February 9, 2013

You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile

You know when the world's very best skaters step on to the ice, dazzle us with a sensational array of technical skills, passion-driven artistry, and a nice flat facial expression? Yeah, me neither. The smile is something we all take for granted in top level skaters, but every now and again someone forgets about it, and it really breaks something within the performance. That old adage "you don't miss something until it's gone" comes to mind. Read on if you want to find out why smiling isn't just important for world-class athletes, but for everyone!

I recently watched a few choice performances from U.S Nationals senior ladies category, and I loved it. We don't get U.S event coverage here in the U.K, so I turn to YouTube as my primary source of all things American skating. And that moment in which you realise that something is missing happened to me while watching one skater's performance. Now now, don't get me wrong, this particular skater (who I wont name because this blog is not a place for critical analysis of skaters or competitions, of which there are already plenty) got skillz. Gorgeous, balletic, and svelte, the woman is a real contender for all the very best medals in our sport. But in this particular performance I watched, a smile only started to radiate across her face when the biggies (read: jumpies) were out of the way, and she went expression-crazy on the last leg of her program. I couldn't figure out what was missing at first; then I realised it was in her face.

This got me thinking. What's so important about a smile anyway? And why don't we realise that we want it, until it's gone? And if you and I are able to feel somehow in discord with the skater because of it, how do the judges feel?

It's All About The PASSION!
I should probably speak less of "smile" and more about "expression". You're hardly going to beam if you're skating to a passionate Carmen number. But you know what? That doesn't matter. The idea is to convey your passion to all those watching you. That passion can be a reflection of many things, but it can only flow from one place: your heart.

Expressions shown through your movements and face can be for skating, for the music, for the choreography. It can be an internal conflict or emotion that only you, and no-body else, is aware of. It doesn't matter, in the end. The result is what people (and the judges) want to see: emotion flowing from you as you move, raw and unadulterated, which will infect your on-lookers.

So How Do You Go About Getting This Passion Thing Anyway?
It probably won't come as a surprise to you that it's a tall order to walk onto competition ice and just expect all your feelings to flood out of you at the critical point. You wouldn't expect to walk into class or the boardroom and give the perfect presentation, voice filled with hope, promise, and integrity, without having rehearsed would you? This is no different. Channelling your feelings takes practice, just as perfecting your flying camel does.

So how do you go about this?

I won't lie, it's not easy. You are learning to let go of your inhibitions, as a skater, and as a person. That is mighty hard work. But you'll love yourself for it, and your skating will positively shine that much brighter. It took me the best part of my career to learn how to let passion flow through my movements and facial expressions (this really flourished for me when I started out in shows, because they were all about giving the audience the best night of their year, and not about whether I was gonna land this or that jump). Once I'd come back to competition after my show hiatus, there was no going back. I'd been infected, by my love of skating, and the need to show it!

Everyone is going to have a different way of coming out of their shell, but if you should want to apply my show-time reasoning, then here's what to do. Switch the emphasis off yourself for a moment. Think about them. There are people in the audience who love you, and chances are there are a few that don't so much (I am presuming rink politics haven't changed since my day!). And then there are the judges. You want all these people to sit back in their seats at the end of your performance and say "that's the best thing I've seen in a long time. I was touched". And to touch someone, you need to go out on a limb.

So start thinking about offering your public a night to remember: you have the ability to touch their hearts with your art. Not many people get to experience that in their entire lives. You're one of the lucky ones!

Put All The Odds In Your Favour  ♥
Stop making artistic choices that are anything other than driven by your personal passion. Music choice? Passion. Dress design? Passion. Choreography? Yes, you guessed it. When scouting for new music, discard anything that doesn't move you inside. If your stomach doesn't churn, if your soul isn't touched, don't use it. By carrying out this pre-selection you are pre-priming yourself for success. Only surround yourself with elements that you feel passionate about.

This classic, played by one of (if not the) best cellist in the world, Yo Yo Ma, does it for me:

Ps. see his face? That's passion. His music is touching his soul. To me, that is real beauty.

The music is possibly the most important choice you can make for any given season. So when you put on your short-list, close your eyes, and see where the music takes you. Whenever you skate to it, even in times of stress, if that music can transport you somewhere that means something to you, that will shine through.

When All Else Fails, Grin  ♥
Even if you're having a bad skate. If you're still figuring out how to let raw emotion into your skating, and how to convert that into movement, the best thing you can do in the meantime is smile. If you can't find it in you to feel genuinely happy (the pressure of competition, perhaps compounded with a less than perfect performance can leave the best of us feeling bitter) then simply think of this: when you watch someone else skate, and they skate through their program devoid of facial expression, it looks like they're just "going through the motions", and would just as soon as be some place else. Don't be another one of those skaters. Everyone, including the judges, will thank you for it.

Until next time, remember what it is you love about skating, and let it shine through!
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1 comment

  1. Hi, I’m Kate and I’m a skater too. I didn’t take part in so many challenges, but when it happened to me my feelings were as contrasting as yours. Anyway, I think that your advice that you wrote in this post, could be suitable for many different episodes which may occur in everyone’s life. This post can be taken as general rule. Thank you!!

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