Like your mullet, your views are outdated

17 Jan

Okay, so here’s the deal.  I normally try to keep things in check and rarely find a reason to get snarky and mean in my criticisms of people because I find it unnecessary.  However, as it is with every normal human being there are occasions in which I find myself incapable of exercising restraint.  This, folks, is one of those moments.  Although I shan’t degenerate to reckless mudslinging (because I always aim of course), this may not end up being a particularly…how shall I say, “constructive” post.  But I have my reasons and if you’re a fan of ballet and men dancing I think you may find them agreeable.

So my topic for today is the relationship between figure skating and ballet.  ‘Tis the season for figure skating with the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver just a few weeks away and for Canada and the United States, national competitions are being held to determine who will represent their respective countries at the Olympics.  It is at the US nationals where two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, while working as a correspondent had this to say about figure skating in an article published today:

This ain’t ballet.

First of all, DUH.  Second of all, “ain’t” is not standard English.  And lastly, if you knew the context of his comment, you would join me in a universal declaration of “oh no he di’nt!” (while I realize that my credibility is on the line by using improper English myself, annunciating “oh no he didn’t!” just doesn’t have the same effect.  Whatever, I’m not being published in the news!)

To summarize, what he really meant by that is men’s skating has become too “feminine,” or even worse, “too gay.”  Now, I have to attack and sink my teeth in for two reasons…one, he just insulted ballet with his ignorance (clearly he doesn’t know a thing about danseurs and is unfit to comment on them!) and two, ballet has had a tremendous influence on the aesthetics of figure skating, which should not be ignored.  I don’t even know where to start with this, but here goes.

Last year, Stojko spearheaded some kind of campaign to “butch up” figure skating, when Skate Canada (the governing organization over Canadian figure skating) had asked him to help in promoting the athleticism of the sport.  I guess he misinterpreted what they were asking for because he inserted his own opinions on masculinity into it and Skate Canada issued a statement that basically said they knew their demographics (obviously, gay people) and that the sport’s popularity is grounded in the combination of artistry and athleticism and that they didn’t want to alienate their fan base or see any reduction in artistry, just promote the athletic aspects to hopefully encourage sports-minded people to give it a try.  They also threw him under the bus and said he was not their spokesperson and didn’t represent the views of the leadership at Skate Canada.  Now THAT, was funny.

Some of the criticisms he had were entirely legitimate (like some really over the top, poorly made garrish costume decisions…which is a subject for another day) but he has a terrible  understanding of what artistry and musical interpretation are.  I’ve watched skating for many years and remember him skating at the Olympics, World Championships and such and I never liked his skating.  He did these gimmicky, martial arts “inspired” programs (or sometimes barbarian MAN programs) with heinous, unfulfilling choreography.  What he was known for was superb jumping (hey, even I’ll give credit where credit is due), widely respected for a consistent quadruple jump.  The problem is, a quadruple jump alone does not a skater make.  I think balletomanes (at least the smart ones) understand this better than anyone.  Do we gasp in awe when Ivan Vasiliev does a triple saut de basque?  Of course we do…but we know that there is more to him as a dancer then one move.  We always complain about those who obsess over quantity over quality (higher jumps/extensions or more pirouettes) because it encourages a world of robot technicians and void of artists.  Emphasis on difficulty has already ruined figure skating enough as it is and yet Stojko feels the quad is not worth enough.  The skaters he mentions as his favorites include Evgeni Plushenko, Brian Joubert and Tomas Verner, all of whom regularly land quads and if you’ve seen them skate, haven’t a shred of artistic ability.  They are among his picks for the medals for the upcoming Olympics and if you love dance, you’re going to wonder why.  (By the way, Joubert is from the same school of idiotic thought, as he threw a hissy fit when he lost the 2008 World title to Canadian Jeffrey Buttle, who is beloved for his artistry but did not perform a quadruple jump.  Nobody I know even likes Plushenko, Joubert, Verner, and Stojko.)

It’s ridiculous that Stojko would fail to recognize the importance of ballet’s influence on skating, not just from an artistic standpoint but also technical.  Jumps alone are more or less variations on tours en l’air and they always land in first arabesque.  The arabesque appears again as camel spins or the basic spiral position.  Or how about turnout?  A spread eagle is a gliding move with the legs turned out in second position and the Ina Bauer is a parallel gliding move with the legs in a turned out fourth position, the front leg in demi-plié.  Posture of the upper body, carriage of the arms (port de bras), movement of the head (épaulement), it’s all there.  Perhaps if Stojko understood this, his extension would have been better and he wouldn’t have looked so stumpy on the ice.  Stojko even had the nerve to say that Swiss skater Stéphane Lambiel is “on the cusp” for him because sometimes he is “too soft,” when Lambiel is easily one of, if not the best skater in the men’s field.  Lambiel has good flexibility, amazing spins and sees his sport as an art.  Check out this performance from the 2007 World Championships:

Note: I post this because I was there.  I’ve only attended a figure skating competition live once, and if you squint and look for an Asian in a black jacket with a blue/purple/gray/black striped scarf in the audience, that’s me!  By the way, this competition took place in Tokyo…

Another skater that TRUE skating fans are hopeful for in Vancouver is Daisuke Takahashi, who is a fine skater that blends the artistry and athleticism.  In this 2005 performance, he performed  a layback spin (cambré derrière with the leg in attitude), which men never do because it’s considered “feminine” but he does it well.  He does a beautiful interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto no.2, is lyrical, expressive, even does a “woman’s move” and yet I would hardly call his skating effeminate.  Takahashi skates with a lot of speed and power, which Stojko mentions as being “masculine,” which quite frankly is a stupid comment because speed and power is not synonymous with masculinity.  The women too, should skate with speed and power!

It really is ironic because both Lambiel and Takahashi can land quadruple jumps.  So take my advice and not Elvis’s and root for Lambiel and Takahashi as they will both compete in Vancouver and I don’t think either skate effeminately.  To me, masculinity is a quality that is much more ambiguous.  It’s like this saying in Taoism: “those who say they know the Tao, don’t.”  Likewise, those that describe themselves as masculine don’t come across that way.  Usually they come across as overcompensating morons because someone who is truly masculine doesn’t have to actually verbalize it to anyone…intelligent people will automatically see them that way.  It’s these people with arcane views on “masculinity” that make fun of boys in the ballet studio and could do with an education.  I know what I’m talking about…besides, he who has mullet has questionable taste, no?

To close, I shall end with a performance for the ages, from the 1976 Olympics.  This is the gold medal winning performance by John Curry, BELOVED by all skating fans (and if he’s not, they should be ashamed.  I’m not even joking.), famous for being a dancer on ice, and considered by many to be the greatest skater of all time.  In fact, when he was little, he wanted to be a dancer but his father disapproved of such activities for boys.  In a word, Curry was sublime…perfect skating skills and execution, amazing posture and beautiful lines.  He was even able to spin proficiently in both directions, which is virtually unheard of.  When he turned professional after the Olympics, he founded a skating company that performed very much like a dance company (and featured Katherine Healy, who I’ve discussed before), working with famous dance choreographers and doing dance inspired works (Afternoon of a Faun, Scheherazade, among others).  Curry was the ultimate skater, during a time when the sport had not advanced to the level of jumping that is performed today.  Surprise, nobody cares!  Coincidentally, nobody cared about Curry’s sexual orientation and nobody I know finds him effeminate either.  So suck it Stojko!  One need only listen to the music the legendary John Curry used and wonder…is this really not ballet?  Or in case a translation is needed: “really ain’t ballet?”

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3 Responses to “Like your mullet, your views are outdated”

  1. robin January 18, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    another great blog– i was never an elvis stojko fan either. my fave ever is probably kurt browning who was not feminine at all but extremely artistic. being a dancer i tend to judge skating by ballet standards–line, musicality, fluidity as opposed to random tricks. i hate when the guys try to be really macho.
    wow, i haven’t actually watched skating in a while! now i am inspired to do so, thanks! 🙂

    • youdancefunny January 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

      Glad to inspire! And thanks for your comment!

      I agree…Kurt Browning was a great skater…and he must have good taste because he married a ballerina! (I believe she was a principal with the National Ballet of Canada). He has said that getting to see her world has influenced how he choreographs programs for young skaters today. Good stuff!

      • robin January 19, 2010 at 6:21 am #

        that’s right– i forgot his wife is a ballerina! awesome 🙂

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