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Are Figure Skating Costumes Really That Bad?

Every Olympics I get all kinds of tweets, emails and texts from friends reeling from some pretty terrible figure skating costumes. Believe me, I know they exist. There are numerous blogs, like this Tumblr Skating Fugly, dedicated to gross get-ups.

But, let’s be honest. Not every Olympic sport wins when it comes to costuming and uniforms. Not only were the US speed skating suits blamed for poor race times, they were made even stranger by those weird gray crotch circles that couldn’t help but draw the eye.

Images via Marissa Babin and

Here’s a tip that may help you to understand some of the bizarre costumes you’ll see over the span of the Olympic Games. Remember, costumes are meant to help portray the program’s theme. Weird, nude cutout mid body? Perhaps the skater is trying to bring Scheherazade’s Persian court to life. Similarly, too many feathers may be an attempt at Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”

I’m not saying they are always a hit, but when it comes to figure skating costumes, context is everything.

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2014 European Figure Skating Championships, Budapest

Last month, I had the chance to take in in the European Figure Skating Championships in Budapest. It was real sneak peek for the Olympic Games. The women’s event was was one the best I’ve seen with every skater in the last flight performing almost flawlessly. Here are some pics from the competition and the beautiful city of Budapest.

Here we are, taking it all in. And, maybe dreaming a bit of being competitors ourselves.

Julia Lipnitskaia performs close to perfection and wins gold.


The highlight for me was seeing Carolina Kostner skate another spellbinding Ravel’s Bolero.

Amidst the skating, we did our best to see a bit of beautiful Budapest. Sightseeing included a morning at the Szechenyi Baths.

On our final night in Budapest it was over to the Castle District for dinner and an unforgettable view of the Parliament.


Disco Skating in France

I brought my skates all the way to France in the hope of getting a few skates in while I’m here. We did well just before Christmas and went skating twice in one week. We being my friend of almost 30 years who I first met at BC Sectionals when we were both about 10. The first skate was at the arena in Narbonne and the second was a charming temporary ice surface in the main square in Carcassonne.

The most surprising thing about our skate in Narbonne was that the arena was decked out just like a roller rink. You know, disco lighting and loud music. That was a first for this Canadian.

Hilariously, we’d only been on the ice for about 10 minutes when a skating teacher called us over to say that there’s a special session for “experts” like us that we should try. Flattering! And, good to know. It’s been years since I did a public skate and while it was a good bit of fun, it’s not ideal for trying a few tricks. Here’s a bit of video of Dannielle doing a spin under the blue disco lights.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s a Matter of Taste

With the “new” point system in play, choreography takes on a critical role in figure skating. It’s more important than ever that the music, costume and theme weave together for a cohesive performance. We were treated to some standout examples of this at Worlds last week. Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan brought the vulnerability, innocence and desperation of a young Romeo to life in a free program that had the audience enthralled, even in tears. Now, that’s some choreography! You can watch that program here. American champion Ashley Wagner’s “Black Swan” program was another standout, each beat and movement had a purpose in moving the program and story forward.

Of course, what moves you is a matter of taste.

There were a handful of programs that didn’t do it for me, but that the European audience loved. Italian Samuel Contesti scored a season’s best with a Charlie Chaplin inspired performance, backed by a lovely rendition of La Vie en Rose. For me, this mime piece was too simplistic to be moving, but the French audience was on its feet. American pair team Caydee Denney and John Coughlin put down a strong free program with solid technical elements, but the team’s costuming, music and styling was more appropriate for junior competition than for a senior team vying for a top five finish. In this case, the judges and audience seemed to agree.

I thoroughly enjoyed Carolina Kostner’s avant-garde free program, complete with bedazzled unitard. For me, the costume articulated the tension between classical music and choreography–the elegant, balletic top–and the modern dance elements in the choreography that made its point with a bold break in typical skating attire. Though I thought the unitard was a hit, a pair of spectators behind me disapproved.

Carolina Kostner's modern costuming choice

Carolina Kostner's modern costuming choice

I suppose the artistic impact of figure skating has always been a matter of preference, but it seems that as skaters and coaches focus on the full performance package, it’s more important than ever to tap into a universal notion of good taste.

Side note: While we’re on the topic of good taste, being able to enjoy a glass of bubbly at the arena to celebrate a skater’s victory was a lovely European addition to the event!

Pics from the World Figure Skating Championships in Nice

I spent this past weekend in Nice, France with a good friend taking in the Pairs, Men and Ladies’ free programs. What an incredible time we had! We had high expectations for the competitors and the city, and both delivered. Here are some of my favourite moments.

Me, taking it all in in Nice.

Me, taking it all in in Nice.

Jessica Dube and Sebastian Wolfe

Jessica Dube and Sebastian Wolfe

Patrick Chan doing a victory lap after winning gold.

Patrick Chan doing a victory lap after winning gold.

Carolina Kostner in beautiful form for her free program.

Carolina Kostner in beautiful form for her free program.

You can view the rest of my photos from the event here.

World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France

The countdown is on… three weeks till the World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France. I’ll be at the final events for the mens, womens and pairs competitions and will report back. In the meantime, I’m going out on a limb and making predictions. Here goes!

Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. These two are hungry to win back their World title and have the chance to do it with their charming “Funny Face” free dance.

Pairs: I’d put my money on Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany, but I haven’t been able to confirm that they’ll be competing after withdrawing from Europeans due to injury. The Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, are certainly in winning form after a strong season and a recent win at the European Championships.

Women: This one’s a tough call. I’m expecting to see beautifully skated programs by Italy’s Carolina Kostner and America’s Ashley Wagner, but it will be hard to beat Mao Asada if she’s perfect.

Men: Patrick Chan. A gold medal here would be a fitting end to a remarkable season.

Just to get you in the mood, here’s the promo video for Worlds in France:

Video Officielle ISU World Figure Skating… par FFSG

The Joy of Adult Figure Skating

What a great time to be an adult figure skater! When time allows, I head down to my local figure skating club on Saturday mornings and try my hand at some basic jumps, spins and spirals. Sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s actually quite extraordinary. When I was skating competitively in the 80′s, the thought that a skating club would dedicate a session to adult figure skaters would have seemed kind of weird. The best an adult with an itch to try some loop jumps could do was brave a public skating session. How times have changed!

Adult figure skating hasn’t just become popular as a fitness activity. Since the mid-90′s it’s been a passion for thousands of adults who participate each year in competitive events. Here’s a little trivia and history:

Today, a whole competitive stream exist for figure skaters over 21. Adult programs began in the mid-90′s when organizations, like US Figure Skating, introduced tests and competition standards for adults. The first US Adult Figure Skating Championships took place in 1995 while Canada’s first adult national championship were held in 2004. The adult figure skating phenomenon is growing around the world. The International Skating Union held its first ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in 2005 in Germany. I’m delighted to share the ice on Saturday mornings with an adult dance pair who are off to the ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf Germany again this year.

As an adult figure skater, I’m so pleased that this growing trend means I can still enjoy and participate in the sport I dedicated my childhood to. I’m also inspired to see a love of figure skating evolve in those who did not have the opportunity to give it a try as children.

Update: Since I wrote this post, a new ISU Adult Figure Skating Working Group website has launched. Check it out for more info about upcoming competitions and more.

The Next-Generation Skate Guard

kootsuLast month, a product designer from Ontario contacted me to see if I’d like to review a new kind of skate guard called kootsu(R), developed specifically for figure skates. It’s not often that I get a chance to test drive a new product so I accepted.

Before I get into my review, here’s some back story from the designer and skating parent, Aki Hirano, about how kootsu skate guards came to be:

When my daughter’s lesson was over, I greeted her at the side of the rink and proceeded to install the 1-piece skateguard on her skates since she could not install it herself. We walked to the benches where we gathered her gear, and removed her skates and exchanged them for her shoes. As we were walking to the exit of the building on the smooth polished floor, I saw another child running towards us with her 1-piece skateguards installed on her skates. I remember thinking at the time “I hope she doesn’t slip”, and at the same time her mother yelled “Don’t run – walk or you will slip!” The little girl did in fact slip, but was quickly caught by her mother before any injuries occurred. As we exited the building, I then noticed that some of the skaters wore their skateguards home, walking in them like they were shoes. It was at that moment it came to me. Why can’t a skateguard be more like a shoe?

And they really are like shoes. The wide, treaded sole is much sturdier than a typical guard, as demonstrated by my skates standing up on their own in the photo below. The grip is stable and it feels more like you’re wearing running shoes than guards. I can see the guard coming in especially handy while doing off-ice program walk-throughs moments before stepping on the ice at competition.

My skates in kootsu guards.

My skates in kootsu guards.

When I pulled the guards out at skating practice this morning, they were the talk of the dressing room. They’re distinctive–not attractive but strangely compelling, like a Slanket, or those running shoes with little pockets for each toe. Even before I tried them out, my skating buddies were asking where they could get a pair, which is here by the way.

My one grumble was the assembly process. The instructions weren’t clear and required a hacksaw, which this apartment dweller didn’t have. Once you’re past the installation though, there’s lots to like about kootsu.

I have a pair of kootsu skate guards to give away to a Boot and Blade reader. Send me your favourite story about a skate guard incident (I know we all have one), either as a comment or by emailing me here, and I’ll send the writer of the most entertaining story a pair of kootsu guards.

Does Figure Skating Need More Cool?

Having secured my tickets for Worlds in Nice, France this year I’ve been watching the start of the Grand Prix with extra enthusiasm. It’ a treat to see what’s in store for the year to come. I enjoyed the return to classical music and quintessential, beautiful lines at Skate America and Skate Canada. But, as my husband watched with me he raised a valid question: why don’t skaters choose “cooler” programs?

What does he mean by cool? “Something a non skating fan would see and say, ‘wow, that’s really compelling and fun to watch,’” he said. As I listened to Spartacus, Theme on Paganini and various flamenco pieces over and over at Skate Canada I realized he is right. What about something modern, risky and truly unique? I asked my husband if he could think of a cool program that stands out in his mind. This was his pick. A Kurt Browning show program choreographed to Antares, an original piece of music written for Kurt by The Tragically Hip:

While I believe Lori Nichol and David Wilson (some of this season’s most prolific choreographers) are geniuses, I’d encourage them to look to what’s happened in modern dance over the last few decades for some inspiration. How can skating be beautiful, technically extreme but still relevant? It’s a big question worth asking.

My own thoughts on cool programs? Ashley Wagner’s portrayal Black Swan at Skate Canada showed some relevance while still scoring big on beauty and charm. For me, this 1994 performance by Kurt Browning is synonymous with cool:

Update: How could I have forgotten Virtue and Moir’s Pink Floyd program while writing this post!

What about you? What programs do you think bring the cool?

A New Skating Season, a New “Battle”

Battle of the Blades

If you’ve read this blog before you know I’m a fan of CBC’s “Battle of the Blades“. I like it in part because it heralds the start of a new skating season after a long summer break. I like it because tough hockey players say over and over again how hard figure skating is. And I like it because it’s a bit ludicrous, in a fun and playful way.

That said, I can understand why you might hate the show. Take Harrison Mooney, an author of Puck Daddy, Yahoo’s hockey blog. He’s committed to watching and reviewing every episode. Here’s last week’s review. Clearly, he’d rather be smell-testing used hockey gear.

I’ve been reading his reviews each week and can sympathize with his frustration. The judges fall all over themselves complimenting the skater when they’re actually pretty terrible. The programs are seriously cheesed up. Plus, the hockey players end up looking silly, which must be irritating for a hardcore hockey fan.

I have issues with the show too. When the judges tell the hockey players that they look like figure skaters that’s an insult to real male pairs skaters who are a lot more than jungle gyms for their female counterparts. The addition of social media Maura this season is also hard to take.

But, I’m still a fan. It’s nice to see professional figure skaters (who haven’t been paid big salaries throughout their careers) get some time in the public eye. It must bolster their show skating careers and bring in bigger audiences. Plus, if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good bit of fun.