A lot of the figure skating stuff I've posted has been kind of me being all frothy and snarky and growly and then staring back over my shoulder to see if the Feminist Gender Expression Police have come to arrest me for admitting that some people sometimes play to stereotypes on purpose because they think it's fun. (Feminism? Generally good idea. Telling people they're not allowed to express their thoughts because they're not in 100% pre-vetted safe-space approved language modules? Not so great.) So to break that up, here's a bunch of stuff I thought was just really fucking cool:

Kurt Browning / SP "Bedlam Ballroom"

I love him. A lot of his footwork is identifiably tap dancing on ice skates, which is not a surprise if he really got his inspiration from people like Gene Kelly. He's one of the very few I've seen so far who does any footwork on the back spikes of his blades -- if there is a word for that, and there really must be, Google won't tell me what it is -- which lets him pick out a lot of common tap combinations, like heel-heel-toe-toe or toe-heel-ball change, by exaggerating the normally minute rocking back and forth figure skaters do on their blades. The jumping heel click strikes me as rather deadly in those things, but Browning makes it look easy. He is a consummate showman, right down to his facial expression, and he's still at it a good twenty years after his Olympic debut.

Sasha Cohen / Stars on Ice 2009 "Big Spender"

Sasha Cohen, famous for her I-spins, and for generally having enough pizzazz for any four normal people. Wikipedia says she was a gymnast before she was a figure skater, and I don't half wonder if puberty had something to do with that. Cohen's pretty va-va-voom for someone who's been a very hard-training athlete all her life. Competitive gymnasts are supposed to be tiny, short, and rail-thin; a rack like that would have put her right out of the running. Figure skating is apparently only slightly less fascist about weight and "body lines" than ballet is, and there is enormous pressure for the women to be dainty and demure. She did keep herself almost alarmingly thin on the competition circuit, but she also pretty much went 'fuck you, I'm going to go out there in lipstick red and a lot of bare skin and skate flashy like a Russian man'. It's unusual to see any of the ladies' singles skaters throwing around wicked looks, but she did, and she took silver.

Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman / Stars on Ice 2007

I'm not even sure if this is figure skating anymore. This might be technically ice dancing. Not a clue. I do know you're not allowed to do most of that in competition, because if they allow it people will try it, and if people try it they'll eventually get someone killed. These two are up to like circus acrobat levels of dangerous stuff here. It helps that she's bitsy and he might be part orc. I don't normally care much about pairs skating; the required elements are apparently so nitpicky (a lot of the things where he swings her around low to the ice, for example, don't count unless her head is below the level of her knees) that it strangles the presentation (i.e, the part I find interesting) nearly to death. They're always a million times more fun to watch when they're out on tour, and subject only to the whims of the director. These two do a lot of numbers based in rock and swing. That characteristic flashy overhead toss is derived from similar moves in jitterbug and related forms of regular dance, plus a general disregard for personal safety -- the two of them are in fact the illustration on the section of the Wikipedia article detailing illegal lifts in pairs skating competition.

I don't know a thing about them as people, unfortunately. The Japan Stars on Ice broadcast bills them both in katakana, so despite her very Japanese name, she must be American/Canadian.

Evgeny Plushenko / Grand Prix Finals 2001 "Sex Bomb"

Figure skating is the only sport I know of where they have an entire extra round after the competition is over so the competitors can show off for no points at all. What we have here is an internationally-known figure skater doing what is essentially burlesque on ice -- Plushenko is infamous for it, and rightly so. Figure skaters tend to be small and lithe, so Plushenko often looks like big blond moose in field of small sparkly sqvirrel at these things. He takes full advantage of it to startle people by moving not at all like the oaf they start out suspecting that he is. Plushenko has always been kind of adorably quirky, even when he was but a (relatively) weedy teen, and he always looks delighted to be out on the ice. He's a contemporary and friend of people like Johnny Weir and Stéphane Lambiel and Sasha Cohen, so he's lately picked up the whole glitter-and-unexpected-swatches-of-skin trend in costuming. I am 100% on board with this, because 1) he's got the enormous personality required to pull it off, and 2) the men's singles skaters are not so young I feel creepy when ogling.

Oksana Baiul / Olympic Exhibition 1994 "The Swan"

In 1905, Russian dancer Anna Pavlova premiered a piece, now commonly called "The Swan" or "The Dying Swan", to Camille Saint-Saëns' "Le Cygne". The piece typically belongs to a prima ballerina; while it is not especially physically demanding for a trained pointe dancer, it's considered to be an artistically taxing performance. The goal is to articulate the last moments in the life of a swan with a mixture of beauty, pain, and grace. Oksana Baiul performs it here, on figure skates, after winning a gold medal in Lillehammer. I never think she looks happy out on the ice so much as focused, but here she looks fittingly weightless and far-away. The competition is over, she's already won, and now all she has to do is fly.

Like many of the skaters who have caught my eye, she looks much more comfortable doing programs that are artistic dance with figure skating elements more than technical demonstrations -- they can move more.

Johnny Weir / Fiesta on Ice 2008 "Feeling Good"

It gets lost in the welter of sequins and tulle and bitching and controversy sometimes, but there is actually a reason Weir got famous in the first place. The audience always screamed for him regardless of his scores, and when you strip all the glitz and bickering away, you realize why: He can feel the music, and he can feel the ice, and when he moves between them, he's beautiful.


  1. I am thoroughly enjoying your musings on figure skating. Growing up Canadian and not a fan of hockey, I probably would have had my citizenship revoked if not for my obsessions with show jumping and figure skating.

    I've always had a soft spot for pairs and ice dancing, even though the restrictions and politics tend to be way more batshit than the singles. I still remember Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz's '97 Riverdance routine, and these days I'm inordinately fond of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Their "Everybody Dance now" exhibition program is adorable, and I'm really excited about their new "Carmen" free dance.

    But there's so much to love about men's singles, between the skating and the personalities. Really, how can you not love Evgeni Plushenko when he dresses up as an adult baby and skates to a parody of Britney Spears?!


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