A Former Figure Skater’s Perspective on Figure Skating Movies
Let’s start with this: I have not seen Spinning Out (2020), nor am I planning on watching it. I saw the trailer. I’m just not interested.
No offence to Kaya Scodelairio or Spinning Out writers and producers particularly, there’s just something about figure skating films and television shows in general that gets on my nerves. Something about the way figure skating is romanticized and often trivialized gets to me as a figure skater myself. It probably doesn’t help that, due to my experience, I feel a certain pressure to watch them, and am always asked for my opinion on the latest. Needless to say, I have had a lot of free time recently, and have – for reasons I struggle to explain – spent part of it on a figure-skating movie marathon. So, obligingly, here is a list of figure skating movies I did not like on principle, and a couple that won me over in spite of myself.
Flashdance (dir. Adrian Lyne, USA, 1983)
“Isn’t this a film about exotic dancing?” You ask. “Primarily yes!” I answer, “That’s why I like it.” 18 year old exotic dancer, Alex, has two friends who work at the bar and grill in which she dances: wannabe standup comedian, Richie, and competitive figure skater, Jeanie. Both serve as foils to Alex, as both attempt to chase their dreams, and fail horribly. Jeanie’s experience with the sport is one I most relate to: impossible to crack once you’ve become an adult. When you are little, you can whip yourself around the rink with little difficulty. The triple axel, as some of you will know, has only been landed around three times in competition by a female skater, but for an eight year old yet to go through puberty (and there are often many in any rink), it is physically far easier. Once you go through that all-too-important bodily transformation, the act of tossing yourself into the air and spinning yourself around, becomes infinitely more difficult. Most figure skaters never reach the Olympics, and never compete at an international level. When I was around ten, my coach sat me down with my parents and asked me point blank if I wanted to be an olympic skater, because if so I needed to have started about three years ago. Though we ultimately decided I would just continue to skate in state-wide competitions, the realization that at ten I was giving up one possible future really weighed on me. Jeanie’s confrontation with the fact that she is now too old and too poor to achieve any success in figure skating is a moment every ex-skater has had to come to terms with. Though this figure skating scene is exacted with a very obvious body-double, and if Jeanie was really a figure skater, she would know that when you fall, you get up and finish the routine no matter how disappointed with yourself you are (because falling during a jump doesn’t always affect the score you receive), the motif of growing out of a childhood dream by failing is one that resonates with me as a figure skater.
Ice Princess (dir. Tim Fywell, USA, 2006)
Oh man. This movie. As I said before, it is very difficult to start a career in figure skating (as a woman) once you have gone through puberty, so the idea that Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg) would throw away a scholarship to Harvard in order to start her career as a teenager is pretty much ludicrous. Though not impossible, because Casey had a background in ballet or gymnastics… oh wait, no, instead her talents flow from her knowledge of physics. A knowledge of the theory is all well and good, but it is entirely different than years of muscle memory and professional coaching. Speaking of which, one accurate point Ice Princess presents, is the storyline of Hayden Panettiere’s character, Gen, who quits the sport due to the harsh training exercises and lack of leniency from her coach/mom. Her story is a common one in my experience with Olympian tracked skaters; once they enter high school, they are no longer content to spend their entire weekends in the rink or on the road to competitions, or their mounting homework starts to affect their sleep schedules, and they stop showing up to morning practices.
Ice Castles (dir. Donald Wrye, USA, 1978)
Love the story as a romantic, but I have often been asked, mostly by those from my parent’s generation, if it was what inspired me to skate. It wasn’t. Personally I don’t think it’s very realistic to expect a skater to be able to make their way around a new rink when they’ve gone blind. Though there is a standard rink size for major competition rinks, not all of them use the same ice, and the position of doors and walls can be slightly altered so you wouldn’t know where your starting mark was. Placement is an important part of skating, and to have memorized the shape of one rink would not guarantee success in another. I’ll give them props for that final performance though, it fit competition standards in terms of number of footwork sequences, jumps, and spins,, which is something most movies on this list fudge around with for the most part.
I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie, USA, 2017)
Yeah, ok, I liked this one. I grew up hearing about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal from my mother. I even met Nancy at an exhibition at my home rink. It was cool to see how they portrayed the training of young skaters. My rink experience was a lot more pleasant than Tonya’s, I’m happy to report. I am still close with my coach. We get lunch everytime I’m home, and she has provided me with several character references in my various flat hunts, as she has worked with me for over a decade, and seen me through those awful middle school years. I, Tonya, is more of a movie about a historical event in figure skating than a movie about figure skating, but at least not a lot of people have asked me if I relate to Ms. Harding, if they often suggest I should go as her for Halloween (which is not actually a bad idea. On a separate note: anyone have a baseball bat I can borrow?).
So that was my list, now please don’t ask me if I can do a triple axel, or if that jump was a double salchow. I know it’s fun to say, but is it really going to make a difference to your movie-watching experience if I tell you?
A/N: I did not review Blades of Glory here because, obviously, it is the most accurate figure skating movie ever made. I didn’t think I would have to tell you all that.