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Emotion vs. Techniques

Discussion in 'The Trash Can' started by Jun Y, Sep 28, 2013.

  1. Jun Y

    Jun Y Well-Known Member

    It might be a coincidence, but it seems very interesting that I've seen two interviews of young Russian skaters recently in which both talk about how techniques are more important and "emotions" only get in the way, or something to that effect.

    One interview is with Monko:

    The other is with Lipniskaya:

    I'm sure they are not the only ones who feel this way, although we rarely hear North American skaters talk about it. There may be some truth in the theory that focusing on expressing emotions in a skating program distracts the skater from completing the technical elements to the best of their ability. In fact the conflict between technical competitiveness and performance is one of the fundamental tensions in figure skating. It is often observed that the most "artistic" skaters are by and large not the same ones as the best "jumpers."

    Is there a biological (including mental) basis for the apparent dichotomy or incompatibility of the expression of emotions (ie, performance) --- strong enough to move the audience without relying on jump-related excitement or nationalistic sentiments --- and technical difficulties? The technical difficulties obviously do not exclude ice dancing, although ice dancers have a bit more mental energy to devote to interpreting and expressing the music. I suspect that there is something underlying the argument. Since I recently started learning to skate as a middle-aged person, it finally dawned on me that skating in itself (no music, no program, no choreography, just trying to stay on my feet!) requires as much mental energy as doing sudoku or word puzzle or something. It's highly demanding. The mind and the body are connected in the most immediate way possible. To accomplish the most challenging and risky techniques, I can imagine, would take all your mental energy. There is not a sliver of room for distraction. Perhaps this is why performance for the purpose of moving the audience is so hard for nearly everyone. Only the gifted few, for whom performing comes so naturally that it takes almost no additional extra cognitive reserve, or perhaps the emotional interaction they have with the audience is so elating and infectious that they can't help themselves. Two examples I can think of are Oksana Baiul and Ryan Bradley.

    Then are we doomed to the dichotomy of sport ("higher, faster, stronger") and performance? Ah but I don't think that is the whole story. First of all I suspect the effect of music on physical or technical accomplishment might have been neglected by many. We sort of know, empirically, that rousing music can spur one on, give him a burst of energy, and creates an excitement that could push him toward the final double Axel!

    Lately I am reading a book about the history of ballet ("Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans). Ballet also demands tip-top physical conditions and utmost mastery of techniques. Yet, it is a performance. The best ballets move the audience's emotions, while the mediocre ones win them over with bravado tricks and leaps and amazing athleticism. Sounds familiar? From the way she describes some of the story-less modern work by Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, and George Balanchine, a thought occurred to me that physical technicality and performance (with the aim of moving the viewers' emotions) are not necessarily mutually exclusive or present competing demands on the dancers. It is possible to train dancers in a way that they do not need to think about expressing their emotions. For example, the dances Robbins choreographed to Chopin's piano pieces. The dancers can focus on doing the choreography without working to project their own emotions onto the audience, yet the audience is moved.

    So perhaps technicality and expression/performance can be somehow merged into the same mental process for the dancer/skater so that they do not compete for energy and attention. Is it possible? Keep in mind that ballet is highly physical and technical but not a competitive sport, and the choreographic power and expertise in skating are not even on the same magnitude as ballet. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is some way to converge music, techniques, and performance into one whole ... thing, rather than separate compartments that require separate attention.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
    Dr.Siouxs and (deleted member) like this.
  2. sadya

    sadya Active Member

    Interesting post. For example, I remember Baiul saying the music helped her in 1998 when she skated to 'Safe from Harm'.
  3. hanca

    hanca Well-Known Member

    I do agree with Lipnitskaya. For the majority spectators it may be much more interesting to watch a performance with emotion and they would forgive lack of difficulty. However, the judging system is not used correctly and PCS score is often connected with TES score. So if you have high TES, you often get high PCS no matter whether you put in any emotions or not, and if you have low TES, it is unfortunately reflected in your PCS too (unless you have a name or you are judges' favourite skater who just messed up and the judges want to hold you up). So for a skater such as Lipnitskaya (skaters new at senior circuit), if she wants to get results at competitions she needs to have high TES. However, if it was someone from the old guard (Kostner, Kim, Chan), they can afford to mess up TES because the PCS will be up anyway, so they can afford to concentrate less on elements and more on the emotional side of the program.

    I don't think in the interview Lipnitskaya was saying that emotions get in the way. I am sure she appreciates that they are important; after all she made a huge improvement in that aspect in comparison with the last year and it is clear that they have been working on that. However, if she couldn't manage both at the same time, the priority was for her to get the TES high.
  4. Vash01

    Vash01 Fan of Yuzuru, Medvedeva, T&M, Shibs, P&C

    IMO fans overemphasize emotions- particularly those focused merely on facial expressions and not using the whole body to express music. I am with Julia. The technique has to be more important. As Dick Button said- you cannot create great art without great technique. That statement goes beyond figure skating. It applies to things like painting, dance, etc.
  5. spikydurian

    spikydurian Well-Known Member

    I am with Vash. IMO, TES is very important or fundamental. If you cannot fix that early, you are unlikely or it will be extremely hard to fix that later. 'Emotions' (or whatever it is :D ), can be developed later.

    And Jun you are right .. that if you have to keep thinking and worrying about what to do next, it is unlikely you can do your job smoothly. I compare it to languages. We are able to speak well using our first language because it is the language we think and sleep with. It comes automatically. Whereas if we try to communicate in a language we are unfamiliar with, our thought process is that we have to translate what we wish to say before being able to say it. The outcome will be more awkward.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  6. Macassar88

    Macassar88 Well-Known Member

    I actually think it's the opposite. I think that born performers are much rarer. Skaters like Patrick or Carolina have beautiful edgework and technique, but their performances still leave me cold because they don't have that inherent ability to perform and connect with the audience.
  7. spikydurian

    spikydurian Well-Known Member

    We are not talking about 'born performers' or Patrick or Carolina. And you are entitled to your own opinion on what moves you.

    Jun Y is debating on whether technique and 'emotions' are mutually exclusive or otherwise or mixed.

    Talking about technique, performance and choreography, this brings me back to a recent experience. My friend and I who frequent a local ballet company shows, could see the difference in technique (the increased difficulty and moves) in the shows after they changed Director. The new Director put a lot of emphasis on technical brilliance and is moving towards inviting international ballerinas and choreographers in working with the company (he managed to attract a lot of big sponsors so funding is taken care of). IMO, you cannot create beautiful movements without technically superior ballerinas. Hence my opinion that TES precdes 'emotions'.
  8. Macassar88

    Macassar88 Well-Known Member

    You're entitled to your opinion, but what I'm saying is that I think that technique can always be taught and drilled into a student whereas an innate ability to connect with the audience is something that many people are born with. So while technique is always important, I think that poor technique can be fixed with enough time.
  9. shine

    shine Well-Known Member

    I don't think emotions and technique are mutually exclusive. But I do think one needs to have a certain level of confidence in his/her own technique to even begin to go beyond the elements and technique and start expressing the music. Skaters who are more naturally disposed to "perform" yet do not have the solidity in their technique may become distracted by the performance aspect and start to have mishaps in their technique. I think "confidence" is key here. If you still feel shaky in your technique, performance is pretty much out of the question.

    Another more interesting question would be whether being artistically inclined somehow interferes with technical consistency. In other words, why have the arteeeests almost always struggled technically? It's not even that they don't have good technique, but they can't consistently deliver the good technique.
    catsgocrazy likes this.
  10. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    It may be true that some people are temperamentally incapable of feeling or showing emotion in performance, and others are especially gifted in those areas.

    However, the majority probably fall somewhere in between, capable of doing so but needing to be encouraged to do so and needing some instruction or experience in developing the ability to project emotion effectively. And those skills are probably learnable at any age, whenever the person is ready to focus on those areas.

    There's also a range of talent when it comes to ability to learn skating technique, with some exceptionally gifted that they can pick up skills quickly and with ease, and others so physically limited that they will never be able to learn all the basic skills, let alone advanced ones.

    For the vast majority with more or less average talent, however, the possibility of reaching an elite skill level is much higher if the basic skills are mastered before puberty, and with good technique right from the start. It's much harder to correct bad technical habits than to develop good habits from the beginning, and it's also nearly impossible for anyone with only average inherent talent to reach an elite skill level if they start learning as teenagers or adults -- only a handful of very talented individuals have started training as teenagers or young adults and gone on to achieve senior-level skills, performed with the ease one expects of senior-level competitors.

    So if you're looking at elite teen skaters, junior or early-senior competitors, those who have mastered advanced technique but haven't yet learned to express emotion or express music well are more likely to be able to develop the skills they're missing than skaters at those ages who show exceptional performance talent -- expressing emotion, expressing music -- but who are still struggling with technical skills (and not just the hardest jumps).

    Individuals who are gifted at expressing emotion but who haven't yet learned good skating technique by mid-teen ages will probably never be great skaters, even if they do stand out for their performance qualities at junior level and below.

    They may, however, excel in off-ice areas that do not require any sort of skating technique, or other performance techniques that are best trained from younger ages than they started -- they become great actors or singers or dancers, or perhaps successful show skaters who can adapt their routines to showcase their performance strengths and downplay their areas of technical weakness.
  11. Jun Y

    Jun Y Well-Known Member

    Yes, indeed. I think the skills of expression can be learned for the majority of skaters, perhaps a bit more difficult for some than others, but the actual differences we witness are largely caused by early discouragement or low interest, magnified by the reward for practicing jumps harder.

    I do not believe that most of the "technicians" are naturally incapable of performing and moving the viewer. I suspect that --- just maybe --- the way competitive skaters are trained (excluding ice dancers) is not particularly helpful because it might inadvertently create an unnecessary dichotomy of techniques and performance.

    I wonder whether it is possible to train skaters on expression/performance in a way that does not tax mental energy from jumps or step sequences or difficult turns or a spread eagle or something. I don't know, but I hope it can be done. Perhaps it places the demand on choreography, which could potentially integrate or infuse feelings and meaning into technical movements so that they are naturally expressed without extra effort for emoting. I think some of the best programs do this to various extent already, but the approach is not easy to adopt.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  12. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    Even the most gifted expressive skaters with the best training in this area as well as the soundest technique will tend to be less expressive when performing a new program, or adding new/harder technical content, or when the stakes are especially high.

    Are you looking for training methods that coaches could adopt to give their skaters an advantage in this area?

    Or something that governing bodies should impose to require/encourage skaters to focus on for at least some part of a competition?

    I don't think emotional expression will ever be a top priority for the rules of the sport as sport in standard, Olympic-track competition, because it's the least sporty thing about skating. Too much emphasis on subjective, non-sport aspects of competition would alienate the IOC as well as sports-minded fans.

    However, since it does attract arts-oriented and general audiences, setting skating apart from other sports, and the governing bodies do have to think about marketability to some extent, in theory they could make rules to encourage skaters to develop these skills.

    E.g., replacing leveled step sequences with choreo step sequences, as the ISU did a few years ago for the second sequence in the senior freeskate, and USFS also did for all step sequences at juvenile and intermediate levels.

    Should they go even further and introduce a separate competition phase -- especially at lower levels? -- that's all about performing to music with good mastery of simple skills, separate from the more sport-oriented phases where skaters push their own technical limits with the hardest skills they can fit into X minutes?
  13. spikydurian

    spikydurian Well-Known Member

    Can the Federations come up with a 'professional/show ice skating' competitions? This will please those who prefer the 'art' form of figure skating.
  14. lahaa968

    lahaa968 Active Member

    I agree with much of what has been said, in particular the relationship between confidence on technique and the impact on the presentation. This makes me think of Lu Chen at the 1996 Worlds. To me, the polish and technique of every aspect of her skating, allowed for everything to somehow float together and created a magical performance. Of course, Chen also had the musicality and the program to weave it all together.

    I think true emotion in figure skating is incredibly rare. I think more often, wonderful performances are examples of skaters who are able to skate with lightness and a freedom of spirit no matter what the circumstances/pressure/expectations/etc. In that same vein, I do think there are times when the emotional output of a skater is natural, and is not part of a concerted effort. This makes me think of Michelle Kwan at the 1998 Nationals ("Lyra Angelica")...of course, this is my opinion, but to me she performed with freedom and pure emotion that simply flowed out of her, not out of extraordinary will but simply out of heart.

    What is also incredibly rare is skaters who are able to balance a calculated technical effort in a performance, all the while having the freedom to skate with inspiration. This is why I understand Lipnitskaia's reasoning. She is so young...I think experience definitely aids that ability to balance and maintain poise. At the same time, some are simply born with that internal discipline (Kim, maybe?) :kickass:
  15. Susan M

    Susan M Well-Known Member

    Personally, I do not like to see skaters emoting all over the place, because it inevitably seems fake.

    I think emotion is the wrong word for what is hoped for in a good program. They are supposed to be interpreting the music. To me, the best interpretation is not done with drama faces and emotive arm gestures taught by a choreographer.

    I think interpreting music is done by how the skater moves to the music, putting a jump exactly on the right note, catching the nuances and half-beats with movement of the body. There have been skaters who looked like the music just made them move to it and that they felt every beat. This is the quality that made Viktor Petrenko a surprise Olympic medalist at 18, made Kulik a surprise European champion at 17, and made the judges totally fall in love with Oksana Baiul give her the title at her very first Worlds, in spite of some technical weaknesses. I don't honestly see that quality in any of today's senior ladies.
  16. ciocio

    ciocio Active Member

    Figure skating is not the only sport where athletes fail to deliver the good technique even if they have it, I don't think it is related to artistry but to the mental toughness or physical preparation. Or, they simply do not have enough discipline, which is mandatory for a top athlete.
    But there are also skaters which have the goods to excel in other sports too, sports that do not imply artistry.
  17. Jun Y

    Jun Y Well-Known Member

    As someone who isn't easily convinced by excessive emoting and facial expressions, etc., I decided to keep the word "emotion" because it isn't and should not be a dirty word intended to describe something superficial and artificial. Yes, there is always an element of acting in any type of performance, but there are various ways of making acting natural. The book on ballet detailed the effort by some masters to adapt Stanislavski's theater acting technique into dance. A certain amount of introversion may be good. Jerome Robbins told his dancers, "Do not dance for the audience, but dance for each other. It is difficult." The audience is nevertheless moved, thanks to the movement of the body timed to music.

    Also, emotion plays a role in sports. The phenomenon of athletes "choking" in the most important competitions has been studied and discussed a lot in neuropsychology. Even when an athlete (not just in skating) concentrates on their technical performance, emotions are roiling underneath consciousness and have an effect on their bodies. It seems interesting that music has a direct effect on one's emotional state. I just saw a study published today showing music can increase a person's physical endurance during workout. Is it possible to harness the power of music and enhance both the expression and the technical performance through the "right" musical arrangement and editing? For skaters who are especially "fragile" or temperamental (again not limited to skating), can music help rather than hinder their technical or physical performance?

    I'm interested in the interaction between emotions (the skater's own emotions and what he/she/they project outward) and physical performance. It seems that sometimes they compete for cognitive reserve, but may be synergistic if done well. I think this interaction deserves more study and exploration from a training and choreographic perspective. I don't think we know enough for governing bodies to make rules about it.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  18. sadya

    sadya Active Member

    Interesting points you're making there. Skaters like Gordeeva/Grinkov were immersed into one and another, sometimes it seemed like the audience wasn't there at all and they were just skating there alone with each other for each other. Is that what you mean?
  19. Jun Y

    Jun Y Well-Known Member

    Yes, possibly, and many examples in ice dance. Even in singles one can find examples of intense introverted performances that are nevertheless moving. I wonder why that is and how it works for some. The emotional expression needs to come from within, natural to the particular skater, with a kind of ease and authenticity that require less energy for "acting". I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud.