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.

We believe one of the best ways to discover for yourself what is contemporary skating is by attending the American Contemporary Skating Festival (ACSFest), held in Boston each June. AIT is proud to release this short video providing an in-depth look at how contemporary skating can impact the lives of skaters from all different ages, levels and backgrounds.

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We send a HUGE thank you to our friends at NOBLE— Andrew Hatling and Evelyn Sadowski — for coming to our festival last year to produce the ACSFest video. They are truly an amazing duo and we are so grateful to have their expertise.

After watching the video, we hope that got you energized about the contemporary skating movement!  Continue reading to learn what else you need to know about contemporary figure skating.

American Contemporary Skating Festival

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.

American Ice Theatre Boston Seminar

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.

Dancing-the-Revolution_Isadora-Duncan_MART_Museum-of-Modern-Art_Rovereto4 (1)
Isadora Duncan

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. Here’s a quick look at how contemporary skating has evolved over the course of history:

Top picture: Ice Theatre of New York, bottom picture: Le Patin Libre

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.”

Shannon Rakovsky

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:

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

Madelene van Beuzekom, Founder and Director of Experiment on Ice in 2017, expresses the essence of contemporary skating thoroughly in this explanation:

“When people ask me ‘What is contemporary skating?’ I say, ‘That is a very good and complicated question that I don’t have a simple answer for (yet).’ Maybe this question is exactly what currently drives the people and skaters involved in this worldwide community. This important question is probably the main reason [that] people involved are trying to research and are so passionate about.

In my opinion, the figure skating community in general is always trying to find a balance between the artistic and technical side of the sport figure skating. For that matter, I think contemporary skaters have stepped out of the conventional thinking ‘within’ the barriers of the figure skating sport. Why do we give these lables ‘artistic’ and ‘technical’ and limit [ourselves] within the rules the ISU makes up. Why is there nothing in between, above, under or outside of these labels and boxes?

One thing I know for sure is that from a historical perspective people would go skating because of three reasons: 1) the cold made sure an Ice surface was available (and still does); 2) the right material allowed people to move from A to B and most important; 3) the will of people to have a feeling of freedom on the ice. This last aspect has evolved itself into various forms of sport on the ice and continues to evolve today. I like to think that this community of contemporary skating is actually innovating, as in every sport, dance or ‘other’ discipline for that matter. Innovation never stops and helps to evolve, but always starts with a question.

When I try to explain what contemporary skating is, I catch myself trying to find a parallel with dance…I usually explain that dance has gone [through] a massive evolution the last century, starting with classical ballet and evolving into various dance disciplines like hip-hop and modern dance. Let’s say contemporary skating is the ‘modern dance’ of figure skating, but that still doesn’t cover it fully. I also believe that skating is more then using this form of body movement to play games or perform sports. In my opinion, moving the body by using an ice-surface can be seen as a form of self-expression, a form of storytelling, and eventually a form of art.

Let’s take a spin as an example – everybody knows what a spin or ‘pirouette’ is. Within the rules of the figure skating sport you have to rotate an amount of rotations, balance everything out, spin as fast as you can and complete it on a clean edge to receive an amount of points. When the element doesn’t turn out as perfect as the skater wants, the skater usually ‘makes the best out of it,’ finishes the element and moves on to the next one. In my opinion, this skater is in complete denial of what he/she is doing. Why doesn’t this spin tell a story of anger, sadness, or passion and why does the skater consider the imperfection imperfect? Within contemporary skating it is not about the result of the spin, but about the movement itself, the process that takes place during this spin and the meaning of the movements we are making on the ice.”

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