Interview With Angelo D'Agostino
If you followed figure skating in the eighties, chances are you've watched some amazing performances by my latest interview victim. Angelo D'Agostino was very much a contender both within the U.S. and internationally during that decade and after turning ending his competitive career, he embarked on a professional career that would see him perform around the world, coach and choreograph and even install shows on cruise ships for Willy Bietak Productions. You name it, he's done it... and I think you're going to love the candor with which Angelo talks about his life in skating in this must read interview:
Q: Your "amateur" skating career was certainly full of some great accomplishments. After winning the pewter medal at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, you won the NHK Trophy in Japan in 1986. You won the silver medal at the 1987 Grand Prix St. Gervais event in France behind Petr Barna and the bronze medal at Skate Canada International in 1988 right behind the two men that would dominate the sport for the next several years - Kurt Browning and Viktor Petrenko. Looking back on your competitive career, what moments and memories stand out as the most special or your proudest?
A: First, let me say you are very complimentary in your recap of my skating accomplishments. Thank you! When I hear them listed out like this it does make me sit back and say wow... what a great ride I had. I worked very hard for many years but I also have to say I was very fortunate to have had the opportunities I did thanks to my wonderful parents who supported me and to all the great coaches I had who helped me see what was possible in the world of skating, the sport I'm still in love with today. My proudest moment is a toss up. It has to be either winning the 1986 Grand Prix NHK Trophy in Tokyo or that same year finishing second in the long program at the 1986 Nationals behind Brian Boitano. These were both career defining moments for me. They were surreal moments as on both occasions I was not expected to have done so well at either of these events. I was the underdog at each event catching a lot of skaters and officials by surprise. Kurt Browning even mentioned it in one of his books that he had underestimated me that year in Japan. It was always my goal to focus on myself and do my personal best the day of competition because what I learned was the rest of the story was completely out of my hands. I knew at a young age how unpredictable the world of subjective figure skating was. It was frustrating and ridiculously absurd at times. You could skate great but sometimes that didn't matter. Fortunately, on both those days I proved to myself that my best was good enough to to run with the big dogs... even to beat some of the big dogs as well! It was the culmination of a lot of years of hard work and the beginning of an amazing run that has lasted over thirty years. I'm still fortunate to be working in the worlds of both amateur and professional skating today. How fortunate am I?
Q: You were coached by the legendary Carlo and Christa Fassi. What made them both such brilliant and revered coaches, in your opinion?
A: As I said before, I was very fortunate to have parents who were able and willing to support my skating and provide excellent coaching, especially at the end of my career. The move to Colorado Springs was a life changing event for me. It was in Colorado Springs that all the pieces started to fall into place for me. What was so great about working with Carlo and Christa Fassi was how they complimented each other so well. They were truly the "dynamic duo". They each had their strengths; all bases were covered. Carlo was the ultimate career manager and compulsory figures technician. Christa was excellent with jumps and overall technique. Christa was also my friend at so many competitions keeping me grounded, focused and calm when Carlo couldn't be there. What a lot of people don't know is that my father is also Italian and my mother is German just like Carlo and Christa. Carlo being from Italy and Christa from Germany, it was a perfect fit for me. Many times it did feel like "family" for me and I think on some levels I wanted to please my "pseudo parents" by skating well for them. Don't get me wrong I always skated for myself and the joy of skating but who doesn't want to please their parents at some point. I think that what often made it work so well with me and Carlo and Christa was not only Carlo and Christa themselves but the environment they created at the Broadmoor during those years. Carlo had an amazing support staff of coaches all of which taught me so much. I had Christy Krall, Janet Champion and Phillip Mills as my support staff. Talk about the dream team! Carlo, Christa, Christi, Janet and Phillip. Come on! This is why I say I was so blessed. It was a special time in skating history too. The Broadmoor Skating Club was very powerful on an international scope. We attracted the best skaters from around the world and every session I skated on was an inspirational international event. I skated every day with Paul Wylie, Todd Eldredge, Caryn Kadavy, Jill Trenary, Tracey Damigella, Joanne Conway, Jim Cygan, Erik Larson and Eddie Shipstad to name a few. There were always plenty of international skaters coming in and out the door throughout the year. We all naturally brought out the best in each other. Maybe on occasion the worst too. This is skating after all! However, the diverse crowd Carlo and the Broadmoor Skating Club could attract was part of the appeal for me. Ironically it helps me in my job today as every time I mount a new show on board a cruise ship the casts are very international, just like those days at the Broadmoor. Being around such great skaters made me want to be my absolute best and win the practices everyday. I do have an ego too, just like most performers though I'm probably one of the most laid back but highly competitive persons you'll ever know. Sort of an oxymoron isn't it?
Q: Professionally, you've toured with Ice Capades, competed at the U.S. Open and done countless other shows. Having had so much experience in show skating, what advice would you offer to a skater who wanted to pursue that career path?
A: Be ready to grow.The biggest mistake amateur skaters make is thinking turning professional will be easy compared to competitive skating. I've experienced it myself thinking I was the cats ass as they say the year I turned professional. Nothing compares with the boot camp that it takes to get a show open and perform daily. It's extremely hard work. I tell the skaters in the shows that I'm involved with that no one gets to skip any part of the transformation process. Some will have a harder time than others. The ones who are "clay" and moldable are doing themselves the biggest favor. Those who think they possess all the skills needed because they were very good at competitions struggle the most yet it is their work ethic that we're banking on to carry them to the next level if they can shift their focus. In professional skating, the focus shifts onto to the nuances of performing, the necessity of projecting outward to the audience and to deliver figure skating with a look and refinement we just don't see in amateur skating. It's subtle most of the time. It has to be learned. It could just be the way you hold your hands or the way you remember that your legs don't stop at the ankle and that pointing through the toe is how you finish a move. It's how you use your face to advance the emotional arch of the program along or maybe sometimes you might have an awkward costume, prop or a partner you will have to deal with. It doesn't matter. You still have to nail it and that curtain will go up at call and you will have to give the performance that those people sitting in the audience paid for. My best advice is to spend some time picking the brain of someone who is a professional skater or work with a coach who specializes in finishing work. My friends joke with me when I tell them I want to open a "finishing school" for skaters. Like beauty pageant contestants but I'm not joking. I've done a lot of work with skaters getting them ready for their auditions and have had good success. They think I should call it Angelo's skating beautification and charm school (thanks to Ray for the name). I'm lucky that my job with Willy Bietak Productions where I am a cast installer and choreographer on board cruise ships that I work with over fifty professional skaters a year when I'm installing shows. That;s also over fifty egos too. Sometimes the egos are let's just say... challenging but for the most part I have met some amazing people who love skating the way I do. I love when I get my hands on a newbie. This is a skater newly turning professional. I'm getting them for their first professional show ever sometimes. I love the process of bringing them kicking and screaming into our world. It's like having a baby sometimes and you have to do everything for them but when you see them take their first steps I'm like a proud papa on opening night... IF they point their toes!
Q:You have coached for over fifteen years and continue to perform professionally in shows. What has been the secret to keeping that passion for the sport going when the climate and overall popularity of the sport has changed so much over the years?
A: For me, skating is something I think I will always be involved in. I have fantasies of going into the corporate world someday but skating always seems to rear it's head reminding me it's pretty cool. I got very burnt out on teaching when I was in San Francisco. I had my stable of little skaters all working to be their best how ever when the IJS system came into place it became such a circus of rules I threw in the towel. I was very fortunate that a job opportunity was out there to go back to my first love which is professional shows this time on the other side of the curtain in production. I've had an ongoing relationship with Willy Bietak Productions for over twenty six years as Willy himself hired me in his own living room for my first professional show ever - Ice Capades in 1989. When I took my current job working on ships, I had no idea it would be so much teaching skating but it really is. I'm not just teaching a show and it's a lot of mentoring too. I just love it! Now when I teach amateur skaters I use motion analysis software and work as a technical coach. Following in the foot steps of Christy Krall. She was the one who got me interested in using Dartfish... so in order for me to still love teaching I had to rewrite the way I teach. I'm much better as a consultant than the daily managing of a skater's career. When I figured all these pieces out this is when the joy came back into teaching ice skating. Recently I've started choreographing for amateur skaters, again putting my toe back into the ocean of IJS. The jury is still out I'll let you know if the sharks bite it off or not.
Q: From a coaching perspective, what are the pros and cons as you see them about the current IJS judging system?
A: That is a million dollar question which I will blatantly sidestep! Can I simply say that when a skater nails an IJS program, it can be amazing. The con is so few ever have but I'm open to being impressed. I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: Robin Cousins, Kurt Browning and Toller Cranston. Robin for his huge jumps because of his long legs and because he was so tall for a skater... not to mention we took from the same coaches. Kurt for his amazing quickness, fast feet and amazing musical interpretation. Toller, for just being Toller. I saw him skate in Chicago when I was a young boy. He was so outrageous. I knew I was seeing something unique. No male skater had ever skated like that before. Completely theatrical and over the top. The crowd went wild. Years later, when I was actually performing in a show with him I knew I had finally made my way in skating. I'll never forget he said to me as we made our way down the dark corridor to back stage "Is there anything blacker than black velvet?" So dark... just like Toller at times and I love it!
Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?
A: What people don't know about me is that I'm can be very stubborn and very driven especially when someone tells me I can't make something happen. I love putting doubting Thomas' in their place. I started skating very late at age ten. Many told me it was too late to start skating but that motivated me to play catch up. By the time I was sixteen years old I had made my first Nationals in novice. I'm a very positive person as a rule and when those around me try to push their negativity onto me I will go out of my way to kill them with kindness... a trait my father taught me, When that doesn't work I'll go in for the kill. I'll always give them a chance to change their attitude but if need be I'll call a spade a spade. Often tinged with humor however, the recipient doesn't always laugh when I'm done. I can become a force to be reckoned with. I'm learning that my first instincts are almost always right and to follow them more and more as I age. It's when I doubt myself that I sometimes get into trouble. But recently I have learned when to step back. It doesn't always have to be my way. I never claim to be perfect but I am naturally curious. If you can tell me "the why" you may get me to change my mind. My stubbornness has gotten me into a lot of trouble but it is also the thing that helps me reach my goals. I'm like a dog with a bone when I have my mind set on something, I seldom give up because it's too hard. I think people sell themselves short by not asking themselves to do the impossible when needed. Being stubborn doesn't always get you where you need to go the most gracefully, however it will push you to places you didn't think you could get to.
Q: What do you love more than anything about figure skating?
A: The first thing that comes to my mind is the way it feels to simply glide. One push and sustained momentum holds you on that perfect edge.... solid and smooth. I ask my new students if they are "in love with gliding". I always get the same knowing smile back from them. The answer is yes. When I was at my top performance the faster I could skate the better. Then I could glide for a really long time on just one edge, on one skate, with my one love.
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