germany's Sven Meyer, the heart attacks of Sergei Grinkov and Heiko Fischer, the tragic loss of John Curry, Rob McCall, Brian Wright and countless others to AIDS/HIV, Freddie Tomlins death during World War II... but one of the most heartbreaking stories of a skater we lost far too soon is that of Belgrade's Helena Pajovic, simply for the fact she was quite young and promising and seemingly ready to take her skating career to the next step. A three time competitor at the World Championships, Pajovic was really a shining light for Yugoslavia, who hadn't had a strong ladies competitor in some time. In December 2000, Pajovic headed to Metulla, Israel for the Skate Israel competition, where she won the bronze medal. Heading back from the competition, Pajovic and her father were in a car accident and were both killed on Christmas Eve. Helena was remembered by the Serbian Skating Federation with the Helena Pajovic Cup (Skate Helena) which was first held in 2001 and is held annually in Serbia to this day.


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for 4-6 people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don’t cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about 7 minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about 3 minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the blend and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Gary Beacom

For the first time in a long time, I'm kind of at a loss for words. What do you say to do someone who has done so much good for figure skating justice? Gary Beacom is, in my opinion, one of the most compelling figures to ever have graced the sport. He's also one of the most talented. In art and in life, the biggest successes come to those willing to take risks, push the boundaries and break down barricades. As an "amateur" skater, professional skater, author and most recently through his skating seminars, Gary Beacom has viewed skating through the most fascinating eyes and carved out the most compelling stories on the ice. After twice winning the silver medal at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships and representing Canada at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, he turned professional, touring with Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, studied acting, won the U.S. Open and World Professional Figure Skating Championships, toured with Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano in their 'Skating' tour and toured with Stars On Ice, Champions On Ice and performed in countless other shows and tours, performing programs that ranged from improvised to intricately choreographed one of a kind pieces to programs that featured skates on his hands, complex compulsory figures, bird calls, headstands and just about everything else you could possibly (not) imagine. I don't know about you, but if I'm being 100% REAL, I'd rather watch THIS than any of this generic business any day. Gary is EXCITING to watch. In short, Gary Beacom is a skater that you just have to stand back and be in awe of. We were connected through Dawn Ann Webster, a former Disney On Ice skater from Toronto who is now helping Gary promote his skating seminars throughout Canada. Thank you Dawn! It was my absolute thrill to have chance to talk with Gary about everything from some of his most compelling creations to modified skates to the IJS system, his time behind bars and his writing. This interview was a complete dream and I'm confident you'll find it as fascinating as I did:

Q: I'd like to start by saying that you are one of the compelling and exciting skaters I've ever seen on the ice. Your individuality, fearlessness and passion for skating YOUR way not only inspired me during my own skating days but has inspired many people worldwide. Where did you find the courage and strength to decide that you were not going to play by anyone else's rules?

A: Thank you, Ryan! Such compliments spur me on! Ironically, I am a stickler for rules. It is because of respect for and familiarity with rules that I have been able to innovate with confidence and courage.

Q: You twice won the silver medal at the Canadian Nationals and represented Canada at both the World Championships and the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Looking back on your "amateur" career, what are your favourite memories?

A: I don't tend to have favourites. My amateur career was more about slow and steady progress than milestones. My back change loop at Olympics was a personal achievement in spite of the temperamental conflict that ensued. It was the only loop in the competition that came close to rulebook specs. Yet, I suspect because it stood out and because I was reputed to be a renegade, I was not justly rewarded. 

Q: How would you describe your transition from "amateur" to professional skating? What are your proudest accomplishments as a professional skater and do you think the current climate of professional skating is healthy or in need of change? Should professional competitions return? What about tours like Champions On Ice? Do you think a whole new vehicle altogether is in order to revive professional skating?

A: I quit amateur competition abruptly mid-season in 1984 and joined Jayne and Chris' World Tour. I love the challenge of competitive skating because it drives one in the direction of (elusive) perfection. However, I felt manipulated. Persecution that goes with the territory of innovators who challenge the status quo drained my spirit, and with it my motivation to train effectively. My performance of Song Of Songs in Montreal, with full standing ovation, comes to mind as a career highlight. Recent performances have been the most personally rewarding because I have continued to develop skills and art. Pro skating has waned in popularity along with amateur skating. It is hard to believe Champions On Ice folded so soon after such glory in the 90's. Amateur skating is no longer a breeding ground for spirited artists. Figure skating is a microcosm of oppressive society. We have more and more complex rules commensurate with the myriads of statutes that the legal industry foists upon us. The "vehicle" itself is not the crux of the demise in popularity.

Q: You have created some of the longest and creative pieces in the history of figure skating. What is the longest program you've ever skated? The most bizarre piece of music? Your favourite program? What's one piece of music you've never skated to you'd love to?

Q: The longest solo was the 22 minute commissioned composition Between Steel And Ice. Alberta Biography, choreographed by the late Frank Nowosad using bird call recordings. It was undoubtedly the most bizarre "music" I performed to. I do not show favouritism for works, although I have had some notable flops such as the backpack propeller piece that Toller mocked in Ice Cream! I would love to skate to Philip Glass, but have so far been daunted by a monumental vision of possibilities. 

Q: I think the first performance of yours I ever saw was you and Gia Guddat skating to "I Think I'm Losing My Marbles" with skates on your hands in those black and white spandex outfits and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Where did you get the idea and how difficult was it to translate it to the ice and make it work in practice? 

A: The idea popped into my head when I was goofing around one evening with a Charlie Tickner death spiral. I generally take an open mind along everywhere. It occurred to me that skates on hands could be more fun! All of my choreography originates on ice.

Q: You have penned two books - Gary Beacom's Vade Mecum and Apology, which talks about your experience with the U.S. justice system and your experience in prison. What did you learn most from your time behind bars that has made you a stronger person and how cathartic was writing about it?

A: I intimately learned chess, table tennis, and eight ball. What passes for law nowadays repulses me more and more with almost every confrontation with police, courts, and lawyers. Disgust supplants naivete. The purpose in writing Apology was not to purge or avenge, but rather to play a part in raising awareness of what liberty actually is and why it is critical to our spiritual and economic health. 

Q: I always loved and respected your ability and decision to improvise your pieces, especially in competition. Why don't more skaters take this risk and what can improvisation to music do to really help skaters grow?

A: I have always enjoyed improvisation. It is a gratifying test of technical fundamentals, repertoire, and imagination. The vitality and freshness of extemporaneous performance is difficult to emulate with choreography. It would be next to impossible to maximize points skating by the seat of one's pants under the Kafkaesque IJS. In all fairness, improv is more art than sport.

Q: Where did you get the idea for "I'm Your Man" and did you ever think it would be the huge success that it was?

A: I'm Your Man came together very spontaneously during a playful mood one day on the ice, much to the credit of Leonard Cohen, and continued to develop artistically with each performance. Malevolent Landscape, by contrast, was a time-consuming choreographic undertaking which advanced purely by technical rigour. 

Q: You have customized your own skates. When did you get this idea and what were the biggest challenges?

A: I filed the sides of the soles down to allow deeper edges. I have recently pondered that free skates with heel truncation (like dance blades) would give more clearance on cross-overs and other footwork. Extended heels often contact the opposite boot or blade. Also, bottom toe picks are mostly crutches and could be dispensed with.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: I have never had favourites or idols, nor have I witnessed all skaters of all time. Kurt does spring to mind as an extremely adept performer. Allen Schramm made a mesmerizing impression on me back in the day. John Curry would nicely round out the list. All were masters of musical interpretation.
Q: If you had to change one thing about the current IJS system, what would it be? Do you think it has helped or hurt the sport and would you ever compete under it yourself?

A: Scrap it. Though it has spawned intricate and demanding footwork and a myriad of spin variations, it has rendered much figure skating vernacular obsolete. It is furthermore cumbersome to implement, perplexing to lay audiences, and a failure at doing what it purports, namely eliminating bias. Having said that, I reckon I would fare better under that system. I have pondered entering an adult competition some time for the fun of it.

Q: What is the secret to your longevity and relevance as a professional figure skater?

A: There is no secret. Gary Beacom's Vade Mecum has been in print for eight years! Hahaha... I take care of myself with a wide variety of high quality foods and supplements so that I have energy, motivation, and stamina to train. I have been skating mindfully for hours and hours for decades and decades. I live an experimental and free-spirited life with diverse experiences to shape personality, fuel inspiration, and reach out to folks from varied walks of life.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: Most people don't know I suffered nocturnal enuresis well into my teens, probably owing at least partly to sleep depth. Upon surmounting the condition, I developed mild chronic paruresis. (...then again, most people probably don't care!)

Q: You currently offer seminars and workshops to skaters that focus on propulsion, posture, edges, improvisation and teaching skaters to really delve into their craft. How would you describe a typical day on the ice with you?

A: There is no typical session, Ryan. Every seminar is an adventure. I use awareness and intuition to tailor workshops to the "here and now". Passion and experience are guiding forces. I introduce concepts and encourage skaters to harness imagination to apply and explore. The method fosters self-motivation, a deep understanding of techniques, and enjoyment.

Gia Guddat and Gary Beacom performing "I Think I'm Losing My Marbles". Kevin Johnston photo.

Q: If you had to collectively give everyone in figure skating a single piece of advice, what would it be? 

A: Safeguard soul by embracing virtues: truth, justice, and beauty. Shun superstition, venality, and degeneration in life and in sport.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Douglas Webster

Douglas Webster and Edward Villella. Darial Sneed photo.

In a professional career that has spanned decades, Douglas Webster has traveled the world choreographing for Disney On Ice, Stars On Ice, Holiday On Ice, The Sun Valley Ice Show and working on such productions as Winter Solstice On Ice and ABC's Skating With The Stars. He's performed in shows all around the world and worked closely with many of skating's best as the Artistic Director of the Ice Theatre Of New York. It was my absolute pleasure to have chance to tell the story of Doug's career through this wonderful interview! We talked about his favourite pieces, amateur career, ITNY, Dollywood Christmas On Ice, his favourite skaters, the future of the sport and much, much more:

Douglas teaching class in Sun Valley at the ITNY 2013 residency. Diane Dick photo.

Q: How did your love affair with skating begin and what can you share about your amateur career and what brought you to the Ice Theatre Of New York, where you are currently the Artistic Director?

A: As a child, I always like things that flowed. I skied both nordic and and alpine. I grew up in the mountains of New Hampshire and skating was a lake activity. There was a seasonal rink outdoors in front of the train station where I grew up. It was naturally frozen with just awful conditions but whenever I was outside it made me feel so happy. I moved over to skating as recreation pretty much full time as there was music and honestly... The Carpenters, Dan Fogelberg, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, etc... really, as a gay man, what would you choose... freezing on a chair lift or skating to fabulous music? I started competing later than most - around 13. I was too old to be a Juvenile at the time and there was no Open Juvenile, so I didn't compete till I got to Novice. Because of the recession in the 70's/early 80's, my family moved to Fairfax, Virginia where I was lucky enough to be coached by Audrey Weisiger, Ken Class, and Julie McKinstry as well as Nick Perna and a whole wonderful team of awesome information and experience. As I started so late, I had one goal: to make Nationals. I never really thought of making the Olympics as it seemed so unreasonable at the time but I did make the National Championships as a Novice Man when I was 17. I towered over Todd Eldredge! I always felt so strange wearing all that spandex being so much taller than everyone. (#awkwardmoments #tall #spandex #gay #why!) I never was much of a competitor but felt I’d completed my goal when I competed against Mark Mitchell as a Junior man at Easterns (he was Novice when I was in Juvenile, so I felt like I’d really accomplished something….not kidding here) and I got my tests and went off to The College of William and Mary. Two years later, Nathan Birch introduced me to Willy Bietak who had a show at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. I got cast as the principal guy. I left W and M to go on the road with Willy’s show called Festival On Ice that soon turned into Broadway On Ice. I was made a principal guy and unbelievably was performing with Scott Hamilton, John Curry, Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert, Tai and Randy, the list goes on and on… it was a dream come true for me! I even skated with my childhood hero, Lynn Holly Johnson from Ice Castles… she was Guinevere and I was Lancelot (thank you Sarah Kawahara)! It was in this show that I met Jamie Isley and Cindy Stuart, two amazing people I’ve been lucky to work with and remain friends with for years. I also met Judy Blumberg, who used to stand in the wings and watch my solo "If Ever I Would Leave You" and give me notes. Yikes! She later became my partner and one of my dearest friends. You never know where life can take you! During this time, I went to do Carmen On Ice in Spain where I met Val Levine. After Carmen, I went back to college, graduated and moved to New York City. Val was from New York and told me to come skate with the Ice Theatre Of New York. I moved to New York City and pursued acting and skating with the Ice Theatre in 1991. In 1996, I choreographed Appalachia Waltz with JoAnna Mendl Shaw and the rest is more than 20 years of history... to becoming Artistic Director! Life is the most interesting crossing of paths.

Q: For 20 years, you have worked with the Ice Theatre Of New York creating and choreographing original skating pieces that have pushed the boundaries of innovation. What choreography pieces stand out to you as your favourite and most daring works?

A: There are several important pieces. Appalachia Waltz signifies an expansive way of ensemble skating that was with three ice dance couples... the intent of this continues on in my work today. It also has a central love duet that both Judy Blumberg and I skated and remains my favourite skating moment ever. Transitions is a piece I made to represent four stages of transitioning through grief. I made this piece in 1998 and it was created in a time when many were still dying from HIV. This piece remains in our repertoire today and I think is my most important work. It is a tribute now to all those we've lost including John Curry, Brian Wright, Robert Wagenhoffer, Patrick Dean, Billy Lawe, Rob McCall and so many more! The light in our world was seriously diminished at this time and we need to remember these amazing artistic skaters with a memorial!
Departures is a piece made of an ascension of one angel originally played by Florentine Houdiniere. It was created right after 9/11 and is a tribute to those lost in the World Trade Center Disaster. It is in honor of Clarin Swartz who was on the original Ice Theatre Of New York board and was lost in the disaster. The piece is a depiction of give angels gently 'taking' another by the wings and allowing one to fly in the face of the fear and anguish of departure. Dare Greatly is a trio made to "Fix You" and arranged by the Vitamin String Quartet. It is in honor of Will Sears and was commissioned by his mother, Margarite Sears. The piece is a trio about the courage to be. When Will passed away sadly at such a young age, he was writing a screenplay called Dare Greatly. This piece is also in our repertoire this year and the ladies skating it (Eve Chalom, Carly Donowick and Natalia Zaitseva) are exceptional. Unforgettable is a piece that I made last year. It is so much cotton candy fun, romance and joy that it makes up for all the sad things mentioned before. It is wonderfully costumed by The Schulz Collection in a Gatsby look and is so thoughtfully acted and danced by the whole company. This piece features Ryan Bradley and Erin Reed and is also being shown this year. It was made with Richard Dwyer (Mr. Debonair) in mind. Reveries will be debuted this year. This collaboration with Edward Villella has been the most rewarding experience of my skating career. Watching Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre portray the artist seeking his unattainable muse is something that I think about in my off time. The tapestry of movement and interweaving of the ensemble is so beautiful. I feel beyond grateful to have been a part of this gorgeous contribution to the world of figure skating.

 Finding Nemo for Disney commercial shoot. Heinz Klutemeyer photo.

Q: As a judge for Young Artists Showcase, you've seen just how impressive the new, younger wave of choreographers are in the sport. Why do you think YAS and G2C Seminars have been so successful and how can more skaters get into the world of choreography?

A: I think YAS and Grassroots To Champions are so successful because they provide opportunity to create and to learn in a very unique way. YAS, in particular, is wonderful as it provides a platform to create. For some reason, people often need a “reason” to create. People like to be rewarded for what they aspire to. When I asked Brian Wright how to become a choreographer, he said, “just show up.” That’s what these young choreographers are doing, they are showing up to an opportunity that gives them visibility and and a foundation to make art. Everyone can get into the world of choreography. What’s most important is that one does it because it is a passion and a love. One can’t be attached to the outcome of what one creates... just make art and love what you do. The importance is to create at all costs.

Q:You have a background in acting. What skills did you learn from theatre that helped you most in the skating world?

A: I studied the Meiser technique with the wonderful Barbara Marchant in New York City. I learned: 1. have an objective, 2. Play your actions, 3. understand who you are and what you want, 4. be clear about the emotional life, 5. be specific with your choices and make them bold and clear. I also learned from being a storyteller… studying literature and art and understanding music, theory, dance, etc. I would take classes at William and Mary like Ethnomusicology….I was very lucky!

Q: Who is the most fascinating person you have worked with over the years?

A: Definitely Edward Villella! His stories about being a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and working with Balanchine and then going on to start his own company (Miami City Ballet) are a gift to me on every level. I am blown away by this experience!

Chuky Klapow, Douglas and Cindy Stuart working on High School Musical

Q: You've worked with Stars On Ice, Disney On Ice, Holiday On Ice and the Sun Valley Ice Show, as well as working for ABC's Skating With The Stars. In all of your years working with skaters, what have been your funniest - and most interesting - experiences?

A: Each show brings its own joys and funny experiences. Making a production is like having a child. There is so much that goes into each one creatively, technically; there are so many people involved. I think the one thing that people think about choreography is how creative one can be, but the career is more about how you get along with people and how you teach the work as well as the business of the work; the meetings and negotiations. Choreography is about 10% of a big job! My favourite experiences have been playing the Reverend in Footloose, skating in the opening of the 2002 Olympics, working on High School Musical with Cindy and Chucky, choreographing my first reality show for Holiday On Ice (Sterren Dansen op Het Ijs) and making The Wizard of Oz for the Autostadt in Germany. Each job is so special to me, but the production team and the cast are what I’ll remember the most.

Q: You did a show called Dollywood Christmas On Ice at the Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. Are you a big Dolly Parton fan and what can you share about this show?

A: I love Dolly! This was an awesome show that Ice Theatre Of New York co-produced with Dollywood Entertainment. I was the director of the show as well so enjoyed being involved in all aspects of this including the arrangements, the video projections, the choreography, the costumes. There are two versions (2012 and 2011). It is a very joyful show and I feel proud of the work.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Well, there are so many! I feel bad not including Janet Lynn, Dorothy Hamill, Judy and Michael, Tai and Randy (I mean their Meco Wiz of Oz… awesome!), Robin Cousins, and all the current skaters I admire so much, but my top three are Sonja Henie (because of her beauty and her ability to take show biz of skating to new heights!), Dick Button (because he was so groundbreaking and has become such an historian and still remains part of the growth of our sport) and John Curry (because he changed the way people see figure skating…and created the two off-shoots: The Next Ice Age and the Ice Theatre of New York. And because he was a courageous soul who I wish I could talk to today).

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I like being quiet and alone in Maine.

Q: With the current judging system and the changes in technology over the last few years, skating isn't reaching audiences on television in the same way it did before. How do you think that figure skating can get more bodies in those seats at live events?

A: I think skating needs to become an objectified jumping sport. Put the laser gun on people and measure height, distance, rotation, etc. This would be awesome... double axel... Slam! You’re out. There is no way skating will become a viable sport in any way if it remains subjectively judged. The whole thing is absurd. As far as shows, people need to be reinvigorated to the emotion, to production, to lighting, to sets, to costumes. I think it’s time to bring glamour, showgirls, great skating and fabulous everything back to skating and entertainment… and I have a show to do it called 'The New Yorker'. People need to be immersed in an experience. The star skating vehicles are no longer interesting to mass audiences—people need some production! I think Ice Theatre Of New York has created a great foundation to see skating in a new way this year! I hope people turn up to see this awesome company of skaters. The work is accessible and the talent is strong!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

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