Thursday, August 28, 2014

Celebrating Two American Greats: Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge

Today we celebrate the births of two great American skating champions: Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge. Scott, the 1984 Olympic Champion, 4x U.S. and World Champion, turns 56; while Todd, the 1996 World Champion and 6x U.S. Champion turns 43.

Both skaters are are favorites of mine and have given me countless of hours of viewing pleasure and entertainment over the years.

When I started watching skating in 1994, the professional skating world was experiencing an unprecedented boom. Leading that boom was Scott Hamilton, one of the greatest performers and entertainers in the sport's history. Roughly around the same time, I watched Todd Eldredge mount his comeback and recapture his U.S. title in 1995 (he had previously won in 1990 and 1991), and the World title in 1996. For a number of years, Scott was my favorite professional skater and Todd was my favorite amateur. Both brought something special to the sport; Scott exuded showmanship and took the sport to new professional levels with his tour Stars on Ice. Todd exemplified tenacity and incredible longgevity in an amateur career that spanned more than a decade (his first and his last U.S. title were 12 year apart!)

Over the years, Scott has done a fantastic job as a commentator for the sport, providing a perfect blend of wisdom, humor, and sensitivity in his telecasts. Todd now serves as a skating coach in Texas. I got to meet him at the U.S. Championships in Boston in January. He was exactly as down-to-earth as he always came across in his skating routines and interviews. He seemed like such a nice, genuine guy.

So, happy birthday to these two greats. Thank you to all you've given the sport and all you continue to give back! Cheers to many more!!

Scott Hamilton's "In the Mood" from the 1994 Gold Championship. Scott won gold, defeating fellow Olympic champions Brian Boitano and Viktor Petrenko :

Todd Eldredge's gold-medal winning "First Knight from the 1996 World Championships in Edmondton:

Monday, August 18, 2014

SYTYCD Spirit and Soul: Zack, and All-star Amy: "Europe, After the Rain," by Max Richter

This piece, set to "Europe, After the Rain," by Max Richter, aired on So You Think You Can Dance on Fox a couple of weeks ago. Since then, it has stayed with me.

Choreographed by the incredible Sonya Tayeh , this piece pays tribute to a friend of Tayeh's, who died "all too soon." Show contestant, Zack, plays the character of her friend, who is already dead at the time of the dance. The woman in the piece is trying to cling to her friend, but he can't stay, and must leave her at the end.

The story unfolds through stunning positions, soul-gripping movement, and authentic expression that will touch your heart.

Tayeh's choreography is profound, all-star Amy is magnificent, and Zack is genuine and vulnerable. I get chills and/or tears every single time I watch.

The music, the lighting, the choreography, the dancers...all of it creates this unbelievably gorgeous, haunting masterpiece that so perfectly sums up the feeling of letting go of someone, or something that you desperately want, but can't have. The elements in the music so aptly portray the inner storm that ensues when parting with someone, or something that you love.

I was absolutely blown away when I saw this for the first time. And each time I've seen it since, I am equally amazed and moved. The anguish is palpable. It's totally gut-wrenching and totally brilliant.

I hope you love it. I hope you cry. I hope you share it with others :)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grace on Ice: Happy 19th Birthday to U.S. Champion, Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold, reigning U.S. Champion, and her twin sister, Carly, turn 19 today. What a year it has been for Gracie, winning her first U.S. title at the "Olympic Trials" in Boston with two perfect performances in front of a packed crowd, an impressive fourth place finish at her first Olympic Games in Sochi in February, and her second top six Worlds finish in Saitima, JPN, in March.

I was in the fourth row in Boston and witnessed the sheer power and height that Gracie has in her jumps. Her connection with the audience is still improving, but her overall image, that of Grace Kelly on ice (it must be something with that name!), gives her such striking visual appeal. She skates with a lot of speed, which you can't really tell when you watch on TV, and has the ability to have that "it" factor. I've seen her lack that quality in other events when she gets really nervous, such as the Olympics, but I know that her confidence and consistency will grow in time, and when that happens: watch out!

I was also lucky enough to meet Gracie in person during an autograph session the morning after women's freeskate. Though I'm sure she was exhausted from her emotional victory and being named to the Olympic team the night before, Gracie was nothing but pleasant and friendly with each person waiting to meet her. She was sweet and patient with each person, letting them take multiple photos with her.

My knowledge of Gracie Gold is still limited, being that she's only been in the senior skating spotlight a short two years, but I look forward to watching her grow as an athlete and artist during this next Olympic cycle.

In honor of her birthday, I'm posting her gold-medal winning freeskate from the U.S. Championships. Happiest birthday wishes to Gracie, (and to her sister!), and best of luck to her in the upcoming skating season!

Below are some pictures I took at the U.S. Championships in Boston. I took photos of the jumbotron projection of Gracie in the "Kiss and Cry," getting her winning marks. The other photos are of Gracie signing autographs, and me getting to meet her. Such a fun memory!

Gracie's gold-medal winning freeskate from the U.S. Championships to "Sleeping Beauty," by Tchaikovsky:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me: Michelle Kwan's "Song of the Black Swan" from the 2001 World Championships

In honor of my birthday today, I'm posting one of my favorite Michelle Kwan performances. Her 2001 World Championship freeskate, "Song of the Black Swan," was full of fire, attack, and grace. Michelle earned her fourth World title, and silenced her doubters with a solid triple-triple combination and more speed and conviction than she had showcased previously that season. This always inspires me! Hope you enjoy Michelle's "Song of the Black Swan."

Friday, August 1, 2014

SYTYCD Fuses Art, Drama, Athleticism: Top 20 Performances from Season 11

Fans of figure skating will appreciate the seamless fusion of art and athleticism that dancers bring to center stage in Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. The show, now in season 11, gives contestants a different genre and partner each week. Contestants are voted off by audience votes and judges' critiques. Tara Lipinski, 1998 Olympic gold medalist, was a guest judge during tryouts for the show this season. She will appear as a judge during the regular season.

Lipinski drew comparisons between the dance competition and her own skating experience.

"It's sort of like the Olympics," she said. "It comes down to who can handle the pressure and who can reach across the stage and grab your attention, pull you in and take you on that journey."

The 1997 National and World champion could relate to the dancers laying it all on the line and delivering a performance that gives audiences chills. She provided constructive criticism and empathy for how difficult it was to be in the position of a competitor.

"No matter what I say, I feel for them and truly understand their journey," she said. "It was inspiring and emotional."

Click HERE to read an article from about Lipinski's guest judge experiences.

Tune in on Wednesday evenings from 8-10 p.m. to watch some amazing, inspiring dancing. Keep an eye out for Lipinski's appearances as guest judge.

To give you an idea of how terrific this season of SYTYCD has been, below are some of my favorite performances from the top performances from the top 14 dancers. (This past episode, four dancers were eliminated. Now the competition is down to the top 10, who will be paired with all-star partners from years past. You won't want to miss it! Great dancing. Great television.)

Rudy and Carly, "Take it Easy," by Jetta:

Bridget and Stanley, "Doesn't Mean Goodbye," by Jon McLaughlin:

Ricky and Jessica, "Vow," by Meredith Monk:

Carly and Serge, "Senile," by Young Money, Tyga, Nikki Minaj & Lil Wayne:

Casey & Brooklyn, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," by Michael Buble:

Bridget & Emilio, "Happy," by Pharrell Williams:

Zack & Jacque, "Stay With Me," by Sam Smith:

Teddy & Emilio, "Nightshift," by The Commodores:

Tanish & Rudy, "Sing Sing Sing (part 2)," by Bob Fosse:

Emilio & Bridget, "Long Road to Hell," by Avicii:

Bridget & Emilio, "The Leaving Song," by Chris Garneau:

Jessica & Casey, "Like Real People Do," by Hozier:

Emily & Casey, "All of Me," by John Legend:

Valerie & Ricky, "Dilliwaali Girlfriend," by Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (soundtrack):

Valerie & Ricky, "Turn Down for What," by DJ Snake & Lil Jon:

Opening group number, "How It's Done," by District 78:

Small group number, "So Broken," by Bjork:

Small group number to "Love Runs Out," by One Republic:

Small group number to "My Immortal," by Evanescence:

Small group number to "Wave," by Beck:

Cheers to Figure Skaters with July Birthdays!

On this last day of the month, I'd like to look back and celebrate the birthdays of some pretty fantastic figure skaters by posting a video or clip of a memorable performance for each. What a great month it was! Happy birthday to all skaters!

July 2, Johnny Weir, age 30

Johnny's "Love is War" freeskate from the 2008 Worlds. He won the bronze medal.

July 7, Michelle Kwan, age 34:

Michelle's "Salome" freeskate from the 1996 Worlds. Michelle won the gold medal.

July 11, Tanith Belbin, age 30:

Tanith and Benjamin Agosto's latin original dance from the 2006 Olympics. After a strong showing here, they went on to win silver in the freeskate.

July 12, Kristi Yamaguchi, age 43:

Kristi's 1992 Nationals freeskate to "Malaguena":

July 18, Dick Button, age 85; Tenley Albright, age 79:

Clips from Dick's 1952 Olympic freeskate. He won his second-consecutive Olympic gold medal:

Tenley's 1956 Worlds freeskate. She finished second (she won the Olympic games just a couple of weeks earlier).

July 26, Dorothy Hammil, age 58:

Dorothy's 1976 gold-medal winning Olympic freeskate:

July 27, Peggy Flemming, age 66:

Peggy at the 1968 U.S. Nationals. She won her fifth consecutive title and went on to win the Olympic Games soon after.

July 31, Agnes Zawadski, age 20:

Agnes' short program from the 2012 Nationals. She placed first in this portion and went on to finish 3rd overall.