What Is Contemporary Skating?

In the past few years, contemporary skating companies have been receiving more recognition, contemporary figure skating festivals have been popping up around the world, and contemporary skating seminars (including those offered by AIT), have been educating skaters of all ages and levels about contemporary skating.

But what is contemporary skating?

Contemporary skating is about the mind and body connection through:

  • movement on the ice,
  • expression of self,
  • versatility through improvisation,
  • freedom and acceptance of ourselves, and
  • communication through movement with those around us.

Here’s what else you need to know about contemporary figure skating.

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1. Contemporary skating is about breaking tradition.

It’s no secret that figure skating has a reputation of abiding by traditional norms — especially when it comes to the competitive realm. While there have been huge strides forward incorporating contemporary movement into competitive figure skating (especially in ice dancing), contemporary skating strives to look beyond the confinement of competition, the structure of rules and regulations, and the rigid systems that competitive figure skating culture can often reinforce with typical taboo subjects such as gender stereotypes and political lobbying.

There is so much more that skating in its most simple form has to offer — the joy of the glide, the formations imprinted on the ice by the use of the blade, the carvings in space, the ability to transcend “normal” ways of movement on the floor, and using the ice as a medium for exploration, invention, and research.

Contemporary skating asks the skater and the audience to look deeper than just the acknowledgment of a pretty skater twirling on the ice. It forces us to disregard the previously held notions about what skating is — and opens it up to the realization that it can be anything we want it to be. It asks us to break the rules and create pure form freedom of expression.

Contemporary skating can be expanded into performance art, broadening the landscape of where skating can be performed (no longer site-specific to an ice skating arena), and opening up possibilities for collaboration with other art mediums (skating’s incorporation with sound, movement, somatics, with skates or without skates, etc).

2. Contemporary skating is about inclusion.

This way of describing contemporary skating certainly opens up the genre to not really have a classification — contemporary skating doesn’t have to be in figure skates, doesn’t need to include jumps and spins, and isn’t ever about receiving a score. It allows any type of skater to be included in the genre.

It should be reiterated that AIT teaches, and is an advocate for, fundamental figure skating training. Just like the dance world has its foundation in ballet, field moves/figures/edge exercises are the basis of figure skating and should be taught. However, a skater can immediately dive into contemporary skating, no matter their skill level. In this way, contemporary skating breaks down barriers between elite skaters and beginners — as together they can both invent, create, collaborate, improvise, share, learn, and grow from one another and develop their art form. No longer is age, ability, or background a factor in having to use binary systems of classification.

As AIT has conducted seminars and workshops on contemporary skating, we have seen firsthand the impact this way of skating can have on all those involved. Contemporary skating opens up skaters emotionally in beautiful ways that then shines through their physicality on the ice.

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3. Contemporary skating looks to the dance world’s past to inform its present and influence its future.

We can look to the dance world as a guide to inform figure skating’s trajectory. Contemporary dance laid its roots at the dawn of the 20th century. The Modern genre came first as the antithesis of ballet, with pioneers Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Francois Delsarte developing their own unique styles that focused on the expression of the body in relation to emotionality, breathing, contraction and release, and 3-dimensional movement. Martha Graham’s innovative technique became the most famous backdrop for modern dance.

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Contemporary dance stemmed from modern, as Graham’s student Merce Cunningham began exploring his own style. Cunningham revolutionized many prior conceived notions of dance, with taking dance out of its formal theatrical setting and abstracting it without music, a story, or specific idea.

Today, contemporary dance can be classified as an eclectic mix of modern, post-modern, and ballet as dance companies form to mix contemporary styles with their own folk dance.

Ice skating’s artistic evolution has in many ways trailed about 40-50 years behind the dance world. The first pioneer in contemporary ice skating movement fused with dance was 1980 Olympic Champion John Curry. His revolutionary company brought in renowned dance choreographers and legitimized figure skating as an art form.

Since his time, ice dance companies have continued this trend. Ice Theatre of New York, Ice Dance International, Le Patin Libre, and Brown Body are contemporary skating companies that aim to infuse dance with skating and have gained popularity all over the world.

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Skaters such as Torvill & Dean, Toller Cranston, and the Duchesnays in the 80’s and 90’s also developed a strong artistic component to figure skating that has influenced the skaters of today.

However, all these aforementioned skaters were elite, Olympic-level stars who worked their entire life climbing the competitive ladder. The new style of contemporary skating wants to offer more avenues for skaters to have these opportunities, whether they have gained success competing or testing to higher levels, or not.

Contemporary skating accepts you as you are in the physicality of whatever body type you have, as well as the ability you bring to the ice. The American Contemporary Skating Festival mantra represents this idea saying, “Everyone has something to share. Everyone has something to learn.”

Here are some additional links to videos about events and communities within Contemporary Skating that may give more insight to this newest art form and skating discipline:

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And of course, to really understand what contemporary skating is, we hope you join us at the American Contemporary Skating Festival in Boston!

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