Tuesday, January 11, 2011


30 Days of Skating

Day 15: What is your favourite men's professional/show program?

I skipped over pro/show programs when I wrote about my favourite programs in earlier blog posts, because I had some questions that I wanted to change later. Question #15 was about predicting medalists for Sochi, which I find pointless when we haven't even hit 2011 Worlds, so time for a switcharoo.

I had a fairly easy time with the men's discipline for this question, because one program stands out above the rest for me. It's one I've never seen live, though would go to fairly great lengths to see it if the opportunity ever came up.

The skater is Kurt Browning, the music is "Nyah" from the Mission Impossible: 2 soundtrack, the year was 2001, and the result is just unbelievable. Very few skaters can command the attention of an audience like this, but Kurt can, so for him to try something like this wasn't an immediate plan for failure. But still, it was a risk for a pro like Kurt to try a program like this that focuses on subtle movements and musical interpretation, with no jumps or big tricks. He completely pulled it off, though. I think it's still one of the greatest pieces of skating choreography. And since he's been so into bringing programs back lately, I'm cautiously hopeful that I will someday have the chance to see "Nyah" performed live. If I don't have chills from the very beginning, I know I would when the music stops and only the clapping from the crowd provides the soundtrack to the end of the piece. Brilliant.

Honourable Mentions:
Paul Wylie's Apollo 13 - a classic
Kurt Browning's "Serenade to Sonia" - another classic, and my other favourite program by him
Jeff Buttle's "Eclogue" - meant to be his competitive free skate in 2008-09, he revamped it for Stars on Ice when he decided to retire

Well, I am likely forgetting things so I may edit in some more honourable mentions later, but I mainly wanted to write about how much I love "Nyah."

Monday, January 10, 2011

favourites of the favourites

30 Days of Skating

Day 14: Who are your five favourite ice dance teams?

It's no secret that ice dance has become my favourite discipline over the last six years. So many dancers have inspired me and challenged me as a photographer since the first time I clicked my shutter at the 2007 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. But I'll try to stick to teams that have already completed their competitive careers, with one exception, I guess.

1: Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe
Especially towards the end of their competitive career, I would have rather watched them skate than anyone else, so I guess I have to put them at number one. I found them to be so musical and so versatile, and their programs were always so accessible and charming. And they were so consistent. Perhaps they didn't have the most difficult programs in the field, but they always showed up prepared and skated confidently, which goes a long way with me. They were a big part of the reason why I jumped ship and became a dance fan, why I skipped other events at Nationals to watch dance practices, why I got hooked on the discipline. And in the beginning, when I was fangirly and awkward, they were always so gracious and kind, always had time for a chat and a photo. Somewhere along the way, a transition took place and we became friends. I still have an incredible respect for them, not only as skaters (though I still say they were really underrated), but also as people. They're coaching now, and just four years into that endeavour, their dancers rank among the best in Canada at every level. I think they've surprised a lot of people, but not me. I've always seen the greatness in them.

With Megan & Aaron

I'd almost forgotten about this: sad faces with Megan & Aaron, just before they vacated the central part of the continent for Vancouver

2: Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon
I started paying attention to MF&P around the same time that I started paying attention to Megan & Aaron—during the 2002-2003 season. But while I liked them during the years between '02 and '05, it wasn't until fall 2005 that I really latched on to them. It was, of course, "Somewhere in Time" that turned me from a moderate supporter to a superfan. My feelings on SiT have been documented on this blog already, so I won't rehash, except to that that the 2005-2006 season was the turning point for me. At the end of all of that, and the heart attack I nearly suffered waiting for the free dance at Worlds, they began notching up the list of my favourites. In those days, I found them equally glamorous and terrifying. It took me 3 years to track them down at an event and work up the nerve to talk to them. But in the past couple of seasons, they've become two of my favourite subjects to photograph—every program is a hit parade of gorgeous moments—and two of my favourite people to catch up with at events, as well. It turns out that, once you get to know them, they're actually kind of hilarious and quite charming.

With MF&P

Circling up with MF&P for the usual self-po, October 2010

3: Tracy Wilson & Rob McCall
I can't watch their programs without a giant smile on my face. In my eyes, they were one of the perfect teams—so well-balanced in having different strengths, but working together so well. And I think Tracy Wilson is a dance goddess, basically. I hadn't even started watching skating yet when Rob passed away, so everything I know about them has been thanks to the wonders of internet video sharing. Perhaps it tainted my opinion a bit because I already held them on such a pedestal, but heavenly days, how I love watching their old programs. And I don't think you'll ever convince me that they didn't deserve to win in 1988.

With T-Dub

I finally got to meet Tracy Wilson at the Olympic free dance!

4: Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz
When I was little, Shae & Vic were one of the only dance teams I could stand to watch. I thought she was so pretty and I liked their happy programs a lot more than all the other boring stuff in ice dance. I didn't understand why they didn't win everything. Of course, the years have given me perspective and more of an understanding of ice dance, but Shae & Vic still rank among my favourites. Some of their programs, especially when they were trying to fit in to get better results, are real doozies, but overall, the gems outweigh the doozies. And I'm forever grateful to them for keeping my attention when I was young and giving me a bit of early exposure to the discipline I would eventually grow to love. I still love watching Shae, who is one of the sweetest and most gracious people I have gotten to know through skating. She was the first world champion I ever interviewed, and even though I was shaking the whole time, she was patient and far more articulate than I was!

With Shae

Chele, me, and Jen with Shae, spring 2010

5: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Ah, the exception to the rule, the one team on my list that hasn't finished their competitive career. I decided I could include them, now that they're Olympic champions and I'm confident that they'll always have a special place in my heart. I knew they had something special when I first saw them as juniors, and I knew they were destined for great things when they burst onto the senior international scene so emphatically in 2006. And then their rise to the top of the world was so meteoric that it even caught me by surprise. I hope that if they're really going to continue to compete (I won't be convinced until they actually take the ice and skate a program during a competition!), that they will start to push the envelope a bit more and develop other facets of their presentation. I'm fiercely proud of them and I adore them, but I think they can do a lot more and I'd like to see that happen. We will see, I guess!

With Tessa & Scott

Jen, Jules, me, and Christina with Scott, Lesley Hawker, and Tessa in February 2007.

I just realized that all of these picks are Canadian. I guess it's fitting. I fell in love with dance in Canada and continue to watch dance most often in Canada, all the way down to the juvenile level. But I also feel like I should point out that my previous #5, recently usurped by Tessa & Scott, were not Canadians. Just to try to prove that I do have a bit of perspective.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

five pairs

30 Days of Skating

Day 13: Who are your five favourite pair teams?

1: Jamie Salé & David Pelletier
Easy first answer. I think I can still recite their entire competitive record from memory. Not that it's super long. It's staggering to think that they accomplished so much in four years...and really, it was that first year and a half when they made the biggest leap. After '99 Skate America, it was a matter of progressing from really good to fantastic. I still know most of those competitive programs by heart. And for the first couple of years after they turned professional, they were still the most magical team in the world to me. For a lot of reasons (and this happened long before they separated, it isn't because of that), they started to kind of fade from my fangirly heart, but I think I will always consider them the greatest pairs team ever. I don't think I'll ever adore anyone quite like I adored them in the height of my fandom. And to them, I owe countless wonderful memories and the start of some of the most important friendships in my life. Being there, with everyone, when they were inducted in the Skate Canada Hall of Fame is a memory I treasure. And like I said before, "Tristan und Isolde" always, always gets me.

Salé & Pelletier in 2008
Salé & Pelletier on Stars on Ice in 2008

2: Valérie Marcoux & Craig Buntin
In the fall of 2003, the whole idea of "live streaming" was so foreign to me. But at some event in Europe that fall, a link to a live video of the competition got circulated. And one Saturday morning, before I went to work at the video store, I was squinting at Windows Media Player, watching a fuzzy video of Val & Craig's free skate. And I realized that Val & Craig had made it past the awkward first year and were getting fairly good. And then they went and won nationals.

Two weeks after that victory, Four Continents were in Hamilton, and it was my first international competition. Christina had indoctrinated us upon arrival at her house; we showed up at the rink already planning to cheer heartily for Val & Craig. Once I saw their "Caravan" short, I was all in, inscribing with bingo dabbers on a hot pink posterboard our wishes: "Allez Val et Craig!" For the next few years, they were one of the dearest competitors to my heart. We saw them as often as we could, even at summer events, and we cheered until we were hoarse. I'm still heartbroken that things didn't work out for them together, still disappointed that, in my opinion, they never got the credit they deserved for the parts of their skating that were so solid. But I'll always have a place in my heart for them—for them and all of their sassy short programs, especially.

Me and Marbun
With Val & Craig, January 2006

3: Utako Wakamatsu & Jean-Sébastien Fecteau
Of all skaters, ever, that I have liked, I think I have carried the most outright bias for this one. I adored them—and told other people how good they were—before I had ever seen them. Before anyone had ever seen them, really, besides a few people at Québec Sectionals, I guess. I became friends with Jules during their first season together, when they had to sit out of Canadians because she was injured. When I met him in summer 2003, I was already in the fan club. I still hadn't ever seen them skate when I was frantically refreshing results from Nebelhorn and Finlandia, then calling Jules at work to relay them. When they got the Skate America assignment, I was so thrilled, not only for them, but also for me, because I was finally going to have a chance to see them skate! And then they went and made the Monday night ESPN broadcast of the short program, and I was at a college that didn't support the idea of cable in dorm rooms. So I staked out the basement lounge for a couple of hours before the broadcast, and got half the girls on my floor interested in it, too. I was so relieved when they were actually kind of awesome.

Even if they hadn't been, I still would have supported them, but it was easier that I ended up adoring them. Pairs kind of died for me in 2007, when they retired and Val & Craig split. My heart broke; maybe it still is. Although I can recognize when pairs teams are good and there are a few that I like, it's been almost 4 years since I've really had a favourite pair.

Me with Wakafect
With Utako & Jean-Seb, August 2005

4: Ekaterina Gordeeva & Sergei Grinkov
I feel like it's nearly impossible not to include this pair, at least for someone in my generation. I was a little girl who was swept up in the magic of what they put on the ice, who thought they were the closest thing to perfect. I cried my eyes out when it was on the news that he'd died. There's such a pure quality about their skating, something that keeps them on a pedestal, unmatched by others. They always made me feel like I could fly.

5: Jenni Meno & Todd Sand
My other nostalgic favourite. I was caught up in their story, too—how they fell in love in Albertville at the Olympics and decided to start skating together. I loved their pretty, pretty programs and their gooey romantics. A lot of people dismiss them for being boring and bland, but I was a kid without much of an attention span the first time that I saw them, and they always captivated me. Even going back as a better educated skating fan now, there's a lot of good in their skating—lines, presentation, choreography. So what if they weren't really fans of triples? It certainly didn't matter to me then; to me, they were the best in the world in '96 especially, and they'll always have a place in my heart.

Monday, January 3, 2011

five girls

30 Days of Skating

Day 12: Who are your five favourite ladies figure skaters?

Well, this hasn't really been much a daily effort lately, but I'm trying! My wrists and eyes certainly appreciate the break from my laptop during New Year's weekend, and here's hoping for a fantastic 2011! And now, onto the ladies.

1: Josée Chouinard
Even when I was just a little girl, Josée's charm always captivated me. I was just getting into skating at the end of her competitive career, and while I loved her then, I don't think she really became my absolute favourite until the 1994-95 season, when she skated as a professional for a year before returning to competition for 95-96. Without the pressure of competition, Josée absolutely shone on the pro circuit, and I would have watched her skate her American in Paris program a hundred times in a row, if my mother would have put up with it. And a couple of years later, I probably did watch "The Sweater" a hundred times in a row. I always wanted to see her skate live, but by the time I was in college and attended my first Stars on Ice shows in 2003, she really wasn't skating much at all, so I'd just about given up hope.

And then came the announcement for Dreams on Ice, conveniently located in Windsor, slated for Fall 2003. I was planning on moving back to Chicago for school, and my new skating fan friend lived in Michigan. It was perfect. Even better—VIP tickets included passes to the reception and a chance to meet the skaters. So in September 2003, I finally got to see Josée skate, and an hour later, I was standing in front of her, knees shaking, and when I said something completely stupid, like how I'd been wanting to see her skate for 9 years, she was so sweet and gracious.

Me and Jos
Meeting Josée in 2003

2: Joannie Rochette
Jo is also a sentimental favourite, on quite a few levels for me. For as long as I've been going to skating events in Canada, I've been cheering for Jo. I was a fan even before I ever saw her skate, just because my friends knew her. I met Jo at a concert my friend Lori gave in Montréal in August 2003, five months before I ever saw Jo skate live. While I always wanted her to do well, it ultimately didn't matter to me whether she skated cleanly or not—I was always going to support her, no matter what.

And while my whole group of friends knew that she was capable of capturing at incredible moment at her home Olympics this year, we never could have anticipated what actually transpired. The grace, perseverance, and passion that she showed during the Olympics and since the Games ended have simply been consistent with the girl that I have always wanted great things for. I can't say enough wonderful things about her character, and I haven't even made it to her skating yet! Well, I guess that speaks for itself.

Jo Concert 2003
The group of us at Lori's concert in 2003

3: Kristi Yamaguchi
I was a seven-year-old American girl who'd just fallen in love with figure skating when Kristi Yamaguchi won Olympic gold. Of course she's on my top five list. When I was seven, I wanted nothing more than to be her. I wanted her voluminous ponytail and poofy bangs and pretty dresses and fantastic talent and gold medal. I wanted my face on the Wheaties box that I convinced my mom to buy for me, even though she knew I never finished a box of cereal. I wanted desperately to see her skate when Stars on Ice came to town, but it wasn't in the budget for my family then. So, much like Josée, I felt like I might have missed my chance with her. And I almost did, but I snuck out of the country and went to Isabelle & Lloyd's farewell show in 2004. When my mother found out, she nearly disowned me. I think she was going to, but my fiancé broke up with me right after she found out, and I think she felt a little bit bad for me. But it was worth it, to see my seven-year-old hero, still able to completely captivate me.

Also like Josée, it was Kristi's professional career that really endeared her to me. For some reason, I often remember seeing "Doop Doop" for the first time on TV, lying on my parents' bed while they watched something boring in the living room. It's funny how certain performances, though only viewed on a TV, are such happy moments from my childhood.

I finally met Kristi last year, at Thin Ice in Connecticut. I'd had the opportunity a couple of times before, but she's one of the few people that I've literally frozen in front of.

Meeting Kristi in 2010
Proof that I got over my stage fright and met Kristi!

4: Michelle Kwan
Though Kristi and Josée were my first loves in figure skating, Michelle was the one that I grew up with. I remember her first Nationals, how young she was, how much I wanted to be like her. And every year after, I was in front of my TV for Nationals again—captivated in '96, heartbroken in '97, overwhelmed with emotions in '98. Even in the years after Nagano, when high school took over and I didn't watch nearly as much skating anymore, I still kept tabs on Michelle, checking in on an old fansite, happening to catch Nationals or Worlds performances, at least most of the time.

In the years after Salt Lake, it got hard to be a fan. I started following the sport more closely, and it was maddening that it never seemed like her heart was all the way in the sport anymore. She didn't learn the Code of Points properly, always seemed to be bouncing between coaches, and it seemed like she withdrew from events more often than she skated in them. During that time, I was going to Canadian events anyway, so I kind of lost interest. Plus, she had some really creepy fans, I never wanted to be associated with that.

But looking back, it's impossible to say that overall, she's not still one of my favourites. One of the most consistent, genuine performers of her era, and also one of the most decorated. My uncle, who watches skating occasionally but is far from a close follower of it, was watching the Tribute to American Skating, or whatever it was called, on Christmas with me. When they mentioned Michelle, he said something about how it was too bad she never won an Olympic medal. I was quick to defend her: "She won two!!" Of course I didn't fault him for not remembering her credentials properly, but it's too bad that the general American public remembers Michelle as "the one who never won," when really, she won so much.

I don't have any photos of Michelle that I can post. Sadly, I've never met her, nor have I ever even seen her skate live. So unless I dug out my poster of her from Sports Illustrated for Kids, circa 1993, and took a photo of that, I don't actually own any photos of Miss Kwan.

And I don't think I'm going to pick a fifth. There are, of course, many other female skaters that I admire, but none who are on the same level as Josée, Jo, Kristi, and Michelle.