Now that the final “twizzles” have twizzled, and the last of the feathers and sequins have been swept from the ice, I have a strongly worded letter to write. I’m not sure if I address my letter to the I.O.C. or NBC, but I’m seeking a refund for about 2-3 hours of my life. Preferably “network, prime time” hours. (These should at least be valued higher than “daytime and/or weekday morning” hours. After all, these are also the “kids are in bed, the lunches are packed, the dog’s been walked, I’ll get to that stack of mail in the morning, let’s curl up on the couch and chill out” hours.) These are valuable blocks of time. Why so upset? I feel wronged. Not that I’m making a judgment for anyone other than myself — and I need to be very clear that I have absolutely no intention of roiling the short, long and free skate anger of the ice dancing community on account of me and my two or three paragraphs of expression. There is bravery, sacrifice, dedication, talent, athleticism, artistry, endurance and passion in the world of ice dancing. What these competitors accomplish is amazing. That acknowledged — I just don’t get it. I didn’t want to get it. I chose not to watch it — and yet, did.
Someone’s gotta’ be held accountable.
“To dance, perchance, to slide.”
I never really liked dance. I liked to dance. I liked to try to dance, but, as far as going to a non-required dance performance, I had no such interest. The appreciation of the strength and control displayed by dancers has always been there, but the desire to represent half of a dialogue between audience and dancer was always a one-sided conversation. They — talking with precise movements, and me, looking down at my feet because, let’s face it, leotards aren’t exactly…roomy. But over the years, the conversation finally started, and it did so with many introductions over the years by my wife and my mother and father in-law who brought me to a magical place in the Berkshires called Jacob’s Pillow. Out among the most gorgeous backdrop a set designer could hope for, a stage floats and is visited by gifted students of dance. My education started there and happily continues.
There is no ice. No blades. Just dance.
Now, I understand that for me to declare “what is dance?” is as sensible as declaring “what is art?” or “what is comedy?” or “what is fruit?” It’s silly to pretend that I have the answers…but as far as Olympic Ice Dancing…I just don’t get it. The dancing isn’t as good as what I’ve seen on nonskid terra firma. And the pairs figure skaters I watch every two years when the Olympics comes around blow my mind with the jumps and spins…but in between the two…I’m just not sure where Ice Dancing fits.
Fact is, anyone who can do anything on ice, like stand, deserves applause. Recently, we’ve taken our 3 year-old and 6 year-old ice skating. The 6 year-old skates with more confidence than me, and the 3 year-old moves smoother. When I think of the moves that these ice dancers make, I’m impressed. I’m not the only one. You might think that hockey players might laugh off figure skaters — want to check them into the boards for being on their ice, but, according to my friend who used to work at a rink, when the hockey team finished practice one day and they cleared the ice, a visiting figure skating pair began their practice. The hockey team sat and watched. Eyes wide. Mouth open. Struck by the speed, grace and technique of how the pair moved. Remember, these are hockey players. These are the athletes that are allowed to carry pieces of lumber to their game. These are the guys who hide injuries. When the Detroit Red Wings ended their playoff run one season, it was found out that one of their players played with a lacerated…um…let’s just call it his “man satchel.” That’s pretty tough, and yet, you show someone moving the way these skaters can, and “tough” becomes relative. Kindred spirits, part of the same family who dedicate a portion of their lives balancing on kitchen knives, staying upright and going where friction sleeps. The skate’s the thing.
Even so. Ice Dancing?
Zamboni, resurface my sanity.
Cut to: the beginning of the Ice Dancing coverage during NBC’s primetime Olympic block. There I was, on my couch and as soon as it came on, my list of “things to do before they cover an event I want to see” began scrolling in my mind. But, I didn’t leave the couch.
My Wife: “What’s on?”
Me: “Ice Dancing. Not my cup of tea.”
(Routine after routine that particular cup of tea gets sipped and nothing’s left except a cold, soggy, bag of leaves.)
My Wife: “You still watching ice dancing?”
Me: “Ridiculous. I’m just trying to figure it out.”
My Wife: “What are you trying to figure out?”
Me: “I’m not sure.”
(More routines. More strange costumes. I roll my eyes. I “harumph.” I shake my head. I continue to watch.)
My Wife: “Figure it out, yet?”
Me: “You gotta see this–I mean, come on.”
My Wife: “You going to bed?”
Me: “I’ll be up soon.”
My Wife: “You know, we are taping this, so if you…”
Me: “shhhhh…they’re about to twizzle.”
And so the event that confuses me the most, fascinated me into a catatonic stupor of analyzing the footwork and seeing if “the passion of the program, matched the passion of the fabric.” I guess it did. It must have matched something, because I watched every routine.
How about a nice game of Boggle?
I think it’s safe to assume that much of what pair figure skaters are selling is for us to buy that they are a couple. A couple in love who’s romance transcends normal walking, but, instead, is so true, so divine, that they glide and soar and spin with delight. Yes, we know that some of the partners of the partners have partners all their own. That’s fine with me. The dynamic I have a little trouble with is the same scenario with a brother and sister team. Say that they’re just doing characters, mention how they both treat this as an acting exercise — it just doesn’t matter to me. I wish I could look past it, but I can’t. I love my sisters, I really do — but skating with my hands on their hips, getting our faces inches apart and looking longingly into their eyes…well, it becomes a bit uncomfortable. It’s unsettling to watch — at least for me. I think bowling with your sister, playing sports, getting a good board game going, hiking, jogging, being a brother and a sister…isn’t that enough. Hugs, kisses on the cheek, long conversations, favors, gifts…sure — but enacting a romantic interlude on ice…it makes me feel all slushy.
Skate clean, play dirty.
Did I want to spend so much time watching Ice Dancing? No. Not in a million years. Why then did I do it? I still think some sort of Ice Dancing spell is cast that hypnotizes the viewers and makes them watch. (In the Summer Olympics, it’s the synchronized swimming. I never intend on watching it, but I do. Smiling faces shot underwater in perfect sync. Eerie. Gives me the shivers. Have you ever tried to smile underwater?) In the end, I think I just wanted the U.S. to win. There were a couple of Wolverines in competition for the gold, and I took pride in that. There were lots of “friendly rivalries” going on between the couples. No offense to the ice dancers, but I’ve come to expect a little more from a “rivalry” at a sporting event. Woody and Bo never strapped on a pair of skates and toe-looped until only one was left standing. Who knows if there’s any mental games being waged backstage (“oh, you’re wearing THAT headdress?”) or any bouts of trash-talking (“I have a pair of those skates…I use them to pull my uncle’s shanty when he ice-fishes for perch.”) It’s curious as to what we don’t get to see backstage. Maybe it’s a scary underworld of points and rotations and scorecards. Or, maybe it’s just an aspect of the Winter Olympics I respect on one hand, but don’t see the point on the other.
My Wife (the next day): What are you watching?
Me: Last night’s ice dancing.
My Wife: Didn’t you stay up and watch it?
Me: I know, I know, but I think those kids deserved the gold and I thought I could review the program to see if something was missed.
My Wife: Maybe if you saw something that the professional judges with video capture and years of experience happened to miss, you could somehow get in touch with the I.O.C. in Vancouver and reverse the decision.
After my wife walks away, I am thankful. Thankful that the spell has been broken. Where was I? What happened? I hold the remote in my hand and press the red button. In a flash, it all becomes memory. Never to return…
…at least until 2014.