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  1. #1
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    "Culture on Ice" and other figure skating books

    I'm re-reading Ellyn Kestnbaum's "Culture On Ice" all in all it is my favorite book on figure skating. I love approaching figure skating from an anthropological/social/cultural perspective. In particular, I appreciate the fact that she uses programs and performances from generally less know skaters (Zaggy!) to supplement her argument.

    I'm sure other posters have read Culture On Ice as well, what did you think of it?
    What are some of your favorite books about figure skating?


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    How well do you think the arguments stand up in the context of the new judging system?

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    I read Culture on Ice a couple of years ago. I remember appreciating some of her arguments, especially on issues such as sexism and heteronormativity in figure skating. Her discussion of those issues I think are relevant, even under the new judging system.
    "If people are looking for guarantees, they should buy appliances at Sears and stay away from human relationships."~Prancer

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    To me the whole concern with male skaters appearing masculine vs. feminine is a North American preoccupation. The Russian and European skaters don't seem to have any problem with makeup, tights, balletic moves or Swan Lake. From what I read there is plenty of homophobia in Russia, yet their artists don't seem to feel it is unmasculine to be graceful or theatrical.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gkelly View Post
    How well do you think the arguments stand up in the context of the new judging system?
    To be honest, I really did not evaluate the content within the context of the judging system. I'd be interested in what you think though.
    I was more interested in her discussion of the way gender and ice skating is displayed and interpreted by the media. The discussion of how the Duchesnays' 'Reflection' program defied conventional gender expectations. Although brief, I also appreciated her critique of Christine Brennan's chapter on "Skating Tragic Secret" in Inside Edge.
    I'm rambling, but I love to hear what other people have to say as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    To me the whole concern with male skaters appearing masculine vs. feminine is a North American preoccupation. The Russian and European skaters don't seem to have any problem with makeup, tights, balletic moves or Swan Lake. From what I read there is plenty of homophobia in Russia, yet their artists don't seem to feel it is unmasculine to be graceful or theatrical.
    Kestnbaum makes mention of how ballet doesn't have the same feminine connotations in the FSU as it does in N.A., and rather it is an expressing of pride in national cultural achievements.

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    I read the book 2 years ago. As a person who has linguistic background I found the approach (structuralism, semiotic theory, parole and langue, considering skating as a sign system etc. ) very intersting. Linguistics and skating together, what could be better?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lulu View Post
    To be honest, I really did not evaluate the content within the context of the judging system. I'd be interested in what you think though.
    I was more interested in her discussion of the way gender and ice skating is displayed and interpreted by the media. The discussion of how the Duchesnays' 'Reflection' program defied conventional gender expectations. Although brief, I also appreciated her critique of Christine Brennan's chapter on "Skating Tragic Secret" in Inside Edge.
    I'm rambling, but I love to hear what other people have to say as well.



    Kestnbaum makes mention of how ballet doesn't have the same feminine connotations in the FSU as it does in N.A., and rather it is an expressing of pride in national cultural achievements.
    I thought I had read her book, but it is not on my shelf so apparently not. Does she discuss Asian cultures and their views of skating and masculinity? I've read a lot books discussing the Russian vs. North American approach to male skating, but now that Japanese and Chinese skaters are champions it would be interesting to explore that influence. Like North Americans they don't seem to be into classical ballet and opera, but I don't know if that is a musical preference or they find it effeminate for male skaters.

    I also wonder where the discussion leaves skaters who don't want to be balletic. It seems as if skaters like Elvis Stojko, Scott Hamilton, and Michael Weiss have to defend their preference from charges of homophobia just as much as Johnny Weir, Rudy Galindo, or Toller Cranston have to defend their choices as being too gay.

    I can see the judges dilemma. It's like trying to judge modern dance or break dance next to ballet. In the dance world these would be separate disciplines.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    I also wonder where the discussion leaves skaters who don't want to be balletic. It seems as if skaters like Elvis Stojko, Scott Hamilton, and Michael Weiss have to defend their preference from charges of homophobia
    I don't know that Michael Weiss gets that much criticism for his on-ice style so much as his off-ice interviews and behaviour.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    I thought I had read her book, but it is not on my shelf so apparently not. Does she discuss Asian cultures and their views of skating and masculinity?
    She doesn't. Although the book was published in 2003, most of the examples citied are from the late 80s through mid 90s. There is discussion of Chen Lu's "Last Emperor" routine, but the chapters on male skating primarily focused on N.A., Western Europe and F.S.U. skaters.
    That would be a really fascinating topic though.

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    If you like sociologic discussions of skating you would also like Mary Louise Adams book "Artistic Impressions Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport". Although it was published in 2011, she is Canadian so it still focuses on North American skating.

    What I find interesting about the history of figure skating is that it has always been an elitist sport. Even when people were skating outdoors you had to be a club member to compete, and until the 1960's blacks, Jews, and others could not join clubs. Nowadays the expense limits participation, but I think the sport's "country club" image has contributed to keeping it a niche sport.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    If you like sociologic discussions of skating you would also like Mary Louise Adams book "Artistic Impressions Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport". Although it was published in 2011, she is Canadian so it still focuses on North American skating.

    What I find interesting about the history of figure skating is that it has always been an elitist sport. Even when people were skating outdoors you had to be a club member to compete, and until the 1960's blacks, Jews, and others could not join clubs. Nowadays the expense limits participation, but I think the sport's "country club" image has contributed to keeping it a niche sport.
    Thank you so much for the book suggestion, sounds interesting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    If you like sociologic discussions of skating you would also like Mary Louise Adams book "Artistic Impressions Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport". Although it was published in 2011, she is Canadian so it still focuses on North American skating.
    I own the book and I plan to start reading it this weekend.

    What I find interesting about the history of figure skating is that it has always been an elitist sport. Even when people were skating outdoors you had to be a club member to compete, and until the 1960's blacks, Jews, and others could not join clubs. Nowadays the expense limits participation, but I think the sport's "country club" image has contributed to keeping it a niche sport.
    This is a good point. I do know at least one Jewish woman who belonged to a skating club before the 1960s, but it was definitely an issue she was aware of, and not all clubs would have been accepting at the time.

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    I was impressed by facts from M. Adams book. Coach Elen Burka has hidden her Jewish origin to get a job at the rink in Toronto.
    In Vienna anyone could be a memeber of figure skating club in the early 20th century. At Cricket in Toronto women could get there only as another's wife, sister or daughter.

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    Atoy Wilson was U.S. Novice National Champion but had to register as an independent member of USFSA because none of the LA clubs would have him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    Atoy Wilson was U.S. Novice National Champion but had to register as an independent member of USFSA because none of the LA clubs would have him.
    There's a brief mention of Atoy Wilson in this obit. for the incomparable Mabel Fairbanks. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/oct/04/local/me-53367

    I read an excerpt of "Artistic Impression" through Google Books & Amazon, and I'm looking forward to reading the entire book now.

    One thing I particularly appreciated about Culture On Ice was that the author spent time analyzing not just singles, but pairs & ice dance as well. While on worldcat, I also found this book, which looks promising as well: "Skating on air: the broadcast history of an Olympic Marquee sport" by Kelli Lawrence.

    And seeing the excellent reviews it received, I want to read Lucinda Ruh's biography as well.

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    "Skating on Air" was written by FSUer "Geena" aka Kelli Lawrence. There is a thread in the Trash Can somewhere about her book. If you bump it up I'm sure she will respond. I started it so I can do a search for you if you can't find it.

    My favorite skating book is "Skate Talk" by Steve Milton. It is short (2 pages) interviews with skaters, coaches, officials, commentators, journalists etc on various subjects pertaining to skating. Some of the Russian skaters are interviewed about adjusting to life in the US, there are chapters about age, relationships, winning and losing, the direction of the sport and more. All of the heavy hitters of the 90's were interviewed, bur my favorite interviews are with anonymous skaters talking about what it is like to tour with an ice show.

    Lulu might be interested in Robin Cousin's interview about Carlo Fassi. Cousins describes why an elite coach is important to a skater (he doesn't mention politicking).

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    A book I discovered recently, Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music, has an excellent chapter on Figure skating and the importance of music in the sport. The writers discuss Brian Boitano's 1988 sp performance to Les Patineurs, choreographed by Sandra Bezic, and the thrilling performance of Shen & Zhao at 2003 Worlds, among other skaters' performances.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sporting-Sound...porting+Sounds

    Also, there was a thread in GSD recently about the publication of this book by Erica Rand, who is a teacher and an adult figure skater:
    Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender, Cash and Pleasure, On and Off the Ice

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_no...s+Black+Skates

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    Slightly off topic, but I just love the story behind Boitano's 1988 SP, and how well the choreography is utilized to tell that story.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    My favorite skating book is "Skate Talk" by Steve Milton. It is short (2 pages) interviews with skaters, coaches, officials, commentators, journalists etc on various subjects pertaining to skating. Some of the Russian skaters are interviewed about adjusting to life in the US, there are chapters about age, relationships, winning and losing, the direction of the sport and more. All of the heavy hitters of the 90's were interviewed, bur my favorite interviews are with anonymous skaters talking about what it is like to tour with an ice show.
    And Ilia's quad Axel on the floor.

    I loved Skate Talk too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lulu View Post
    Slightly off topic, but I just love the story behind Boitano's 1988 SP, and how well the choreography is utilized to tell that story.
    No, I don't think you're off topic really. The book I mentioned, Sporting Sounds deals beautifully with the story behind Les Patineurs and the collaboration between Brian and Sandra which resulted in a such a wonderful work of art -- iconic in figure skating history, IMO. At the time (in 1988), I appreciated Brian's sp, but now from this different vantage point (and after reading the chapter in that book) I realize the program's deeper significance particularly in light of how the new judging system has negatively impacted the sport artistically.

    Today, there are a lot of champion skaters who skate without any connection to their music and clearly there's no incentive for them to work on developing a better connection. Its the number of spins and spin positions and jump layout and frenetic footwork for point-gathering that matters most, rather than connecting with the music and telling a story with expressive artistry and technical brilliance.

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