Thursday, May 14, 2009

And Now, a Few Words About Strait-Lacing Men's Skating

You know how I know when something skating-related has plopped into the mainstream media? When I get an e-mail from my dad— a football/baseball guy; anything BUT a skating fan—soliciting my opinion about it. Because it made the national nightly news, as you probably know.


Yes, I knew of the Skate Canada “Macho” controversy that, at least in the beginning, was about using words like risk, speed, and power when promoting figure skating in hopes of drawing bigger audiences and wider-ranging demographics. No, I didn’t see the ABC News feature that ran a couple weeks ago… but I certainly did hear about it. And hear about it, and… HEAR… ABOUT… IT.

So! What have we learned? I’m just going to rattle off a few observations to start… sorry if you’ve heard them all already:

+ Skate Canada certainly has a way with words.

+ And a way with alienating skaters and skating fans that happen to be homosexual.

+ Because trying to strait lace a sport (pun unintended) into something it simply isn’t at this point is bound to work. Right? Well…

+ Here’s the deal: champion male skaters, both gay and straight, used to get the job done in pretty much the same manner: primarily black and white, sequin-free costumes… skating powerful, athletic, somewhat artistry-free programs. The men were long on action and short on words; stereotypical through and through. Then the men, both gay and straight, got more colorful, both literally and figuratively, by the 1970s. (And most definitely by the 80s and beyond.) The more allegedly “masculine” skaters have been there all along; you just don’t hear much from the lot of them… stereotypical through and through, remember? (Save for Stojko in this recent ABC piece, who in my opinion also chose his words less-than-wisely).

+ To me, it’s not that skating has changed… but, like life itself, skating has progressed... and I rarely take issue with progress. (Some would even say it has progressed at a much slower rate than the rest of the world.) While I can understand the frustration a governing body in figure skating must have when the sport becomes lampoonable (see Blades of Glory), publicly telling those within the sport that they should essentially take one giant step backward in order to get more of “the hockey crowd”… well, that seems more than a little lampoonable in itself.

+ Oh, and one more thing… the more skaters, or skating governing bodies, or whatever try to play up what a SPORT skating is, the sillier they sound, and the less the precious fencesitters are likely to believe them. Why must such an effort be made to show how hard skaters work anyway? Isn’t part of the magic of this sport the way in which it looks so effortless?

Please—the magic is what those of us still following skating love the most; it’s the reason we stay. I certainly hope there isn’t a PR campaign in the world that could really ruin it.

In looking for the right
clip of the day to reflect what I’m trying to say, I was blessed to come across this terrific piece on Toller Cranston’s career. It’s kind of long, and looks to be about 20 years old, but it sure does cover a lot of what’s being debated right here and now


Aaron said...

I couldn't have put it any better myself...perfect!

Kelli Lawrence said...

Thank you Aaron!

Laura said...

Nice post. I agree it is not helpful to emphasize just how much of a SPORT skating is. People who don't respect it aren't going to be converted and it doesn't help to get whiny about it! And it also opens the athletes up for unfortunate ridicule.