Saturday, November 13, 2010

The season has begun!

ignore this post of you don't care about figure skating.  i'm about to enthuse.

you know how baseball fans get about their sport's season beginning.  and that's just a sport-sport.  figure skating is an art-sport, and i love it for several reasons.  while it's horribly gendered [even to the singles events being called 'the men's' and 'the ladies', and costumes that demand a woman show much more of her body than a man], it's also one of the few sports in which the women's competitions are more popular than the men's, and where male/female teams compete together [dance and pairs]. but shit, this isn't really political for me---it's romantic! i am in love with the sport.

i love its audiences. on the one hand there's a big fuss about patriotism--flags all over, that sort of thing. yet the audiences at the competitions are almost always civilized.  they may clap more for 'their' skaters, but they clap a lot for every skater.  furthermore, they don't get pissed when their skaters make a mistake.  when a skater falls, from whatever country, the audience applauds with sympathy  and encouragement as they pull themself up and begin again.  wave whatever flag you want, it's really the skating, and the skaters, that matter.

furthermore, the sport keeps becoming more and more international in terms of the skaters themselves.  the more open a country is about the rules of citizenship, the  more you find, say, an american skating for australia.  the big skating countries have lots of terrific skaters; some of these, if they can, move briefly to another, smaller or less wealthy country and skate for that country. which is great, as it gives very good skaters a chance to compete, the smaller  country a place in the games, and the audience a greater variety of excellent skaters.
some skaters have dual citizenship. any jew, for example, is considered a citizen by israel.  if they choose, and some have done so over the years, they can skate for  that country. dual citizenship isn't always necessary or possible.  canadian tanith belbin skated with her american partner for months; then, for olympic eligibility, she applied for and eventually got american citizenship. aliona savchenko, originally from one of the old soviet union countries, married german coach and former skater ingo stoia, who paired her with german skater robin szolkowy and they skate for germany.  italian american sylvia fontana skated for italy for several years.

i was reminded of this tonight watching two new sister-and-brother dance teams, both literally japanese-american.  maya and alex shibutani skated for the US; and Cathy and Christopher Reed skated for japan.  (the older reed will soon, at 22, have to choose which country to remain a citizen of; her brother will face that decision later).  i love the implicit slap in the face to chauvinism. the great dancer nureyev once said that as a dancer, he had no country; his country was dance.  that seems to hold true for a  lot of skaters as well.

skate america is the 3rd of the 'grand prix' contests, and the first i've gotten excited about as i watch. in this post-olympic year, there are lots of new skaters in the senior ranks, and some are amazing.japan's kanako urakami is a great, exciting new 'lady', following in a tradition that began over a decade ago with midori ito and has continued with  fumi susguri, miki ando,  and mao asada, to name a few.

dance, at the moment, is even more interesting.  for years there have been 3 dance performances in a competition: compulsory, original, and free. the compulsory was a holdover from the days when singles and pairs had compulsory figures, which basically meant skating over and over the same figure 8.  the compulsory dance was more interesting, because it was an actual dance, but watching dozens of teams do precisely the same minute-long routine gets pretty tedious--and it seemed oddly out of balance with the other disciplines and their short and long programs.

.rather than drop it completely, the international skating union has combined it with the old original into a short program [mirroring the short program of the other disciplines].  now each dance team must incorporate the exact same dance into a short program of their own choice.  if it sounds like it should be awkward, it has been so far, a bit.  a different one of a specific series of compulsory dances is chosen by the ISU each year, and it can be hard to fit the steps of that particular dance into one's short program.  but these folks did wonderfully, and for many it was seamless: if you didn't know it was happening you wouldn't notice it.  it worked least well with the first american team, who chose a rock n roll theme--the Golden Waltz simply doesn't lend itself to rock.  but it blended quite beautifully with jazz in the Reeds' number.  the Shibutani's did a waltz theme, wisely and elegantly , as did the breathtaking new canadian team, weaver and page. the top americans, meryl davis and charlie white, are ahead so far; less exciting to me than the other teams, but plenty good. and these are just the short programs. i can't wait for the long ones!

i'm a happy puppy!

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