Friday, December 31, 2010

five guys

30 Days of Skating

I'll edit in some photos later, if I get an internet signal again in Detroit. I'm currently on a train leaving Chicago, and I have mobile 4G for my computer, but the signal will probably die shortly.

Day 11: Who are your five favourite men’s skaters?

In the almost 20 years that I’ve been watching skating, men’s has probably been my least favourite discipline overall. So narrowing my favourites down to five is probably easier than it is in other disciplines.

1: Stéphane Lambiel

Lambiel is definitely my favourite guy, ever. I saw him first during 2003 Worlds, when he was completely brilliant. I guess Europeans expected great things from him, but this was before I got really good at following all skating and I mainly stuck to what the American networks showed, plus the Canadians that my friends told me to watch. So I was pretty much blown away by the spinning Swiss. Over the next seven years of his career, he continued to amaze me. He was always such a gorgeous skater, even when the jumps weren't there, but when the jumps were, I think he was one of the best in skating, ever.

I finally got to see him skate live at Thin Ice, a pro competition last spring. I also got to meet him, and the 18-year-old fangirl inside me that first saw in 2003 had a little meltdown. On the outside, though, I managed to play it cool, even when I ended up sitting next to him at dinner that night.

2: Kurt Browning

Speaking of being among the best in skating, ever, I don't think I can say enough about Kurto. I grew up watching him, back when pro skating was on the major networks almost every weekend in the winter, and he was churning out classics like "Brickhouse," "Serenade to Sonia," and "That's Entertainment." I saw "Brickhouse" live when he brought it back for Battle last year, "That's Entertainment" when he brought it back for Stars on Ice this year...seriously, who do I have to talk to to get him to bring back "Serenade to Sonia" so my childhood can be complete?!

Kurto was at the first show that I saw live, Stars on Ice in 2003, and he's been at a ton of shows and events that I've seen since. One thing never changes—his ability to hold a crowd, especially a Canadian one, in the palm of his hand.

3: Paul Wylie

P-Dub may not have been one of the best competitors in skating history, but I certainly think that during those times when he was on, he was one of the greats. He was definitely one of the greatest artists that men's skating has ever seen. I wrote a few posts back about his free skate in Albertville, so I won't repeat myself too much, but oh my goodness. It's always going to be one of those programs that has stuck with me. And then he really shone in his pro years, too, with classics like Apollo 13. By the time I started going to skating events in 03, he'd already retired, but then my life was kind of made when he made a comeback in 2004 and rejoined Stars on Ice for some guest spots. The closest show to me where he was scheduled to skate was Cincinnati, and guess what, I have a friend there. I can't remember the details, but some sort of car chaos (maybe the tires?) nearly stopped me from going and I think my mom wanted to disown me (she went through this phase where she thought that skating, and me going to skating events, was synonymous with me being addicted to heroine), but in the end, I made it. And P-Dub skated to Enrique Iglesias. But I forgave him. I've never met him, though, and he's one of the people in skating that I would most like to meet. I'm not sure what I would say, so I'd also hope that I'd have time to prepare something.

Coincidentally, I'm wearing a Harvard sweatshirt right now. Most of the reason why I've spent most of my life fascinated with Harvard is because P-Dub went there.

4: Ryan Bradley

A sentimental favourite. No, I don't think he generally belongs on the same level as Lambiel, Browning, and Wylie. But he is really, really entertaining, and I fell in love with him when I was 15 and he skated to the "William Tell Overture" in a ridiculous get-up. He's my age, or at least really close to it, so it seemed like a natural thing to do to fall in love with the boy with the adorable smile who was on a team with Michelle Kwan at some cheesefest that I happened to catch on TV. Unfortunately, it took him a long time after that to have a breakthrough in skating, and he gave me a heart attack when he quit for a little while in there, but him winning the silver medal at Nationals in 2007 was such a moment for me. For him too, I'm sure. I was heartbroken for him last year at Nationals, when his best still wasn't quite enough to make the Olympic team, so I am beyond thrilled that he's planning on skating at Nationals this year, and I'm really happy for him, that he's been doing so well on the show circuit. From what I hear, he's also turned into a really classy guy.

5: Jeremy Abbott

I was down to Jabbott or PChid for this one, and I went with Jabbott because on their best days, I think a clean Jabbott is better than a clean PChid. (On a less-than-perfect day, though, I'll take PChid.) The Abbott that won his second national title last year made me believe he was more than capable of being on the Olympic podium. Frankly, I hope that still happens, because when he's on, he has something that so few male skaters have. And I can watch last year's short ("A Day in the Life"), like, 85 times in a row without getting sick of it, even just the part when he hits that last spin to the music.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

why i love challenge

30 Days of Skating

Day 10: What was the last competition/show that you attended?

I'm doing this challenge at a lovely time for this question, because my most recent event was one of my annual favourites. Every year, during the first week of December, I drive to Mississauga, Ontario, for the Skate Canada Challenges. They're the nationals qualifier for senior, junior, and novice levels, and the national championship for the pre-novice level. And since it's so chock-full of ice dance, I hardly have time to watch anything else, which I really don't mind. I love seeing almost all the dancers in Canada at once, especially approaching the end of the season for most of the teams.

This year, I missed the first day, so I didn't get to see the novice compulsory dances, and I was exhausted from my marathon drive in a broken car to get there, so perhaps it was a little more subdued than usual. But I loved the chance to catch up with people I only see a few times a year, see everyone compete, and take tens of thousands of photos. It has the scope of nationals, but even though more teams compete at Challenge (and a whole extra level), it's far less stressful for me. I don't have to dress up, since I'm just about the only media person that attends, and since I shoot from the stands, I have more time to catch up with athletes and their families than I do at any other event.

Only a few places in Canada have the logistics to hold the event, and I'm so glad they've stuck with Mississauga since 2007, because I wouldn't be able to afford to fly to both Challenge and Nationals just 6 weeks apart! Plus, it means I get quality time with the girls since I stay at Christina's. This year, Jules drove up on Friday and met me at the rink in time for junior & senior free dances, and then Jen met us later that night for a late dinner. After I was done on Saturday, I drove back into Toronto and met Jules and C for Christmas shopping and dinner downtown, and then on Sunday, all four of us went back out to the 'sauga for linner with Megan & Aaron.

The lighting in the little rinks is absolutely awful and editing takes some extra TLC, but I always manage to get great shots at Challenge, like this one:

Bortolussi & Gordon
Desiree Bortolussi & Graeme Gordon, pre-novice Keats Foxtrot in the super dark rink, after a little Photoshop TLC

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

oh the code o' points

I took a bit of a break from blogging for Christmas...not really intentionally, but it was tough to stay focused on anything when I was distracted by my family and my favourite time of the year! I hope everyone had as nice of a Christmas as I did! My family is Christian, so celebrating Jesus' birth is a big part of who we are, and I am so grateful for the years when we get to celebrate Christmas together. I spent my first 16 Christmases in Oklahoma every year, with my grandparents, and I miss them all the time, but most of all at Christmas. Now, every other year, we get to spend the holiday with my aunt & uncle & cousins, and even though I was still missing my grandparents, it's hard not to be full of joy when it's Christmas and I'm surrounded by the world's three greatest kids! Anyway, back to my skating blog challenge.

30 Days of Skating

Day 9: What do you think about the Code of Points?

Well, regardless of what I think about it, I think it's obvious that it's here to stay. So like with any system, of course it has good and bad points. Its worst offense, on the bad side, is what it has done to pairs skating. Code of Points took my favourite discipline, ripped apart the beauty of it, and turned long programs into really, really cringetastic long programs. I would give just about anything to see well-executed side-by-side spins, in unison, or a smooth death spiral with a pure position, entry, and exit, but all the features that the athletes have to add to make them "difficult" make them just about impossible. And then, even though the elements are poorly done and totally ugly, teams get positive GOE for them if they have a good reputation and land their jumps. I don't even enjoy watching most pairs anymore. I'm not good at photographing pairs either, which is my own problem of course, but the combination of the two factors have made me dread attending what used to be my favourite discipline. So sad.

In the other disciplines, of course the "difficult" positions get repetitive, but I think that the changes made this year have helped, at least a bit, and I think it's something that I'm getting used to, whether that's a good thing or not.

From the beginning, I was attracted to the idea of Code of Points because I'm a nerd and I like numbers. I think this is its biggest strength. It's easy to see quantified, immediate results, which is useful to both the athletes and the audience. The general audience is slow to get used to it, of course, but they're finally learning. I blame a lot of the delay in the general audience adapting to Code of Points on the commentators, at least in the States. I'm not sure Scott Hamilton is ever going to understand how it works, but at least the public gets a good primer on points when we get to borrow Tracy Wilson. Anyway, I think that the protocol sheets are excellent feedback, and it really helps the athletes focus on what they need to improve. At the lower levels, especially, I think that there's such a great opportunity for a trajectory of improvement over the season, if the skaters and coaches take a practical approach to the system. For the teams that do, this is awesome to see!

Of course, there's still objectivity and there's still corruption and back-room deals and manipulation. The new system only disguises that and makes the manipulation a bit more indirect. But you can't fix a system without getting rid of the corrupt people and overhauling everything, and it's obvious that the ISU wasn't willing to do that in 2002. And even if you get rid of the corrupt people in play, who's to say that the replacements won't be just as corrupt?

But I didn't mean to go all Debbie Downer. I've met some wonderful judges in skating who really care about the athletes and want them to do their best. I hope that, in the future, they'll be the officials running the sport. In the end, I think this judging system was the right direction for skating and it's going to keep improving as it gets tweaked from year to year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a canadian in paris

30 Days of Skating

Day 8: What is your favourite ladies program?

This is another one with a fairly easy answer, which is good, because I've been a little sick and I don't feel like writing an exposition tonight!

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been captivated by Josée Chouinard's American in Paris free skate. I remember seeing Josée for the first time on the coverage of the 1992 World Championships, which aired when I was visiting my grandparents in Oklahoma for spring break. My grandma taped some of it for me while I was playing at my cousin's house, and I had the tape for years. So by the time the next Olympic year came around two seasons later, I was already a big Josée Chouinard fan. And she wore a pink turtleneck and gloves for AIP, the best program ever, at least in my nine-year-old eyes. She was the best skater in 1994 with the best programs, not Oksana or Nancy—but unfortunately, she wasn't the best competitor.

I may have loved it for the charm and the pink when I was 9, but looking back, it's still my favourite because it's actually a really awesome program. I love the sequence at the first music transition, featuring the best flying sit spin ever, and then the posey choreo break. Then the whole middle section and that gorgeous Ina, ooooh. And while the Olympic and Worlds performances of this program still break my heart, I'm so glad she kept it as a pro and got to perform it much more freely a few times. I can't find the best performance of it on Youtube, but this one from the '94 Canadian Pros (at the COPPS!!) is a lovely skate, even if she doubles a couple of jumps. She just shone. Gosh, those were the glory days of pro skating.

Honourable Mentions!
Joannie Rochette's 2004-2005 "Firebird" free - absolutely my second favourite ladies program, ever. In case you missed it, I wrote about seeing it at Canadians in 2005 a few posts ago.
Josée Chouinard's "Comme Ci Comme Ça" short in 1995-1996 - any Jos fan has to have such mixed feelings about this comeback year. Along with the GPF medal, the existence of this short is one of the main reasons why I'm thrilled she came back
Kristi Yamaguchi's 1991-92 "Malaguena" free - the only Mal program I really like, and an iconic moment of my childhood
Michelle Kwan's 1997-98 free to "Lyra Angelica" - another iconic moment from my childhood, and really, I think that the performance of this at Nationals was one of skating's greatest moments. I don't want to talk about Nagano.
Yu-Na Kim's 2008-2009 "Danse Macabre" short - It wasn't until I saw this program live that I really believed she belonged in the same sentence as skating's greats.
Angela Nikodinov's "Just for You" short - She had this program for like 4 years, or at least it seemed like it, but I never got sick of it.
Jenny Kirk's Chicago short - Just yes. And it seemed like the only program she ever skated consistently well. It just fit her so perfectly.

What about you? What are your favourites?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

better than bolero

30 Days of Skating

Day 7: What is your favourite dance program?

Just to clarify, for these "favourite program" questions, I'm only including competitive programs. I'll get to show and professional programs later. And I was going to pick an original dance and a free dance to highlight in this post, but it was too hard to pick between my two favourite free dances, so I just went with those. Coincidentally, they're both from 2006, the season that I really fell in love with ice dance as a whole, instead of just liking specific teams.

As an ice dance fan, I sometimes feel obligated to think that Torvill & Dean's "Bolero" is the greatest free dance ever. It's kind of an accepted fact in the skating world. However, while I'm a big fan of "Bolero" and recognize that it was a fantastic program and the advances that it brought to dance in 1984, I don't think it was the best program ever. I think that Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon's "Somewhere in Time" was the best dance program ever, and it's also one of my favourites.

I love this program. It's probably the skating program I re-watch most often, usually when I've had a bad day, accompanied by a pint of expensive ice cream. And it always makes me cry. Sometimes it gets me right at the beginning on the totem lift, but more often than not, I'll make it through most of the program, thinking that I'm going to hold it in this time, and then those gorgeous moments right before the dance spin towards the end set me off. I just find it to be so exquisite, so genuine, so moving.

It's funny—I saw this program live at Canadians, but barely remember it. My mind was on something else that day, I guess. But the Worlds performance, though watched from Jules' living room and not from the arena in Calgary, is something I remember down to the second. In ESPN's finest hour, they showed 3 entire groups of the free dance live, and I drove over to Jules' for the big event. Her parents watched it with us, and we were so nervous. When MF&P skated, we were clinging to each other, crying the whole time, and when it cut to commercial between the end of their skate and the marks, I just kept saying, "That had it be enough, it had to be, they did it, they had to."

In the end, of course, they were just shy of gold, but you can't possibly convince me that they didn't deserve the title. It was the perfect competitive performance, to me, and years from now, I think I'll look back on it and still say the same.

My other favourite program is a tango, and I love a good tango. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe's "Story of the Tango" is the best tango program ever, it's my favourite, and I think I explained why just a few posts ago.

I love their investment in this choreography, and the way it fits them so well and comes so naturally—the above performance isn't their best skate of this dance (that came at the Olympics, which isn't on Youtube), but it was incredible because the dance was only something like 6 weeks old. The whole thing is fantastic, but the last minute...just wow. So fierce.

I like almost every program they ever did, and I probably even love over half of their programs, but this one surpassed all the rest the first time that I saw it. Jules, Jen, and I skipped over half of the men's short program so we could go to the practice rink, because we wanted to see this dance before the competition. Even just in practice, we knew it was the perfect choice for them.

Honourable mentions, free dances:
Punsalan & Swallow's 97-98 FD to "Oblivion" - probably the most undermarked program ever
Rahkamo & Kokko's 93-94 FD to La Strada - my very first favourite dance team and for most of my life, I loved their Beatles FD more, but upon rewatching recently, I think I'm going to go with La Strada. Also, it's the only Fellini program that doesn't make me want to hurl.
Wilson & McCall's 87-88 "Elite Syncopations" FD - also undermarked, but at least they won an Olympic medal with this!
Bourne & Kraatz's 96-97 "High Society" FD - best program they ever did, and there are a ton of their programs that I loved.
Davis & White's 08-09 FD to Samson et Dalila - best thing they have ever done. Even better than Bollywood.
Virtue & Moir's Umbrellas of Cherbourg FD in 07-08 - I go back and forth with whether I love this one or "Valse Triste" more, but today, it's Umbrellas. I was standing at the boards for its debut, and that's a moment I'll never forget.
Péchalat & Bourzat's Circus FD in 08-09 - Love it a little more every time I watch it.
Harvey & Gagnon's Chaplin FD from 09-10 - their performance at Canadians of this is my favourite non-Olympic moment of last season, just because I wasn't expecting the crowd to react as strongly as they did, so it's a sentimental favourite. Here's a link if you missed it last year.
Botsford & Botsford's 07-08 FD to "Ramalama (Bang Bang)" - yep, I just picked a pre-novice free dance. Seriously, it blew my mind when I saw it the first time!
Crone & Poirier's 10-11 FD to "Eleanor Rigby" - favourite free dance of the year, at least so far. Totally brilliant. Thank you, Christopher Dean.

Honourable mentions, original dances:
Dubreuil & Lauzon's "Payadora" tango OD in 06-07 - probably my favourite OD ever. Definitely the best tango OD ever.
Torvill & Dean's Paso Doble OSP in 83-84 - I usually just call this "THE Paso."
Bourne & Kraatz's 00-01 OD to "Jumpin' Jack" and "Hey Big Spender" - yes. Just yes. Especially the "Jumpin' Jack" parts. Probably the best pre-CoP midline ever.
Girard & Pelletier's 09-10 Bollywood OD - This is the best Bollywood of the season last year! Just...not enough people paid attention to them for it to get the notice it deserved. So watch the performance from Canadians now, although they skated it better at Challenge, I think.
Wing & Lowe's 02-03 Strauss OD - my favourite OD of theirs. So pretty and floaty in the waltz, and then I love the footwork in the march. And the gold dress just tops it off. One of the best dance dresses ever.
Virtue & Moir's "Assassination Tango" OD in 06-07 - what a way to burst on the senior scene! This was gorgeous.
Gilles & Donohue's Swing OD in 08-09 - random, I know, but the way they skated this at their first competition together in Lake Placid made me think they were going to be national champions someday. That didn't exactly work out, but I still love this dance.

I feel like I'm forgetting something huge, so please alert me if I did. If not, then, until tomorrow!

Monday, December 20, 2010

watch out for these kids

30 Days of Skating

Apparently, I totally skipped a day, then I messed with the order...whoops. Oh well.

Day 6: Which up-and-coming skaters are you most excited for?

While this question may have been originally phrased for younger senior skaters that haven't yet had a major breakthrough, I spend a lot of time following ice dance in Canada & the U.S. at all levels, so that's what came to mind first for me! I have such respect for kids training at all the levels up to senior, no matter their abilities. I love to see them climbing the ladder, reaching for better scores and higher levels and testing up. It's so fun to see, especially in Canada, when I get to see quite a few of the teams 4 or 5 times during the season. Less fun when they don't skate well, because my heart breaks a little more for the ones that I know, so I've always got my toes crossed when they zip by me at the boards.

Anyway, this question is hard, because I don't like picking favourites among so many teams that I know and respect. When I write previews and reports for, I work really hard to set preferences aside and stick to the facts—what each team has done, what they are likely to do based on past results, where their strengths and weaknesses are and how those may come into play with the judges, etc. So, with that in mind, I think it's safe to say that Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang are definitely a team to watch.

Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang
Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang

They won the Canadian juvenile title in 2009 and the pre-novice title in 2010. So far, they are the strongest team on the novice level, heading into 2011 Canadian Junior Nationals next month. Strong and consistent technique has been one of their greatest assets over their career so far, but they are also musical performers and they have a ton of charisma. And they're pretty fabulous kids, too. Well, I guess I haven't spoken much to Zhao Kai, but I've heard complimentary things. Maddie, though...we go way back. And she's definitely fabulous.

Another factor in their success is certainly their training environment—their teammates are some of their stiffest competition. Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum and Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus both train with them, and the three teams push each other all year long. Even better, they're all friends at the end of the day.

Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum
Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum

Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus
Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus

Okay, well if I let myself write anymore, I'd probably never stop, and I have to be up at 5.30. So tomorrow, I'll try to get back on track with the scheduled questions and pick some more favourite programs of all time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

on the post-olympic season

30 Days of Skating

Day 5: Who are you expecting great things from this season?

The question for today was originally worded to predict medalists at 2011 Worlds, but it's a little hard to do that when countries haven't picked their teams yet. I don't want to jinx anyone into a broken leg, or anything.

Probably the hardest discipline to predict lately, and the one I'm least invested in this year. I love, love, love Alissa Czisny's free program this year, and it was fantastic to see her skate so well at the Grand Prix Final. I really hope it translates to Nationals and she has another opportunity after that to compete again this year, but with her, you really never know.

Alissa Czisny's free skate at 2009 Skate Canada

Being at Canadians this year without Jo is going to be bizarre. She's been at every major competition I have ever attended. The task of taking over for Jo is likely going to fall to Cynthia Phaneuf, and I do like watching her (when she skates well), my favourite Canadian lady is totally Myriane Samson, so I'd love to see her skate well and grab another podium finish this year. It was great to see her put together a pair of successful skates at Skate Canada this year.

I'm a little out of the loop, and I'm not sure if Yu-Na Kim is really going to come back this spring or not, but if she does, I expect she'll be in the medal hunt at Worlds, even without competing this fall. Mao Asada has had a rough outing this year so far as she's been reworking the technique on her jumps, but if she puts it together at Nationals, I know better than to count her out completely. My favourite Japanese lady to watch is probably Akiko Suzuki, but the buzz this year is all about the youngster Kanako Murakami, so I just hope that if Suzuki skates well enough to earn a place on the World team at Nationals, she won't be replaced by younger talent.

I also have to mention Kiira Korpi's short program this year, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne—one of my favourite programs of the year.

I'm totally on team Chan. I can't help it. I spent the years from 2005 to 2007 waiting for Patrick Chan to really break out in senior, and then I was covering my first Canadians in '08 when he did. Even though his inability to have two new programs in a single year drives me crazy, I still love to watch this kid. Especially his short program this year.

Patrick Chan's short program at 2009 Skate Canada

My favourite program this year, however, is Jeremy Abbott's free program to Life is Beautiful. So, so gorgeous, and it made me love the new footwork requirements. His second footwork sequence, when he's not cramming as many turns in as possible to get a higher level, is just exquisite, and so musical. I really hope I get a chance to shoot this program this year, though the odds aren't looking good. Stateside, I also really like Adam Rippon.

It was fun seeing the Japanese trifecta of Oda, Takahashi, and Kozuka have such a great Grand Prix season, and I think they'll continue to skate well this season as they push each other through Nationals this month. Of the three, I like Oda best, but I like him best when he's not so serious, like in his exhibition program to "I Could Have Danced All Night."

Final thought: I'm really, really excited to hear that Ryan Bradley is planning to compete at Nationals. It was heartbreaking last year for him to have such a fantastic free skate at Nationals, yet have it still not be enough to make the Olympic team. I'm not expecting perfect skates, but I'm expecting to be entertained!

I haven't been too excited about pairs since both of my favourite CoP-era pairs retired and split in 2007. So I suppose Savchenko & Szolkowy and Pang & Tong will be at the top of the leaderboard, and maybe some other Chinese or Russian teams will challenge them, but none of them really excited me.

I do think that Iliushechkina & Maisuradze are really cute, but I don't expect them to be Russia #1. I hope they'll continue to improve.

Since I go to Canadians, I'm interested in what will happen there, as new champions will be crowned. I think it will be between Moore-Towers & Moscovitch and Duhamel & Radford. Duhamel & Radford have the content to win it if they hit, but if they have mistakes, the door will be open for MT&M. I also think that Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers have great programs, so if they skate well, they could be right in the thick of things, too.

Whee, saved my favourite discipline for last. There's a lot I could say about dance, at all levels, but I'll try to just stick to the major contenders in senior.

I think this season is Meryl Davis & Charlie White's to lose. Even if Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir make it back, I think Davis & White will still have a clear edge, as long as they skate clean. I'm delighted with how well Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat are skating, but I'm still not sure they're going to challenge Davis & White if both teams compete well.

In terms of programs, though, I think Péchalat & Bourzat's are better. Their short dance to Doctor Zhivago is one of my favourites this season, though it's garnered some mixed reviews. I really like P&B's free dance, a Chaplin theme, much better than Davis & White's tango free dance, but I'm having a hard time loving it because I loved Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon's Chaplin free last year so much.

Last year's bronze medalists, Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali, are kind of a question mark right now, since their first Grand Prix didn't go that well, and they withdrew from their second due to an injury to Scali's back.

I think I'm most excited about Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier's success so far this season. I've been following their progress since they were novices, so it meant a lot to be in the arena when they won their first Grand Prix gold this year. I really like their short dance to "Fallin'," even though the music is a bad cover, and I really, really love their free dance to "Eleanor Rigby." The movement is unpredictable, but still elegant, and they keep improving every year. I'd love to see them in the top 5 at Worlds if they skate well.

Crone & Poirier's FD at 2009 Skate Canada

Friday, December 17, 2010

men's programs that make me swoon

30 Days of Skating

Day 4: What is your favourite men’s program?

Okay, I admit that I switched the questions around. Today was supposed to be my favourite dance program, but I don’t have that kind of time tonight, so I’m putting it off for a few days. Men’s is a bit easier, though I’m still going to pick two programs—one short and one free. We’ll go in chronological order.

For as long as I've watched figure skating, there's not a single men's free skate that I love more than Paul Wylie's "Henry V," specifically, the performance from the 1992 Olympics. Honestly, the opening commentary always gets me. Good ol' Verne Lundquist lays it down: "Paul Wylie has competed in 11 U.S. National Championships and never won. He's been to 4 Worlds with 9th his best finish. He made this year's Olympic team by one tenth of one point. And tonight, he can take home an Olympic medal." Talk about foreshadowing from the tape delay, Verne. But it still gets me, even almost 19 years later. And if I'm not teary-eyed by the time the music starts, I definitely am when he hits his triple Axel, the second jump in.

I love how he just stands there at the beginning, waits for the right moment in the music to begin. He looks so peaceful, like he's not about to start the skate that's going to change his life. And then he skates his pants off. I think that most swordfighting-on-ice sequences after this have been pretty lame, because nothing is going to top that leap he does. The spins are incredible, the Russian splits at the end, and oh my stars, what a spread eagle. Seriously, his lines and his passion and his controlled wasn't a perfect skate, but it was a perfect Olympic moment. I knew that, even when I was 7.

Sidebar, but I finally saw Paul Wylie skate in 2004, when he guest-starred on Stars on Ice. He's one of the few skaters that I've never met that I would really, really like to meet sometime. I'm not sure what I would even say, but I'd like to shake his hand and tell him that he's always inspired me.

My favourite men's short program is a recent one, and since I'm a huge list-making nerd, I really took some time two seasons ago to think about whether or not I really wanted to bump Patrick Chan's "Tango de los Exilados" short program into my #1 spot. So I'm pretty sure that I've never seen a men's short program that I love more than this one.

Every moment of it is beautifully constructed, and I love the lyrical tango look on him. It allows him to be sharp and to attack the program, but it also shows off his amazing skating skills. I'm partial to the 2009 Four Continents performance, which is what I posted above, because I was in the building for that one. In the pre-Olympic test event, the energy in the arena was insane, and PChiddy handled the pressure beautifully. OK, maybe all the hitch kicks are just a bit much, but aside from that, the footwork is fantastic—difficult, but so musical, and when he hits it, he brings the audience out of their seats.

Time for some honourable mentions!

Kurt Browning's 1992-94 LP to Casablanca - a classic

Just about everything Stéphane Lambiel has ever done, but especially his Chocolat program from 2003

Jeremy Abbott's 2009-2010 SP to "A Day in the Life" - another recent program, and an incredible one...that last spin wowed me every time

Emanuel Sandhu's 2003-2004 Tango SP - one of those programs that was totally front-loaded, but by the time he was 2 minutes in, I'd already forgiven him for it

Chris Mabee's 2005-2006 LP to Pearl Harbor - I didn't mention this specifically in my last post, but watching this live is another one of my favourite memories from Canadians in Ottawa

Dylan Moscovitch's 2007-2008 LP to Robin Hood - one of the best humourous competitive programs ever! I saw it live at Challenge and so wished he'd qualified for Canadians with it...that would have been incredible.

And if you haven't seen Dylan's program, here's a treat:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

being a fan is good times

30 Days of Skating

Day 3: What is your favourite spectatorship moment?

OK, first of all, this is a really hard question. Second, this is one of my favourite things to write about when it comes to skating. I don't think I've ever been completely successful at telling any of these stories, but I'm working on it. At any rate, I don't think I could possibly pick just one. I think I can pick my top four, though. In no particular order:

The 2010 Olympic Free Dance
We didn't get tickets in the lottery system. They released a few more pockets of tickets prior to the event, but they were all so expensive. We had a few leads from people trying to sell extras, but again, it was all just a bit out of reach for us. My friends and I aren't exactly rolling in the dough, and just going to the Olympics for six days was really stretching our budgets. So we decided to wing it. We'd see if we could get tickets outside the arena, but if we couldn't, we'd suck it up, find somewhere to watch it, and be satisfied that, at least, we were watching it together, in Vancouver. Just being at the Olympics was a dream come true, for all of us.

Then the OD happened. Jen, Jules, and Christina had tickets in the nosebleeds for that one, and Chele and I scored good deals on scalped tickets a few hours before the event. And when we left that night, Tessa and Scott were in the lead. At the Olympics. At the Olympics in Canada. The kids that we'd known since they were practically fetuses were in first place at the Olympics in their home country. Suddenly, missing the free dance wasn't really an option. So the next day, during practice, we planned a course of action, then hiked to the bank and withdrew as much money as we could from our accounts, and went back to the arena. There weren't nearly as many scalpers as there were the night before, so I still don't know how it worked out so well for us. But somehow, we managed to find someone who had 5 tickets in the same row, like 6 rows from the ice, and he was willing to sell them to us for half the face value. I think we knew, right then, that it was going to be the one of the best nights of our lives.

There were 3 people sitting between our two sets of tickets, and they graciously offered to move, probably as soon as they realized that we were going to be talking around them all night! We took a million pictures. I cried before it even started. By the time the final group took the ice, I was shaking. And then I looked down, saw how calm Tessa and Scott were, and I breathed. I was at the free dance at the Olympics, I hadn't had to completely clean out my bank account to get into the building, and at the end of the night, those kids we knew were going to be singing "O Canada" from the top of the podium. I absolutely knew it. It had to be true. We believed.

And we were right.

Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, 2010 Olympics -- after their free dance

2004 Four Continents Championships
Many good times were had at the first skating competition I attended. I traveled in a horde of, like, 10 enthusiastic girls. We took over one of the corners in the Copps and garnered the attention of pretty much everyone...athletes, coaches, team leaders, CEOs, etc. We were really, really loud. Sometimes I waved first. Sometimes we figured out the results before the the skaters in the kiss & cry (which was a lot more difficult in the interim 6.0 system) and screeched before anyone else in the arena knew what was going on. We made the most ghetto signs (while sitting the stands) using bingo dabbers, because the Dollarama didn't have markers. We overdosed on bagels from T. Ho's. I experienced Christina's fire alarm scream for the first time for Val & Craig's awesome "Caravan" short program, still dear to my heart (see Day 2). I couldn't have asked for more from my first competition, and the part I still remember most fondly is cheering for Team Mexico.

It started with Gladys. She was so sassy in practice, and no one was cheering for her, so we decided to fill the void. And once we were cheering for Gladys, we couldn't not cheer for Michele, right? When they skated their shorts, the boys on the team took notice of us (we were sitting one section over from the designated skaters' section, plus the arena wasn't exactly full), and they came over to join forces. Strength in numbers. They taught us their team cheers and we bonded. Gladys sat with us when the boys skated, and like I said, we were loud. The people around us started cheering, too. I don't know, maybe they thought that we knew something about them that they didn't. The guys, especially, really got into it. I think Adrian skated first, then Humberto, then Miguel, all in the 1st and 2nd group of the men's free—not usually when the audience is invested, to say the least. But we were committed, and we cheered like it was the Olympics. We made a sign with our bingo dabbers and stood for each of them. And when we looked around after Miguel skated his pants off, most of the other people in the Copps were standing.

Miguel was looking up at the audience like, "What is going on here?!?!" and we were jumping up and down, cheering, crying. Well, I was crying. Someone across the arena from us threw underwear on the ice. Hopefully not underwear she'd just been wearing. We threw little plush soccer balls from the dollar store. On the flood after the 2nd group, they all came out of the tunnel, running up the stairs towards us. We were all hugging and I was probably crying again and then Humberto exclaimed, "I landed my first triple-triple!!" It was such a moment, full of energy. And then they got mobbed. Packs of girls came down the stairs towards them and clogged up the aisles, asking for photos and autographs.

I don't know, I've always felt proud of that, knowing that we did something to help create that moment for them. I guess standing ovations would lose their meaning if every skater always got one, but in some ways, I think that they all deserve a moment like that sometime.

2005 Canadian Championships
This event came at a really tough time for me. I was already having my worst year yet (and it was only January!) and then 4 days before I left for the event, my ex-fiancé ended things. I didn't even want to go, but I knew that going would take my mind off of everything at home, and I knew that being with my friends would help.

I'm really glad I went, because 2005 Canadians had some of the best skating I've ever seen live. From freaking out for WakaFect's short (and making the broadcast) to the free dances and clapping all the way through "Zorba" even though I couldn't feel my hands anymore, it was 3 solid days of solid skating. The men's free, especially, was an incredible event. Chris Mabee and Jeff Buttle were both unbelievable, and I think Ben Ferreira and Fedor Andreev also had awesome skates, too. I had a seat in the front row in one of the corners and the whole thing was so surreal.

But the #1 moment had to have been Joannie Rochette's "Firebird." We were Jo fans, all of us, from the beginning. It was basically a pre-req for entrance into my group of skating fans. Even when she was missing her Lutz in every single competition, we rooted for her relentlessly. It was just how things went. I met her for the first time in Montréal in 2003, when she came with a group of us to see our friend Lori give a concert, the same week that I met Sarah and Christina (and Lori!) for the first time. From that trip, I was in the group, and Jo was our girl. It's just how it was.

She'd had some pretty awesome performances that season, on the Grand Prix, including her first GP gold. So we had high hopes that she'd have an awesome skate at Nationals, when we were all there to see it. Yeah, you could say that it was an awesome skate.

I still think it's my favourite performance of hers, ever, just because of the context and because I know that I was right there, in the front row, doing every jump right along with her. I remember when she did her second flip, and everyone started cheering, and we were like "NO!" because we knew that it was a sequence, she was going right into a sal, and we didn't want the crowd to break her concentration. But she was in the zone, she was the Firebird, and I don't think anything could have stopped her from giving the skate of her life, up to that point. Chele was holding my hand, and I don't think she was even halfway through before she was banging our hands against her leg, asking, "Can we stand yet? Can we stand??" We managed to hang on until the final spin, but as soon as she went into it, we looked over and we saw Sarah pop up and we were up half a second later.

It was such a defining moment for Jo. That season, she went from being a promising skater to a legit competitor, but at Canadians, she stepped it up even further and became a champion. I think we all knew that she was destined for something incredible.

And look, now she's Canada's sweetheart. Guess we were right about that, too!

2006 Canadian Championships, Free Dance
This was an all-around great event, too, with lots of fun moments, and a lot of excitement and extra pressure because it was an Olympic year. But more than any other event, this whole competition came down to one single moment for me.

Over the past two seasons of going to events, my friends and I had gotten to know Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe. Growing up in the States, they really weren't on my radar until late in their competitive careers, but I caught up quickly once I started tape trading. I loved watching them skate, I loved the way they could skate just about any rhythm, and they made it so easy for us to like them because they always remembered us from event to event, were always up for a chat, and just seemed like really spectacular people. (We were also right about this.)

The free dance was on Sunday, the only competitive event of the day, one of Skate Canada's quirky traditions. It was close. Megan & Aaron were still in 2nd, but they'd been 3rd in the OD, behind Tessa & Scott, the young kids that they trained with (apparently they had potential?). Canada had 2 Olympic spots, but really, there was only 1, since I'm pretty sure MF&P's tickets were already booked. I was so nervous that I don't even remember the first 3/4 of the event. I didn't know most of the dancers in the early flights (oh, how things have changed now), but we watched everyone. In the final flight, Tessa & Scott were up first, Megan & Aaron were up second.

It was tough, because we knew Tessa & Scott, too. I wanted good things for them, and it wasn't like I was wishing for them to fall, or anything. I wished that there had been 3 spots, but there weren't. And we knew they'd have another chance, but this was the last shot at the Olympics for Megan & Aaron. They'd already finished one spot away from the team in '98 and in '02. I was so desperately hoping for them to make the team, that I didn't dare hope for anything else in the other disciplines.

The week before, I'd moved out of my parents' house in Chicago and into an apartment on my own in Lansing, Michigan. I'd enrolled in the community college and was toying with the idea of applying to a couple of schools for the fall '06 semester to pursue creative writing or journalism, but I wasn't sure I could do it. I was terrified. For whatever reason, I told myself that if Megan & Aaron made the Olympic team, I'd give writing my all, jump in, see where it led. I don't know why I associated the two in my head, but I did. I think I felt like they must have had to do the same thing—take some big risks, dive headfirst into unknown territory, believe in themselves at all costs. So if it paid off for them, maybe it could someday pay off for me, too.

Of course, they did it. This would be a terrible story for this post if they didn't. They skated a brand new free dance nearly flawlessly and stayed about 3 points ahead of Tessa & Scott to win the silver medal and the chance to finally skate at the Olympics. I can't remember who skated right after them, although I can vividly remember Megan & Aaron's free dance and waiting for the marks. I was already thinking about writing about it.

I haven't written a formal essay that uses this story yet, but I know that I will someday. I'll have to, because that moment made such an impression on me, as did the one about an hour later, when Jules, Jen, and I flew down the concourse at them for ecstatic Olympic team hugs. Seriously, Jen almost knocked Megan on the ground. I know I'll have to write about this someday, to explore it further. Although it's their story, it has really influenced who I am. Because at a time when I needed it most, they reminded me that I have to believe in myself.

Me, Jen, and Jules with Megan & Aaron - Canadians banquet, 2006

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

my favourite pairs program

30 Days of Skating

Day Two: What is your favourite pairs program?

Pairs was my first love in skating. Well, pairs, and wanting to grow up to Kristi Yamaguchi. I think I was just too young to "get" ice dance, and without an American star team to focus on, the networks didn't show much dance. (Of course, even with American stars now, they still don't show much dance!) So pairs was what really drew me in, because I loved the elements and the connection between the skaters. And there's still something about a perfectly-executed throw jump that gets me.

So in some ways, it's hard to pick just one, but really, it must not be that difficult, because I always come back to the same program when I'm asked this question.

Jamie Salé & David Pelletier's 2000-2001 free program, set to the Prélude & Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is, for me, the greatest pairs program ever. There are plenty of others I could consider, and perhaps others that are more complex or better constructed (though I think that the choreography in T&I is pretty exceptional), but it's the word "favourite" that makes this an easy choice. This was what brought me back into skating. This was where I saw the magic again.

That performance is the one that I saw in March 2001, the one that won them their world title. It's not the cleanest skate of this program (2001 Four Continents was), but it's the one I love most, the one I love to re-watch and cry over. It was the skate with the most heart, the best flow, the support of a huge Canadian crowd, and with the added pressure and excitement of being the home team favourites at Worlds. If I manage to get 2/3 of the way through without losing it, the platter lift always, always gets me. I miss platter lifts. And simple, perfect death spirals.

And while it's easy to pick a #1, there are still a ton of programs I'd love to mention, so how about some honourable mentions?

Mishkutionok & Dmitriev's 91-92 LP to "Liebestraum" - one of the first programs I remember from the night I started watching skating, and still a classic
Gordeeva & Grinkov's 93-94 LP to "Moonlight Sonata" - an obvious choice, probably the most iconic program in pairs skating, and with good reason
Marcoux & Buntin's 03-04 SP to "Caravan" - my favourite pairs short program, specifically the performance at 4CCs, and the beginnings of the Val & Craig fan club, and first in their traditional succession of sassy shorts
Wakamatsu & Fecteau's 06-07 LP to "Last Emperor" - still would give anything to rewind and go to Halifax to have seen this at Canadians...
Meno & Sand's 97-98 LP to "Nessun Dorma" - even though they used this music like 800 times, it was still magic for them
Castile & Okolski's 08-09 SP to Memoirs of a Geisha - my favourite among Brooke & Ben's many excellent programs; I think they had the best choreography of the 2006-2010 quad, and I would also give anything to rewind and let them compete injury-free for those four years
Salé & Pelletier's 01-02 SP to "Jalousie" - a close second favourite program them

I'm sure I could go on, but this is probably a good place to end. Two days in a row, let's see if I can keep this up when I have a bit busier day tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

how i got sucked into skating

In an effort to start blogging regularly and also to kick-start my daily writing, especially during the semester break, I've decided to try really, really hard to do this 30 Days of Skating challenge that is circulating a bit. I love writing about skating, so I'm hoping that I will stay motivated. If you don't love reading about skating, maybe you'll learn something interesting along the way, but I won't be offended if you ignore me for the next 30 days.

Day 1: How did you get into figure skating?

Well, I suppose a lot of you know this story already. But in case someone's reading who isn't friends with me (how on earth did you get here?), here's what happened.

I was 7 years old, it was February 1992, and the Winter Olympics were happening in Albertville. It was the first year that my mom & my stepdad were married, so I don't know, maybe my mom just really liked the idea of us sitting down and watching the Olympics as a family. She had memories of her family doing that while she was growing up. I didn't especially like sports at the time—I usually hid in my room when the Bears game was on—but my mom lured me into the living room because she was sure I would like watching the figure skating. I brought my Barbies with me, in case skating turned out to be boring, like football.

But skating was magical. It was the pairs free skate, and it was full of sequins and flowy pieces of chiffon and white splatter-painted unitards and girls who did the things I did in ballet class, but they had big strong boys that picked them up and twisted them and twirled them and did them all so high in the air. They were so glamorous. It was mesmerizing. And I was hooked.

So for the next 6 years, I read through the TV guide every Sunday morning at breakfast (this was before FSU, when someone else would post the schedules for you) and highlighted anything that involved skating. Then a combination of things, including but not limited to being an overachiever in high school and Nagano breaking my heart, led to a bit of a skating lapse between 1998 and 2002. I caught things occasionally, but only when I had time. And one of the things I happened to catch was the pairs free skate from 2001 Worlds, when a pretty Canadian pair skated to one of my favourite pieces of music en route to a world title.

The next year, I was in my first year at the University of Miami. I had a randomly-assigned roommate, and she and I got along okay, but we didn't really bond until one day in early February, one of us said to the other, "Um...I hope this is okay,, I really really like the Olympics. Like I will want to watch it constantly." And the other one of us, whoever it was, emphatically agreed.

And the pretty Canadian pair was back, and there was a huge ruckus surrounding them, and in all of the chaos, I discovered that there were places online where one could go to talk about skating and connect with other skating nerds just like me! Cue the 'Hallelujah' chorus. Over the next year, I started chatting with people all over the continent, and I was so geeked out and excited about skating again. That was at the very beginning of regular people being able to put video online to share with others (Soulseek, woot!), and since most of the people who owned the right kind of equipment to do this seemed to be snobby and European, I watched a lot of skating that I hadn't been exposed to in my childhood on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

And then in January 2003, a mutual friend introduced me to Jules via AIM, and I met the sister I never knew I had, who loved skating just as much as me, and who had excellent taste, too! And through Jules, I met Christina and Sarah, and then we met Chele and Erica and Erin, and eventually we met Jen, and there are scads of others, of course, and I finally started going to events, after years of watching skating through the television. I heard the blades and felt the chill and inhaled the Zamboni fumes and learned to identify jumps and spins properly, and I started to get glimpses of what the "inside" of the skating world was like through friendships and encounters with the athletes. The wonder and awe I felt as a kid transformed into respect and admiration for the talented people who dedicate their lives to the sport and share it with the rest of us who sit on the other side of the boards.

The more I went to events, the more that I wanted to make some sort of connection with what I saw on the ice. I'd write reviews of shows or take notes at competitions and post them online. As I began to realize how much I liked writing, I wondered if I could ever write for a skating magazine, like IFS, someday. And I was jealous of Erica & her camera, not in a creepy way, but just in that I was fascinated by how she could capture moments. I started wondering if I'd ever be able to invest in a camera like hers, if I'd even be any good at skating photography. I did the best I could with a dinky little camera, but I knew I was limited by the equipment.

In July 2007, I answered a call for volunteer photographers and writers to work with at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They said they'd provide the equipment and teach me how to shoot, so I planned a crazy trip. Crazy trips were already the norm by that point. I spent less than 72 hours there. Once again, there was an instant connection. From the first time I pressed the shutter, I knew I had to get a camera, to keep trying this. Something about it just felt right. I wasn't that good, but I was getting a few decent shots per program by the 3rd day, and U.S. Figure Skating bought 4 of my photos for their web coverage. 3 days after I got home, I bought a used 20D and a refurbished lens. A week and a half later, I covered my first event, solo, for IDC.

It's far from being a career. It's not even that good of a part-time gig, because a lot of the events that I cover—especially the big, expensive ones—are volunteer jobs. But there's absolutely nowhere that I would rather be than behind my camera at a skating event, whether it's the Olympics or a StarSkate Invitational. (Well, when I had to choose between the two, I picked the Olympics...but when the Olympics are not simultaneously occurring, I'm happy to shoot StarSkate!) It's still magical to me. Especially if there's ice dance involved. But I suppose that my love for ice dance, even little kids skating basic compulsories, is a subject for another post.

Shooting the DSC Show in January 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

how i spent my summer vacation

First of all, I know I haven't blogged here in a while, but I hope that anyone who reads this one has kept up with my biggest summer travel on my blog for that project: Mel's Cross-Canadian Road Trip.

My trip across Canada was incredible, and I plan to spend the better part of the next year trying to figure out how to put it into words as I write my book. Good wishes/donations of coffee and chocolate accepted anytime.

It amazes me that so much of such a beautiful country is unknown to Americans. We don't study our neighbour's history and most Americans barely even know the major Canadian cities. It's a wonderful place, and it's so close. Not every Canadian vacation has to be as big of undertaking as my trip, so I hope that my compatriots will feel inspired to explore the land north of the border if they come in contact with my blog/eventual book.

I got back from the trip in mid-July and scrambled for two weeks, diving back into work, playing catch-up with the trip blog (still not caught up!), and preparing for another trip. I spent the last week of July and the first week of August on what's becoming my usual skating season kickoff: Minto Summer Skate in Ottawa, then the Ice Dance Championships in Lake Placid. Minto was hectic, as usual, and I injured my hip/back there, which made Lake Placid a bit more complicated than usual, but I had a great time and, as always, saw some great ice dancing at both events.

From Lake Placid, I went home again, and have spent most of the past month trying to catch up, of course. I take on huge projects, so I'm destined to always have something going on, but I kind of like my life that way.

Highlights from the past few weeks include my first rodeo in my hometown in central Illinois, some splendid mini-visits with my cousins, Lauren & Tommy's wedding in Holland, MI, and a trip to Ontario that I'm halfway through right now. I presented on Sunday at the PMA Canada Expo, which was such a cool experience. Phil Culhane, the photographer I often shoot with in Ottawa, was slated to speak on shooting figure skating, but when his day job called and he had to back out, I was lucky enough to fill in for him. It was the first time I'd ever presented at a professional conference, and I was a bit intimidated at first, but as I talked, I got more comfortable and in the end, I had a really good time. I took a few questions at the end, and then about 6 people stayed after to ask more questions. One guy even wanted to take my picture. I figured why not, since we were all photographers! I was surprised at the positive responses that I got and at how many people were interested in what I had to say. Overall, it just felt really satisfying to have some positive recognition in an area that I've been working so hard in for 3 years. I don't shoot skating for positive feedback, and I clearly don't do it for the money (good thing, since I don't make any!), but it's nice to have a chance to feel really proud of all the work that I've put into it.

I'm currently between Canadian events—next up is shooting Autumn Skate in Ottawa with the aforementioned Phil. I'm looking forward to the strong junior dance roster and also getting an early season peek at JTen and KReyn.

I'm hoping to get back on a more regular schedule with blogging, so stay tuned and feel free to poke me if I forget to post again in the near future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

what i've been up to (mostly stars on ice)

I'm a little surprised at how quickly the month of May has flown by. Once classes ended in the first week, I thought I'd have a slow, lazy month, getting ready for my big trip across Canada and working at the beauty store. I was definitely getting ready for my trip and I was working a fair amount, but it definitely wasn't a slow, lazy month. I have been going at top speed for weeks! The good news is that I'm almost done with preparations and arrangements and I leave in 2 days, but more on that in my post tomorrow!

For now, a bit of catch-up:

The last weekend of April and the first weekend of May took me to Ontario for Canadian Stars on Ice, as usual. This year was my third year in a row making a weekend of it and going to multiple shows. We ended up going for the record—Windsor, Toronto, Hamilton, and London. Fun times!

Overall, the show this year isn't what it has been in the past. I understand the business strategy for setting up the tour like they did in the Olympic year, and considering that I was present at SOI's first sold-out show in who knows how long (London, hometown of new Olympic champs Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir), I guess it paid off. But a lot of the longtime fans really missed the way that SOI shows have always felt before, so I hope they'll go back to the old format next year.

For example, the opening and closing numbers were not good. The opening worked a bit better, because they relied on the skaters to come out individually and do something that they did well, but the group choreography at the end of the program was fairly lame. The finale, however, was a different story. I'm not sure what they were going for when they picked the music, but it came off as a joke. "I've Got the Music in Me?" Really? That's not even a good, but cheesy song. Who turns that up when it comes on the radio? And in an Olympic year, when the chances of pulling in a younger audience is higher than in the in-between years, you pick that song? Add to it the truly awful choreography (they did the sprinkler!), and you have one hot mess.

At the one U.S. show I went to in Chicago, it fell horribly flat. Even for a huge crowd, thanks to a lot of proud Evan Lysacek fans, the energy in the arena was more awkward than excited during the closer. A few skaters really tried hard, but when the whole cast wasn't into it, not even Belbin's perk and Weiss' back flip could save the number.

But in Canada, there was one other factor: a fantastic cast full of natural performers that went over the top and sold the crap out of the embarrassing choreography. Props to them. Once I got past the initial shock of the cheesiness, the Canadian finale was fun. I spent most of the number chuckling out loud, especially when I was sitting on the ice in Toronto.

Anyway, this blog post wasn't meant to be an entire Stars on Ice review. I wanted to post one earlier, but never found the time. So I just need to say that despite the poor group choreography choices, the Canadian SOI tour featured fantastic skating and some wonderful solos. Jamie Salé & David Pelletier's "Scream" earned a standing ovation at all four shows that I attended (I think) and it was well-deserved. I thought it was the best program they'd done in years. It was a treat to see Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir's free dance four more times, even though it was an abbreviated version, and I loved that Joannie Rochette reprised "Summertime," which I last saw her skate in 2008, I think. Cynthia Phaneuf's "Nothing Compares 2 U" was a standout, too, and I loved seeing her skate with such confidence. Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon's "Do I Move You" was some of my favourite choreography of the year (is Renee Roca on a roll this year, or what!), and I think it's my favourite program that they have done as pros. This is saying a lot, because I've loved all of their tour programs in the past 3 seasons.

But the single most awesome moment in all of the four shows was Kurt Browning's "That's Entertainment" in Hamilton. True, maybe it didn't quite have the same energy as when he skated the original, but that was 15 years ago. For 2010, this performance was incredible. It was one of those skates that made me leap to my feet at the end, then look around to make sure that the rest of the crowd had felt the same way. (They had.) I remember watching the program when I was kid and thinking it was pure magic. It was nice to know that I had been right.

As usual, I also enjoyed spending time in SW Ontario with a huge group of friends. A bunch of us went to the post-show reception in Toronto, which was inside the ACC this time, instead of at the Westin. This proved to be a problem when my friends didn't get their passes with their tickets and a security guard on a power trip refused to let them enter the building, even when I put on my best sweet-girl face and tried to talk them in (I had a different pass and he didn't have a problem with me going in), and even when Jo, Canada's sweetheart herself, came downstairs to verify that yes, these were the girls that she'd requested passes for. In the end, the security guard never bent, but someone who worked with the tour told the girls to walk on in, and they did while he continued to argue and pretended to call for a supervisor on his walkie talkie. 5 minutes earlier, he'd told me that there were no supervisors in the building when I'd asked to talk to his. Awesome.

Anyway, the rest of the girls did eventually get upstairs and we had some good chats with the cast. Although some of us were at the free dance in Vancouver, this was the first time we'd seen Tessa & Scott since they became Olympic champs and it felt weird (in an awesome way, of course) to congratulate them. Wasn't Scott looking terrified on his first senior warmup in his white suit just, like, two minutes ago? Also, now Tessa wears jumpsuits/rompers, apparently. Personally, I feel like attached pants are never the answer, but maybe she was making a statement. We also chatted with Jamie and she confirmed that she's doing Battle again, which of course is "out" now, so I don't feel bad blogging it. Two of our friends were at their first post-show reception ever, so it was great fun for me to introduce one of them to MF&P, and they other finally got to meet Jeff, which was great since she's been a fan for as long as I have known her.

Our usual self-po with MF& that she suggested it this time.

Some of the group: Jules, me, Lori, Jen, and Sarah

The next night in Hamilton, we added a few more girls to our group and after standing awkwardly in the post-show area for A LONG TIME (long enough for me to let Erica video me tap dancing), we were heading to Walt's (which was rechristened last year to Waltz-with-a-z, but that's lame so I have resisted), but apparently some loud music had sent our friends to the Sheraton bar, which is a nice little place. For all the time I have spent at the Copps in Hamilton, I had never been up to the bar on the second floor of the Sheraton.

And I swear, Jules and I were going to be good and skip the London show, but we made a last-minute decision (again) to go on that Sunday. It's hard to say no, since it's right on the way home and we always are driving through London just before the show starts anyway. We expected to have to buy standing room only tickets, but when I got to the box office and found out that the standing room was actually standing balcony at the very top of the arena, on the end, I was so relieved that they'd just released a few extra seats in the 2nd row. Whee!

Once I got back to Chicago, I finished my last project of the semester, and started planning like crazy for this trip. Honestly, I haven't done too much that warranted blogging and most of my efforts to photograph my city over the past month have turned out poorly, so I will leave you with a photo of the fountains in Daley Plaza. This was, I think, the first day that they tried to dye them red for the Blackhawks. It didn't go so well. But I love pink, so whee.

I'll be back tomorrow with a hiatus post and a link to my trip blog, but if you're impatient (yes, there's already content up), it's here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

beautiful spring day

The weather in Chicago (and across the country, from what I hear from my friend in Massachusetts) has taken a dramatic and sudden turn toward summer this week. I love hot summer days because I am almost always chilly, but I feel like I didn't get to enjoy quite enough spring this year. We had some beautiful weather in March and April, but it seems like most of May has been cold and icky. So I finally got around to editing some of the photos that I took on my April walks around the city and thought I'd share what makes a beautiful spring day for me.

This spring, I started working the early shift twice a week, unloading shipment and stocking shelves. It's tough to get up so early, but I love the feeling of leaving work in mid-morning, when everyone else is tucked away in their office cubicles and the tourists haven't descended upon the city yet. It's extra nice when a splash of colour greets me just a few steps north of my store:

I love tulips!

I also love eating at the great lunch spots sprinkled around the Loop, and the organic spinach, fresh strawberries, feta, and candied walnut salad at Specialty's is spring on a plate.

From Specialty's, I head home, back to my neighbourhood across the river. I love living so close to the Loop—so much that once it warms up, I'll even get up 20 minutes earlier so I have enough time to walk to work in the morning.

As if the tulips weren't enough, there were daffodils blooming in the West Loop.

Perfect way to cap off a perfect spring day? An iced vanilla latte from the San Marino Deli. They take a little longer than the Starbucks across the street, so I can't go when I'm in a hurry, but it's worth it when I can take a few extra minutes for Illy coffee (my favourite) and the extra care they take when making the drinks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

kids make me smile

I had a rough day at work today, to say the least. Can I just suggest to the consumers of the world (or at least those reading my blog) that you be nice to the retail slaves of the world? We'd appreciate it. Or at the very least, refrain from smacking our hands. Personal space means a lot, plus respect is nice. Just some ideas.

One thing that always gets me through tough days is thinking about the people I love. I was blessed to spend Sunday afternoon with my cousins and although I didn't take photos since we just spent a very hot afternoon basking in the air conditioning, watching hockey, and eating pasta, I thought I'd share some photos of the kids from the spring that I haven't blogged yet.

The kids and my aunt spent a spring break week with some friends from Minnesota at a resort kind of near the western suburbs. They had a lot to do at the resort, but they also came downtown a couple of times, and I was more than happy to play tour guide on a day when I wasn't working. (Fact: I love playing tour guide.) We ate at the French Market and then took the Water Taxi to Navy Pier. I had to leave for class shortly after I navigated them to the Pier, but I loved spending some time with them on a beautiful spring day in my city.

Kids on the Water Taxi

A few days after their Chicago outing, I got to see them again when my parents and I drove up for Easter dinner. My aunt and uncle are fabulous cooks, so the food was fantastic and of course, the company was even better. Easter is my favourite holiday after Christmas, but this was the first time that we've ever spent it with them. It made the special day extra special.

Girls go racing to find the eggs that my mom and uncle hid

I love that Bradley's not too old for stuff like this yet. Not sure how many more years he'll be excited about an egg hunt!

Little Miss Sunshine with her basket

Kristin rocking the braids

Bradley is kind of awesome because he rides a unicycle.

Kristin had the foresight to match her flip-flops to her new bike.