What are you?

26 Feb

Long time, no see blog!  The blame mostly goes to the Olympics, but of course the responsibility always belongs to me.  It was nice to have a couple of weeks of sparse blogging though and due to upcoming circumstances March may prove to be another month of infrequent posts.  Making life changes often leaves little time for other pursuits, but I am committed to a few more entries for sure (I still have two DVD reviews formulating in my head, one of which I still need to watch, a possible book review, another eight-of-a-book review…in other words, an assortment of fragmented ideas that either need time to mature or some actual effort being put in to will that to happen).  However, in the spirit of the Olympics, I thought I’d share what I learned from watching my favorite sport of the games, which is not surprisingly, figure skating.

While figure skating is a sport and cannot truly be considered an art in its Olympic format, aside from commonalities in aesthetics and movement principals there is the fact that it is still a movement of the body that somehow grabs us in a very real way.  It’s a dance of sorts on ice and it presents dancers and dance aficionados with something familiar yet altogether different, which is the aspect of competition.  I think the fact that artistic sports like figure skating and gymnastics are constantly locked in a battle to achieve some sense of harmony (albeit failing miserably at times) reflects on the fact that this is something we have to decide for ourselves.  The older I got, the more I realized I was never a competitor at all.  I played a few sports when I was younger but never cared about winning or beating rivals; I just loved to have fun.  Competition pretty much ruined it all for me and I got burnt out of many things because what I now realize is that I’ve always had the heart and soul of a performer, not a competitor.  There’s nothing wrong with competing; in fact, the world needs it and nobody is really exclusively a competitor or artist.  I think each person has different percentages of both and my percentages happen to be dominant in favor of artist.  I’m an oxymoron though…as I can get a little competitive when it comes to silly things like board games.  It’s not that I take winning seriously but when it comes to a round of Time’s Up or Scattergories, I always find myself making a pronounced effort to emerge victorious.  I can say with pride that I often do.

The psychological aspect of sport is what I was most impressed with by Kim Yuna of South Korea, winner of the gold medal in ladies’ figure skating.  I’m not one to buy into nationalistic pride and it doesn’t matter to me if she breaks world records or is the “queen,” best figure skater of all time.  What I loved (besides the fact that she skated to Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, which I sacrilegiously like more than Rhapsody in Blue) is how she really lived the moment.  Korea can be a nutty country and her rise to popularity was at a light speed for the record books…but I remember seeing videos of her as far back as 2005 and I even saw her live once while living in Tokyo, when the 2007 World Championships were held there (she skated to the music The Lark Ascending, by the way).  She fell…but she had a definite magnetism that came from being invested into and living in the performance, something I feel from dancers all the time.  But unlike dancers she doesn’t have the luxury of having an understudy or even knowing that a little mistake is easily overlooked.  When you’re competing, mistakes simply can’t be overlooked and you’re subject to a lot of harsh criticism and expectations.  If a dancer flubs a step on stage, nobody may be the wiser but any audience member can pick out a mistake on ice.  She’s lucky to have a great coaching team behind her who steer her away from perfectionism (a disease I always say), which may have even contributed to errors in the past.

She was near perfect when she became a World Champion in 2009, which is a psychological nightmare.  Going into the Olympics as the reigning World Champion has often been stigmatized as a curse, because often a reigning World Champion falters under the pressure of trying to win gold again.  One could easily become overconfident or crumble under the pressure, which is why a reigning champion rarely strikes gold at the Olympics.  Add on top of that a fanatical country with high expectations, the pressure of being the first from her country to achieve this kind of success (Korea never won a figure skating medal or even had a woman in the top ten I think) and you have the perfect storm for the worst situation imaginable.  My artist soul runs away screaming at the very thought; I can’t even begin to imagine what that pressure was like and I am so glad I never even wanted to imagine what it would be like (as I said, I was never a kid that dreamt of winning Wimbledon or Olympic gold medals in the sports I did!).  I’m just in awe that she was able to deal with the pressure and deliver a flawless performance as comfortably as she did, like a dancer in rehearsal and translating to performance without a hint of nerves.  How much does the weight of nation weigh exactly anyway?  I can’t even begin to fathom it.

She has a great team of coaches around her and one of the reasons I think she has probably been so successful is that her coaches were able to identify where she was in the competitor-performer spectrum and let her be it.  I always say, “explore the world, figure out who you are and be THAT.”  It was funny listening to her coach in interviews talking about how other coaches barraged their skaters with corrections right before a performance and all he told Yuna was “you’re ready.”  It’s entirely applicable to the dance teacher-student relationship and looking back at the classes I’ve taken, I remember teachers saying the same thing in so many words, that I was ready, whether it was correcting technique, learning a new technique or simply do what was being asked of me.  Powerful words this…this “you’re ready” business.

I could go on and on about the great things that happened when Kim Yuna took to the ice, but really, like in dance, her actions spoke for themselves.  But in order to relate this to dance just a wee bit (and because I need to file this under a particular category), two-time Olympic champion and figure skating commentator extraordinaire Dick Button once had this to say about Yuna:

I think what’s so incredible is that she’s absolutely a Balanchine-type skater.  Long arms, long legs, truly elegant moves.

And if you know Dick Button’s commentary you know he doesn’t kid around…he’ll point out a turned in foot on a spiral quicker than you can blink.  I don’t know how Balanchine felt about figure skating, but we all know Balanchine liked speed, and that’s something Yuna had plenty of.

I'm almost inspired to don the skating boots and see if I can still do anything. Almost.

NBCOlympics has a full replay sans commentary (Scott Hamilton can be a little grating at times) but I think it only works for viewers within the US.  Link here (watching it still gives me chills!)

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