Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ask the Expert: Jenny Hall, Former Ice Show Figure Skater

This guest post comes from Jenny Hall, former show skater and author of Ice Charades: Penguins Behaving Badly and Other Follies From the Road (use discount code CLFZ9MCH  to save 10%). You can also visit her popular blog, Ice Charades. If you'd like to read reviews of her book you can visit Ice Mom's review of Ice Charades or's Jo Ann Schneider Farris and her review.

So your son or daughter wants to join an ice show.  They are turning 18 pretty soon and you’re wondering if you’re crazy to let them do it.

I don’t think so.

Perhaps you’re thinking that your kid needs to go to college first because they will never get ahead in life without a college degree.  That’s probably true.  But the cool thing is you don’t have to pick one at the expense of the other – your son or daughter can do both.  Although usually not at the same time.
The most important concept I thought of when writing this post for Ice Mom is that parents may feel by joining an ice show their son or daughter will be exposed to all things evil:  weigh-ins, promiscuity, drinking and/or drugs, lack of safety, backstage cattiness, insufficient funds, injuries, or insecurity in themselves.  Yes, they’ll probably face all of that and worse.

But it won’t be because they joined an ice show as much as a result of turning 18.  It’s part of what happens when they leave home.  They can face the same challenges in college, the office, or if they become a coach at a rink.  Granted, dealing with all of those evils at one time in a far-flung location can be overwhelming, but in my case, it forced me to mature on my own and later I was glad for the challenge.

So, let them give it a try, tell them they can always return if they don’t like it, and tell yourself that you may get to visit them in an exciting, exotic spot of the world.  One mother I spoke with spent two weeks on a beautiful Scandinavian cruise for free.

Another plus is your kid will be earning money for skating instead of you paying for it.  Not bad.

So, let’s walk through some of the basics for your son or daughter:

  • For their best success in ice shows, they may want to join right out of high school at their physical peak.  But they don’t have to.  I had two years of college before I joined a show at 20.  While it was true, I lost the conditioning of my senior freestyle program in my legs and in my lungs that I had at 18, I was still okay for the show.  I rose to the occasion, skated on a lot of practice ice and improved my skating in other ways.  And I was more mature than I would have been right out of high school.  I continued to go in and out of ice shows and college for the next thirteen years and stayed in good shape until I was 35.  I also think I was a better performer because I mixed office work with the skating world and tried to enjoy the best of what each environment had to offer.  So it is not too late to start somewhere in their 20s.
  • Do your homework – talk to show skaters if you can.  No two ice shows are the same but certain shows will have certain set environments.  Let’s just say that Holiday On Ice gives the skaters more independence – which also means less supervision.  Disney On Ice has more hand-holding.  Touring shows will have more variety than a park show, but also more uncertainty.  I was drawn to traveling, so starting with a big touring show was the right choice for me, but someone who is more interested in their skating should look at the show’s caliber of skating first.  That may be the Royal Caribbean cruise ship show or Disney.  If a skater plans on making this their career for a while, a long-term show is best for steady income.  Stick with a touring show or a cruise ship show that’s going to be around for a while.  If it is more about having fun, try a summer amusement park show.  They are several of them in countries besides the U.S. 
The nice thing is ice shows are still a small world and once a skater finds work in one, they will find it pretty easy to get the scoop on others.  The Professional Figure Skaters Cooperative (PFSC) has made it even easier to get all the casting notices in one place and they even have a seminar in beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho open to younger skaters to hear first-hand what ice shows can be like.
  • Don’t play down the physical attributes of skating in ice shows.  I took it for granted until I was retired how beneficial it was to have a job that required movement rather than sitting at a desk or standing by the boards.  If a skater can stay away from injuries and eating disorders and stay healthy, their skating will pay dividends long after they put away the false eyelashes.  There will be plenty of time for more sedentary jobs, but move when and while you can.  I firmly believe having skated in my twenties and thirties will keep me healthier when I face my fifties.
  • While college is largely about planning (as in planning to graduate and cash in on that expensive degree), ice shows are more about living in the moment.  When you are performing, that is the only thing going at that very moment.  You’re not stopping during the pinwheel to check your Blackberry.  You don’t leave during intermission to pick up your sick child at daycare (well, if you did, you probably wouldn’t be allowed back).  From the time you walk into the dressing room at half-hour to the time the curtain goes down in Finale, you have one purpose – to skate the show.  Maybe you have the goal to skate it well.  (But maybe it’s a Saturday matinee and you’re only putting in a C performance – ask someone from Ice Capades).  The flipside is when the show’s done, you’re done for the day.  It is not to say skaters don’t have goals in ice shows, but they can have the freedom not to.
  • Realize that ice shows won’t be in their life forever.  The reality is few in the chorus in Capades, Holiday or Disney went on to have careers in ice shows.  There are jobs in production, choreography, costumes or sets to move into once your legs stop moving, but they are few and far between.  Luckily, I think most chorus skaters want to move on from ice shows and into permanent housing, relationships, and jobs anyway.  Hopefully the skater will enjoy the traveling, the costumes and the performing while they can.
So if you’re still nervous about your son or daughter running away to join the circus an ice show or have any questions, please send me a comment.


Xan said...

I'm the crazy mom that let her daughter join the ice show right out of high school. She's there right now, with Disney on Ice, in her third year.

Here's the parenting upside to this: I have had an extra three years to put away money to pay for college.

She's way more ready to take on the challenge of college now than she was 3 years ago.

She has been to 22 countries.

Jenny is absolutely right about Disney (which is really Feld Entertainment). They are very very protective of their skaters, very much in loco parentis. There's a big range of ages among the skaters, too, and they enfold the newbies right in, show them the ropes and take care of them.

If there are any questions that Jenny can't answer, or if you want to hear about being in an ice show right now, I'll be happy to pass them on to my daughter.

jumpingbeanmom said...

Maybe I am nuts, but I was actually thinking that my dd, being youngish for her school year, might do well at this for a couple of years, and still not be that old to start college with her peers. AND she could go in with some money to pay!

Ice Mom said...

You now, the gals at the rink were talking the other day about how amazingly difficult it is to be in an ice show.

Someone said thousands of skaters showed up for an audition and the show took, I don't know, very few.

Is that right?

Ice Mom

Anonymous said...

Hey ice mom,
This is going to be a long comment but I can't email you because I don't have an email address so I'm sorry.
I'm from the UK and I wonder if you could clarify some things for me, I would like to know what "basic 4, 5 etc" that ice girl does and that you describe on your blog are.
Here in the UK and as I have done, you start with SkateUK (, then continue onto SkateUK star in either ice dance or free skating, of which I have done both, ( and then you start NISA judged levels in either elements, field moves, ice dancing, free skating and some others I can’t remember ( I am about to start judged levels in both elements and field moves. It is at the NISA levels were you need a private coach although you could get a private coach for the SkateUK and passport though it would be a waste of money as you get perfectly good group coaching. I have now selected my coach and have my first lesson a week from today and am very excited :)
I am interested in finding out how these levels that I have done/ am planning to do, relate to the basic and freestyle grades or competitions that you talk about on your blog. Also, you say that your daughter does competitions to pass these levels, how does that work? Is it only the girls and boys who place 1st, 2nd or 3rd who proceed? Some explanation would be lovely.
Just one more question, I would like to know how old your daughter was when she started skating and how long she has been skating for. I've been skating for about 2 and quarter years now and have only just gotten a prviate coach but it sounds like, from your earlier blog posts, that your daughter got private coaching from almost straight of the bat.
Just finally I would like to say how much I love reading your blog, I only discovered it a week but I’m hooked. I very much sympathise with your daughter and I’m sure my mother would sympathise with you.
Skater teen, age 15

Xan said...

@Ice Mom, from what my daughter has said, the ice show is always short of skaters. I think maybe it's that skaters who aren't really good enough are auditioning? N says couple double jumps, or if you're a pairs skater, go in with your partner. You need a decent competitive history (one or more trips to Sectionals or Nationals), or an unusual trick. Principal skaters tend (but not always) to be moved from the ranks, although sometimes they're cast fresh, especially when there's a new show. (This is all Disney, btw) Jenny, what was your experience with IC?

Also, she sent in a tape rather than going in for an audition, and then Feld actually sent someone to see her (and other kids in the area). I don't know if that's unusual. She certainly didn't get a great part, she just got put on the line, with a couple of understudy roles.

Ice Charades said...

Thanks Xan for your insight. I didn't skate for Disney, so I only know of how they were years ago. For instance, back in the 80s, if you skated in a domestic show, you still had to pay for your hotel, but if you got overseas the promoters would put you up (and in really nice places) so it seemed like the trick was to get overseas as soon as you could. Is that the way it is now?

It's awesome your daughter has been to so many countries. She will certainly be more mature and have great geographic knowledge for any college courses she takes.

My only comment for her being ready for college is will she be able to sit still for four plus years? She may want to stay away from a four-year private college, where almost every student will be fresh out of high school and will seem so immature (like I was). She'll probably prefer a major university that is filled with students of all stripes and colors and everyone's got a story. Much more interesting.

I started at one of those small, private colleges and when I took a year off to skate, I was a year behind all of my friends, so I felt I needed to transfer at that point, otherwise by my senior year, I wouldn't have known anyone.

I completely overlooked the aspect of saving money for college, while the kid goes off to skate. But now that I look back, I remember my mom put a hottub on the deck the year I joined HOI. Hmmmm.

Ice Mom - I don't know if there are hundreds of skaters showing up for auditions - it could be especially stateside. In HOI we rarely got more than one skater a month or so, but times have changed I'm sure. I'm sure there is plenty of competition among skaters that send in audition tapes and resumes, but the plus side is there are a lot of shows too. The PFSC is the place to find them. They send out an email this week announcing 20 more casting notices, so if anyone has a skater ready to join a show, they should join the PFSC. It's a community of show skaters and you can get so many questions answered there.

Thanks for the comments.

Ice Charades said...

Xan - to your second comment, I think with so many video options available it is more common to send in a DVD.

The big thing in HOI was to put everyone in the chorus (unless you had major titles) and then you had to earn your step-out roles, not just by your skating, but by your attitude. If you read Kathryn Bertine's "All The Sundays Yet To Come" you'll know what I mean. We had a skater in my cast who went through the same "hazing" ten years before Kathryn did. It didn't matter that you were a really good skater, if you felt you were too good for chorus, you would be stuck there until you quit.

I think that's important for any skater starting out. There are certain unwritten rules (and they will be different in different shows) and you should be aware. If you're a great skater, realize that you may still have to pay your dues.

Also, Xan and I are talking the big shows ... where it is much harder to be a principal. Go to the middle of nowhere, southern Japan for the summer (like I did for three years) and you get to be a principal.

Anonymous said...

When you join a show do you have to get weighed in?

Anonymous said...

What other career choices or benefits are there for skating besides joining a show? I mean, how does all those years of skating pay off? I know there are some figure skating clubs at colleges but do they offer scholarships and such? Just wondering. Thanks!

Ice Charades said...

To anon - Yes, I think most every show will weigh you and/or take notice of your weight. But whether it is done once or weekly, just as procedure or as a way of intimidation will vary from show to show and even different company managers within a show.

I wish I could tell you that it never is a problem, but it has been. When you're fined for being "overweight" which usually means over your set weight, not overweight as a doctor might prescribe, it can be demoralizing. And every skater handles it differently.

But looking back over the years I was in shows, I would say it has more to do with the personality of the skater. Some guys/girls turned to anorexia or bulimia even without many weigh-ins, because they made the issue internal. And other skaters were strong enough to say, "to hell with it, this is what I look like," and they were not bothered or bugged by the manager again.

But the saddest time for me was when the show used the weight as a convenient excuse to fire someone. Or to keep them scared out of their wits so no skater would complain.

There was a gal from Argentina in my first show who had been a champion rollerskater-turned ice skater, so she could travel with the show. She had a very round butt and thighs, sort of like J-Lo, and every time she lost weight, they lowered her set weight. That meant she was always too heavy for the higher-ups and she was always overweight. She was such a beautiful girl with a beautiful face to match, until it got too gaunt. That has to take a toll on someone.

I would like to think the shows are better than that now.

Ice Charades said...

To anon @4:47 - I think coaching is the most available, most stable and most lucrative skating career. Again, it all depends on the rink, but if you truly love skating, coaching is the way to go.

You need to become the best skater you can in your own amateur career and then market yourself as a coach when the time comes. After that, the PSA can help you earn more credentials and give you good pointers for your students.

As for an ice show, it is usually a time-limited career. After a while, you get too old and too expensive to be in the chorus and producers will want fresh blood. So think of ice shows as a temporary career, if you like performing in the first place.

Anonymous said...

We have friends from here that have done Disney, HIO and even Theme parks and cruises.A skater from our rink just finished his HIO and is on his way back home.He is older , maybe 26/27. He did Disney first.
Both my kids would like to do it, when they get to be that age.I know its easier for boys than girls to be hired.
Disney is the same as before, you have to pay for hotel in country, but not outside country.
I dont think I would have my skater Expect to land a job, and I would hate to see a parent expect that as well.

Anonymous said...

Xan... We have attended many Disney on Ice shows. This doesn't make us experts, but this is what I found in reviewing all of the programs my daughters/ ice skaters have saved over the years. Over 10,000 skaters applied for the lead roles in HSM on ice. Over 100,000 plus skaters sent in audition tapes/ resumes etc for a role in the on ice musical. "Disney on Ice" with all the characters lists several thousand skaters coveted the lead roles. These skaters listed in all programs come from all over the world. Congrats to your daughter! I will encourage my girls to follow your lead!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with some of the other comments. Coaching and college are the way to go. Once the shows are over where do you go? Going back to college at the age of 26-27 is not easy, I did that and I know. thanks

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, but dont agree with above. Going back to school is always an option.At 25, 35, or older.Maybe not for everyone, but neither are shows or coaching.
Coaching is very very hard work. I wouldnt just assume that it would be a field that is an automatic given to succeed in.
Parents shouldnt spend the money in return for a career as a coach.Just for the love of the sport.

Anonymous said...

My daughter did a year and a half with DOI. She was 18 and it was her first time leaving home. In hindsight, I now realize that Feld does take care of its skaters and I had nothing to worry about. She's home now doing prerequisites for the profession she has chosen to pursue. Once that's done, she will be on a waiting list to get into the university program. What will she do while she waits to finish her education, go back to show skating and make money to pay for her education. In the meantime, it's school and coaching skating. Coaching part-time and making $35/hr (CDN) while going to school is the way to go. For all you skaters out there, get your coaching certification, join shows if performing is your thing and go to school. You can do it all.