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Figure Skater's Waltz
by Matt Bynum

Viewing the performance of a skilled Figure Skater is a tonic; the pulse quickens, and creative juices flow

In the Land of Darkness (also known as Television), there have lately emerged a few bright spots. Appearing in varied time slots, from weekend afternoons to prime-time, figure skating competitions have proven themselves a force in the ratings war. According to USA Today, "it typically is among the highest-rated sports on TV, ranking behind only the National Football League and National Basketball Association."

Figure skating competitions have also proven themselves a winner with television programmers. Televised figure skating events are relatively inexpensive to produce, compared to the costs of producing or purchasing original programs. But figure skating stands apart from most other television programs, whether the programs be comedy, drama or sporting event. There is a golden quality that emanates from figure skating events, a quality that is absent from most other popular sports programs.

Football is not known to be a game that requires refined skills; the skills required involve mostly power and brutish force. But football is not a free-for-all, there are definite rules that must be followed. Knute Rockne, in the 1920's, took Notre Dame's Fighting Irishmen to the height of success. He did not do this by selecting star athletes from high school football teams (as is today's practice); he took ordinary fellows and molded them into a single unit, so that acting in unison they became an indomitable force. And driving this force was Coach Rockne, who was the team's heart and soul.

Football players may possess brute strength, but football need not be a brutish sport. The lesson that football should demonstrate is how the strength of brutish men can be refined and focused to follow the rules of the sport and the guidance of their Coach. But today's sports players have been lifted out of their element, into the role of Celebrity, far above the dictates of the coach or the needs of the team. Some of today's sports players seek their own glory, and in this striving, bend the rules to breaking point.

Football spectators sense the change that has come over their game; the players no longer exhibit sporting behavior. The spectators sense the seething violence in the players, and become savages themselves. Photographs of early twentieth century sporting events show the audience bedecked in what was once called "Sunday go-to-meeting clothes". But standards of dress have diminished. Today's standard "Sunday go-to-meeting" wear might be shorts and t-shirts; standard wear for a football fan might be full-body paint.

In contrast, there are other public events whereby the participant senses that a different standard of dress is required. When viewing an opera or symphony performance, the inclination of the audience is to wear clothes befitting the occasion. The reason for this is that the audience expects the experience to be an ennobling one, befitting royalty. And in the area of professional sports, figure skating is a royal event. According to the Official Olympic Winter Games Nagano website, "figure skating started among the aristocracy of Holland in the 17th century in a search for elegance and beauty."

Viewing the elegance and beauty of figure skating might lead to the question: Is figure skating a sporting event, or is it an Art? At times, it seems odd to designate figure skating as a "sport"; it does not seem proper to include figure skating with sports such as football, basketball, boxing, and horse racing. And yet, it is the designation of "sport" that is responsible for figure skating's great success.

To be classified as a sport, an activity must follow specified rules. In figure skating, these rules are determined by skating associations. The rules dictate that a skater must demonstrate specific skills, and the skating program must contain certain elements. The figure skater, coach, and choreographer must fit these elements together into a program that is pleasing to the audience and to the judges, since the program will be judged on both artistic and technical merit.

The skater endures an intense apprenticeship in learning the elements of the sport; there are countless cold mornings filled with doubt, disappointment, frustration, endless repetition, and physical exhaustion. But once the figure skater learns to operate within the rules, the skater is able to perform wondrous works, performing feats filled with excitement and great beauty.

But doesn't figure skating suffer from the same exaltation of the Celebrity that plagues other sports? There is a difference between a celebrated figure skater and almost any other modern Celebrity. The wise skater does not follow self-inclinations, but follows the lead of the coach. Off the ice, skaters must lead disciplined lives. If they do not, their indiscretions will be almost immediately apparent, their performances suffer, and they will be replaced and forgotten.

Few will have the ability, opportunity, or inclination to become a champion figure skater. But viewing the performance of a skilled skater is a tonic; the pulses quickens, and creative juices flow. The lives of the audience are affected by watching these skilled artists. The audience is given motivation to forge ahead in their own lives and continue in their own crafts. Amongst the turns, jumps, and spins is a dramatic display of technique and artistry - in a dance that is the Figure Skater's Waltz.

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum