Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Typecasting and Figure Skating

I was reading Xanboni's posts on how to look while skating (What to wear, how to look, same thing) and I thought, wow, how glad I am that I have a boy and I don't have to worry about panties.

Then it got pointed out to me that the same thing happens with boys, just in different forms. A boy got passed over for a leading role in the Holiday Show, not because he couldn't skate, but because he wasn't cute enough.

Well, a Prince has to be cute. Our cultural expectation of a Prince is that he's cute. (And interested in Princesses.) There's a name for this, and it's called Typecasting.

Now, don't get me wrong. At a publicly owned ice rink doing their yearly pageant, by and for the local community, I roll my eyes at typecasting a "cute" Prince. But in a truly professional situation, only the Cute Guy is gonna get that role. You can teach skating (acting/dance/whatever). You can't teach cute.

As a Performer, every niggly detail of what you're doing or wearing adds to or detracts from the total picture. If a dancer is performing a graceful rendition of Swan Lake, and she does some pirouette and the audience can pick out a run in her tights, loose wisps of hair and a big W on her butt from her UnderRoos, she's not a Swan anymore. She's a disheveled wanna-be Wonder Woman. Big difference. It doesn't matter that we "shouldn't be looking at her butt," it's on display and we're going to see it whether we want to or not. Doesn't matter that her regular hairstylist was out of town and the CVS was out of tights. It's too late. The spell has been broken. She's a mess, and she won't get cast again because of it.

I fully grasp and understand why Typecasting is done. I've done auditions where an actress was cast because she had "the look" of the part. "She just looks like our character," we'd say, and I'd agree because she did. I could easily see this person as a villainess/ingenue/whatever.

But this isn't theatre. This is a sport. Right?

It's a sport that blurs the lines between athleticism and art, so much so that some people can't, won't or just have a hard time discerning the difference, and I think this mentality can be damaging.

A Coach showed me a picture of his dance team, and I noted the boy's very red cheeks.

"He has rosacea," the Coach explained.

And without even thinking, I said, "Oh, some foundation will fix that."

In hindsight, that response didn't come from any skating experience, it came from my expectations of a performer. I don't like my dancers to be too red in the face. His red cheeks had nothing to do with his skating, yet my instinctual response saw them as a "problem" to be "fixed," because I'm stuck in a mindset that appearance matters.

I blame this person.

And it's not just sheer lookism. There's attitude and stage presence. Note how when a lady exudes a strong presence on the ice (something else that is hard to teach), the commentators will laud her. Yet, when a guy does the same thing, just in the "wrong" way, there's a collective cringe. Johnny Weir is one of the most exciting skaters to watch. He owns not just the ice surface, but the whole arena and demands to be watched. It's fantastic. But... he smacks his rear on Camel Spins. I think it's great, but it's definately over-the-top for some. And I think the great quality of Johnny's skating gets overlooked because of it.

Would you tell a dancer to "tone it down, please?"

Caution; Opinion Ahead!

If Figure Skating wants to be taken more seriously as a true Sport, then I think it has to start moving away from such heavy emphasis on Typecasting Appearances, what The Skatekeepers think Skaters should look like, behave like, or be in general. If that means Team Uniforms, similar to what's used in Gymnastics, so be it. If it means everyone gets similar music, or a de-emphasis on "performance" marks, okay.

There's plenty of room for Typecasting in Ice Skating Shows, Exhibitions, and Theatre on Ice, but when we're talking Strictly Competitive, I just don't see a place for it at the table.

This outfit alone makes a tight case for a Skating Uniform.


  1. Once upon a time Figure Skating had components that were about skill, where everyone did the same routine, and were critically judged based on their skating skills. These were Compulsory Figures for singles, and Compulsory dances for Ice Dance. Pairs got a free ride (though they had done figures they just didn't test in them)
    This was fine until the 1960 Olympics when television came on board and the ISU realized it had a gold mine. Television has killed figure skating as a sport. It's hard. It's athletic, but the ISU has structured all its judging so it's entertainment. The new judging system has made it dull as well, with everyone doing pretty much the same elements, because the top couple of hundred skate in the world have very similar skills.
    I guess figure skating will putter along for a couple of more decades with dreary ratings, and fewer viewers. Maybe at some point it will be so dull, with such awful skating skills, that ratings won't matter. so we'll get the compulsories back and it will be a real sport again.

    And yes I see kids jumping and spinning and so proud of themselves, but they can't do a bracket. Sad.

  2. As to that dress all I can say is wow. Not in a good way. I still don't want a uniform, I like making my own costumes. Also, as a judge, watching 40 kids in the same costume would NOT be fun. Harder to remember them and tell them apart, probably leading to more errors in scoring.

    Also, by de-emphasizing the artistic aspect of the sport you might as well play a game of H-O-R-S-E using skating skills. It just kills what made this sport great to begin with. I know this line was used elsewhere, but it is figure skating not figure jumping for a reason.

    I do agree that the compulsories did "even things out" in a sense. No, they aren't exciting to watch (on TV anyway - much more interesting if you are standing in a judges position with a clear view of everything), but they did teach skaters control and technique, and edge quality. Skaters learned body posture, power, and essentially how to skate. I think there is clearly a big gap between the basic skating skills of older skaters and newer skaters. I have gone to ice shows and watched skaters from the "figures" era and while they may not be doing triple jumps, their ability to just skate over the ice is something to be marveled at. I think I could sit and watch Ekaterina Gordeeva do stroking exercises all day.

    And I am very much saddened over the loss of the compulsory dance to the short dance. Although I understand the desire to make it more like the other disciplines with the short/long format, I just can't help but feel that the future of ice dance is going to drop off dramatically. At the moment we have a lot of great ice dance teams who trained the compulsories extensively, and can perform them quite well in the short dances. However, as future teams move up and focus more on the point getting elements, I think the quality of the compulsory sequences will drop dramatically.

    Also, while I do think in principle the IJS is good for some things (like marking the qualities of all of the technical element jumps and spins), I think it has made all of the routines too similar. Since everyone is trying to get points by having "tricky" moves, they are all doing the same things. I miss the days of gorgeous spiral sequences, traditional layback spins, and footwork sequences that moved across the ice. Everyone is trying to get so much content into these sequences that they become slow and sloppy. They are all trying to hold their blades on spirals and spins because it gets more difficulty. Pairs lifts used to fly across the ice - now they are slow and shaky because everyone is trying to do carry lifts and change rotational directions. Yes, it is much more difficult, crazily so. And, in a way, I suppose it is advancing the sport in terms of technical requirements. But, for the most part, the real result is loss of the beauty and elegance that skating once had. And that is something that skating as a sport really needs to get back - regardless of what costumes everyone is wearing.

  3. I think it would be neat if short programs were all done in a solid colored, no stones dress. The neckline, sleeves, and skirt length could be up to the skater, but there would be a rule that no more than 15% of the dress could be mesh (I think that would cover cleavage of a modestly cut dress, like this one: This should be an athetic outfit, not an artistic one. (Although some of the short programs, like Jeremey Abbotts are actually my favorite artistically).

    Of course, then the audience would think it was boring, and we would get rid of short programs just like we got rid of figures.

    I will never understand that thought- who thinks figures are boring on TV? During the Olympics I watch the world's most boring sports as if they are the most thrilling things in the world. Curling- WOO! Go USA or whatever country I know best that is left. Nordic combine- amazing! Cross country skiing- WOOO!

    These sports are incredibly boring. Just as boring as watching someone trace figures, but during the olympics, I watch.

    If the Olympics aren't on, the rest of the world forgets figure skating exists, so I'd watch figures on ice network too. And solid color dressed short programs...

    As for looking the part- yep, in shows, it matters. If I had learned to skate when I was younger, I may have been able to skate in a show as a soloist, but still never in the chorus. Just as I could never be a professional dancer unless I could get a soloist or principal spot right out of school (and that is so rare. Much more rare than skating) . Being only five feet tall takes these careers out of contention. Show business ain't fair.

  4. You wouldn't need to watch 40 kids all in a single uniform if skating went back to the Club system, and was an NCAA sport. Everyone in the same club would wear the club uniform, and everyone representing a college would wear the uniform. I don't understand why college gymnasts are considered fine, but somehow college ruins a skater's career (this is what is being said about Rachael Flatt right now, and was also said of Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes). In fact, in general figure skating scoring should be structured more like gymnastics, with specific skills specialists, an all-around, and perhaps because it's figure skating, then a performance round as well, plus pairs and synchro. As far aas I'm concerned with the loss of the pattern dances, Ice dance is dead already, I mean, what's the point.

    With figure skating were restructured under a team aegis with both generalists and specialists rewarded, more kids might stay in it, especially if the NCAA finally got its shit together and added it to the roster so that there would be scholarships (no, all you delusional parents, there is no such thing as a scholarship for figure skaters.)

    If there was a jumps specialty we'd be seeing quintuple jumps and 8 and 9 jump sequences. If there was a spin specialty, someone like Lucinda Ruh would have the Olympic medal she deserves, rather than being a footnote, an oddity and a sideshow.

    If skating was a team event, we'd be able to teach our beginners very different lessons about what competing is about, and it would force more cooperation among coaches. It wouldn't solve all the problems, but it would make for a very different, and I think, better experience at every level.

  5. By the way, just to clarify, I don't think figures is boring. In fact, I train them for 3-7 hours a week. I like to watch them, and I really like to judge them. In fact, I may have been known to get up at 3am to watch live video streaming from various roller competitions being held in different time zones. However, I am saying that for many people (even other skaters) watching figures is not fun, and it is difficult to appreciate on television as it is difficult to really get a good view of the tracings. Although what with high def and such, it might be a bit easier to view on today's technology than on the fuzzy black and white sets of the 60s. Regardless, it is not something the networks would be interested in when they are more concerned about money, advertisements, and number of viewers.

  6. "I don't understand why college gymnasts are considered fine, but somehow college ruins a skater's career"

    It may have changed in the last 10 years since I really followed the sport, but for women, college gymnasts were washed up and past their prime as elites. Men could go to college, because they generally peaked as elite athletes after college.

    I'm interested to see how the team competition changes Olympic skating. Actually, I'm interested in what this team competition is going to be. I can't believe they approved it without fleshing out the details!

    I definetly don't think ice dance is dead- I miss the compulsory dances, but I think the discipline is more exciting then ever. The only discipline I really think IJS ruined is pairs.