Sunday, June 3, 2012

Presentation Skills

I was brought up in an environment of professional level artistic performance. My mother sang in a professional opera chorus, and sang internationally in choral performances. From a very young age I was exposed to performers and performances of world class artists. As a child I watched opera stars of international fame, perform and rehearse on a regular basis. It's not just about singing. It's stage presence, and acting, even the turn of a head or the tilt of a chin makes a difference.

In a way, I have the performing bug, but I knew from childhood that I would never have world class skills needed. Still I was taught to observe and critique with a professional eye. I know, when I see myself on video, or watch others perform, where the errors are. I watch people skate and my mind reflexively ticks off: poor arm position, wrong head position, poor expression, needs some shoulder action, hunching, timing off, needs arm expression, bolder moves, hesitating.....I was taught to analyze this.

Most kids, no matter how good they skate, don't seem to know how to perform. I'm not talking about 'skating skills', I'm talking 'performance skills'.  Most adults, who do have strong presentation skills through experience or close observation, don't have strong enough skating skills. There are obviously kids who are born performers, and adults who can skate strongly. I'm just making a generalization. It's hard to find the complete package.

A while back, at one of the many rinks I skate at, I chanced to see a former elite skater while he was coaching one of his students in her program. I know him slightly. He's a family man, with a new child on the way and exudes a natural aura of macho. He has amazing ice presence. If he takes two strokes onto the ice, everyone in the rink is watching him. His student's a pretty enough girl, but she has no more idea of how to carry herself to hold the viewer's eye, than I do to do an axel.

"No!" the male coach yells over the exotic Bollywood music. "Don't just fling your arms. Push them into position and do this!" He raises his arms in the movement he described, and in doing so, his hands curl into this seductive motion, his body arches, and his hips move. For that three second demonstration, he's more of a woman than the girl will ever be.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a skater who has presentation skills, and a skater who's just going through the motions.


  1. It's really interesting that you note that a lot of good young skaters can't present. I did a skate course recently where I was the oldest by about 25 years, and one of the things we had to do was an improvisation to music and tell the story with our skating. What I noticed was I loved doing it, as did the younger kids (up to about 12). The teens and slightly older hated it. You could tell that they just didn't want to be acting and making things up as they went along - they only knew how to cope with their choreographed routine/movements.

    I'm always aware that my skating isn't fab but I do try to make up with it with presentation - which my coach always comments on!

  2. I know exactly what you mean, and have observed the same thing, from a similar perspective, except in my case my mother was a ballet dancer. Even though she recognised I had no gift for dance myself, she still taught me to analyse performances, and I can spot a skater with dance training a mile off. It's usually the arms that tip me off, but it's also a way of projecting to the audience.