Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Tuesday Double Feature: Review Time!


As the blog has grown, as have the requests. From topic ideas for blogs to events to promote, I'm always happy to weigh in on whatever is on the go in the skating world. All you have to do is ask and if I can accommodate you, I will. One thing that I've noticed happening a lot more lately are requests for me to review things like books and DVD's... so that brings me to these two reviews. From books to ballet, I decided to pull my best Leonard Maltin and offer my two cents on these two new releases:

BOOK REVIEW: ONE WISH


When I was sent an advance copy of Robyn Carr's book "One Wish" to review I vowed to myself to have an open mind. If you perused my bookshelves, you'd find two almost entirely dedicated to the "new age" and metaphysical, one full of literary greats and Giller Prize winners and another (fastly growing) full of books that have been invaluable in studying figure skating history. I'll be the first to admit that I can be a bit of a book snob and I can confidently say I have never read anything that resembled a Harlequin romance novel... until now.

Carr's book was everything you'd expect from a taudry romantic page turner... only it had a figure skating twist. The story's protagonist was 'Izzy' Grace Banks, a champion figure skater who in an effort to live of a life of obscurity took on the name Grace Dillon and moved to a small town called Thunder Point and opened a flower shop. The supporting characters were pretty much what you would expect - a handsome love interest named Troy Headly, an domineering stage mother named Winnie Dillon Banks whose own skating career hadn't resulted in gold and a tough but brilliant Russian coach named Mikhail Petrov.


My skepticism snuck in early (on page two in fact) when Grace skated to Alicia Keys' "Girl On Fire" (sound familiar anyone?) and the author described the former Olympic skater warming up with "forward and backward crossovers, backward half swizzle pumps, figure eights, scratch spins and axels". Find me an Olympic skater in 2015 who warms up with school figures so I can hug them... and swizzles? I did learn something though... apparently in the U.S. they call sculling 'swizzles' in their Basic Skills program. Who knew? Different strokes for different folks I suppose. At any rate, shaking my head on page two wasn't promising.

I pressed on, learning about Grace's virginity, hearing a man's genitalia described as "his thing" and even reading a sentence that actually said "they made love again and again. Troy knew he was screwed, and not in the usual way." I'll leave the rest of the book a bit of a mystery as the story does have some major plot twists but let it suffice to say that my first foray into the world of Harlequin paperbacks with a figure skating connection was everything I expected. I certainly applaud the creativity and challenge that comes from incorporating skating into fiction, but a Siskel and Ebert two thumbs up this story was not. Sadly, I wouldn't even give it one "swizzle". Save yourself the $9.99 and get yourself a new pair of skate guards.

DVD REVIEW: LESSONS IN BALLET FOR FIGURE SKATERS - LEVEL 1


If I wanted to watch gymnastics, I would. While I certainly appreciate the difficulty and challenge of a good triple/triple combination, skating has and always will be to me about its art. The crisp glide of an edge, the abandon of a footwork sequence perfectly timed to a piece of music, a unique spin position, a program that tells a story... Without artistry, figure skating would be nothing.

As an artistic skater myself, I can certainly appreciate the importance of an understanding of body movement and dance. I've taken ballet classes, performed as a modern dancer and even had the opportunity to experience Ecstatic Dance with the wonderful Sarah McClure. So, when Annette Thomas approached me and asked if I'd review her instructional DVD "Lessons In Ballet For The Figure Skaters: Level 1", I was of course thrilled. Thomas trained as a dancer at Carnegie Hall under the tutelage of Maria Nevelska of the Bolshoi Ballet and with Ana Garcia of the San Juan Ballet Company, Marguerite De Anguera of the Connecticut Regional Ballet Company and Mme. Alexandra Danilova and has drawn upon her own experience studying the art to produce two books on the subject: "Lessons In Classical Dance For The Figure Skater" and "Fundamentals of Alignment and Classical Movement for Figure Skaters".

Trained in the Vaganova method of ballet, which incorporates both Italian and French styles of movement, Thomas' DVD includes a video introduction, preliminary exercises, a full ballet lesson including warm-up floor exercises, barre work including demi and grand pliés, fondu par terre and rond de jamb en l'air. The most unique and effective part of the DVD in my opinion though is a "skates on" lesson of barre work presenting exercises in stance and balance that are particularly suited and well suited to figure skating posture and extension. The students demonstrating the exercises are, as Thomas attests in the DVD, not professionally trained dancers which I actually really liked. If you're trying to teach skaters without extensive dance training ballet, why not use skaters without extensive dance training? The DVD comes with an accompanying booklet that details each part of each exercise step-by-step, which I think is a fantastic teaching tool because as any skating coach or educator in any walk of life knows, people have different learning styles.

Thomas has put her instructional skills to the test with Jodi Porter's American Ice Theatre... and just look at the results in the fabulous artistic skaters with a clear understanding of body line that are coming out of the workshops and master choreography techniques classes there. You even have world renowned skaters like Caryn Kadavy participating in these master classes.

I can honestly give this DVD high praise. It's laid out and presented in such a way that any coach (at any level) can use the DVD to take their skaters back to basics and work on movement and those finishing touches THEMSELVES. It's self serve schooling and in the day and age we live in, you couldn't ask for anything better. Whether you're a skater or a coach, you're never too old or 'too good' to learn a thing or two, and hey, even if you're not a skater yourself, who wouldn't love to take a ballet class right in the comfort of their own living room? Thomas' DVD is available for purchase online at http://www.balletforfigureskaters.com directly for $59,95 USD and if you're looking for the perfect gift for that skater in your life, get yourself a copy. Not only will they thank you, the judges will too.

If you enjoyed reading these reviews, the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

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