I wanted to learn how to skate for the outfits—I felt like there were lots of things to like about sparkly costumes. Things started changing when I saw my progress. Knowing that I'm far more capable than what I thought, I started getting more competitive. Since then, I blew off every social activity to refine my basics and catch up on elements for months. In my 20s, I’m considered too “old” to become a competitor. After my last competition in November, I realized that there's no such thing as being "too old" to do anything. I even got to win gold in my artistic skate and silver in my technical program.
Now, here are reasons why I can’t get enough of the ice:
1. The Costumes
Artistic Program Dress by Alexa Cheng
For ease of movement as well as the overall look, less is more. It would also depend on the character you're portraying. The tricky part about the dresses is that they need to survive the wear and tear of the sport's movements—high quality spandex, velvet, lycra and power mesh are commonly used. As for the crystals, they need to be secure since losing a bauble will cause a deduction that's equal to a fall. Always work with a couturier you can trust, as well as someone who can take specific instructions. For example, I was very particular with the skirt’s silhouette and the cut of the leotard—it should keep you comfy and well-covered while skating.
2. The Poise
How a skater composes herself on and off the ice matters a lot. It can also be likened to when a prima ballerina takes the stage, her gait and aura make the entire room draw their attention towards her. A skater must be the same. If no one feels like watching you, your four-minute program will feel like a 45-minute one.
3. The Beauty
Figure Skating is a beautiful and thrilling sport. You need to have nerves of steel to perform precise movements in front of a roaring crowd. The beauty of twirling, gliding and leaping is a disguise for all the training needed to achieve that effortless grace. It looks easy, but a simple two-foot spin can be quite a challenge, too. I learned the elements relatively quickly for an adult, but it took me an excruciatingly longer time to look half as good as the "pros" you see on TV. The cold and dizzying wind on my face as well as the ease of the movements was all worth it. I never thought that I would enjoy getting dizzy this much—it only means I reached the required revolutions and speed for the spins.
4. The Glamour
No other athlete gets as glammed up in competition as much as a figure skater...you might think they we're trying to win Miss Universe. Back in the '80s, costumes were over the top and overly bedazzled. It wasn't until when Michelle Kwan, the most decorated US female figure skater, popularized clean and simpler designs. It was also around this time that skating dresses started to resemble mini versions of runway looks. For example, Vera Wang designed dresses for athletes like Nancy Kerrigan, ’94 Olympic Silver Medalist; Sasha Cohen, ’06 Olympic Silver Medalist, had a dress designed by Badgley Mischka; and the back-flipping bad ass from France, Surya Bonaly’s dresses were designed by Christian Lacroix.
5. The Challenge
Falling, getting back up, and pushing your body beyond its limits is very liberating—like doing double jumps in less than a second. Yes, humans aren't meant to bend or move that way, but here I am. Since I only practice around 1-2x per week, I have to compensate mid-week for the strength and endurance I would need for figure skating. As much as possible, I run on the treadmill for an hour (highest speed I could possibly do) as well as do yoga early in the morning to maintain my flexibility.
There's also that part where I have to watch what I eat to maintain a skater's body—the kind fit to do multi-revolutionary jumps. During practice days, I would practice a single move for a minimum of 20 reps, but these have to be well-thought out executions without mistakes. The mental prep for practice gets tough when I'm tired from the week. Also, falls are inevitable so our knees and hips get really whacked after every session...but it's all worth it!
6. The Artistry
There are two sides to the scoring system: technical and component scores. The component consists of skating skills as well as the skater's ability to characterize. It's the storytelling in the movements (in between the jumps) that gets the crowd going. To hone one's artistry, it's advisable to take extra dance classes such as jazz or ballet. As a formerly trained ballerina, this wasn't tough for me. To merge the artistic and technical aspects, one needs to look up to figure skating heroes. A great example is Michelle Kwan. Her technique is so consistent that she has so much room to emote. Every jump and spin she does is powerful and you can tell how confident she is because she never ever looks down on the ice when she performs.
7. The Performance
Skaters are definitely ballerinas on ice. There are technical aspects to the sport, but overall, it's still a show. Growing up, I was a dancer and the flighty feelings of nervousness never vanished. To this very day, I get a sickening feeling before stepping out on stage or out on the ice. As soon as the music starts playing, I snap back to reality and remind myself about what I came to do—win gold and perform. Afterwards, it will always feel like I want to skate over and over again because the applause you get (no matter how well you did) is always very exhilarating.
8. The Spins
Spins are actually one of the top moves that entice people to pick up the sport. They're beautiful and they make you feel like a fairy princess. They're also very tough to master. The basic spins are the upright spin, the sit spin and the camel spin. From there, you can learn as many variations as you want. How do skaters spin on a piece of blade? Actually, the blade is not flat. It's curved and the skater has to spin exactly on the "rocker." To find that sweet spot (aka the rocker), the skater has to be perfectly aligned—strong core and lengthened muscles. This requires a lot of on ice as well as off ice practice—do as many reps as possible and do core-enhancing workouts.
9. The Jumps
Who doesn't love flying? Fortunately, figure skating is the closest thing I have to achieving greater heights. Then again, these are actually scary to learn since they also only work with a lot of speed, no brute force, and a whole lot of grace. There are 6 basic jumps and this is the order it's learned: Salchow, Toe Loop, Loop, Flip, Lutz and Axel. Of all the jumps, I find the Axel the scariest because it's the only one that has a forward take-off—there's just something about facing things head-on. Apart from the basic jumps, we also have the "crowd pleasers" or the uncaptured moves because they're not necessarily rewarded points. These include the split jumps—a personal favorite of mine. All jumps take a while to master and there are always things that could be made better. Double jumps are one of my current struggles, but I know that the feeling of landing one is like wanting to high five everyone in the room.
10. The license to be "extra."
As rigorous and strict skating may seem to be, there's actually a lot of room to add nuances to your program. Since you and the other competitors are doing the same things, it can be a super flamboyant slide at the end or a simple shoulder roll that can make it a golden skate. Extra points are awarded to skaters with a difficult entry or with an uncaptured move.