May 13, 2012

Cool attraction: Maine author explores figure skating

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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click image to enlarge

Erica Rand, a Bates college professor, learned figure skating in her 40s, and although she loves the sport, she is critical of some aspects of it.

Photo by Alexis Lyon

Q: Whenever the Olympics come around, a lot of men like to joke that figure skating is not a sport, but obviously it takes a lot of athleticism to hurl yourself into the air and land on a streamlined blade. Do you think it's the feminine outfits that make people not take it seriously?

A: Yes. I think the feminine outfits make people not take it so seriously, but also just the idea that certain styles of sports that are like dance and involve grace are not actually sports. One of my former students is a national leading person in the hammer throw. He went to the Pan Am games and everything recently, and one of the things we talked about was that throwers in track and field also do things like use a lot of strength and twirl around in some way, but they're viewed as these big lumberers, and we're viewed as people who are just pretenders to athleticism. But as you say, it takes a lot of athleticism to do it, and I have sore muscles to show for it. 

Q: I had no idea it was so difficult for an adult to learn how to do an axel. It seems as if it would be easy when you see the young girls doing triples and quadruples. Why is it so hard for an adult?

A: It just seems to be the case if you don't have it in you somewhere in your muscle memory. One or two (older) people have accomplished it. But some of the best jumpers I know are winning competitions all over the place at higher levels, who are my age, and if they didn't have an axel, they just don't have an axel. It's hard to explain in a few words, but you have to jump up, turn around, get into a backspin position, turn around again and land on one foot. That's kind of the deal breaker for advancing for most adults. It's hard. I think, having skated with kids and adults, there are amazing things that adults can do, far more than we think. But also there are limits. You know, age has an effect on your body. 

Q: Let's talk about those "unwritten rules of music, dress and gender presentation" as you put it in the book. What happens when people try to break out of the norm, as you did with your Pink Floyd outfit?

A: It's hard to pinpoint. If you look at competitions, one reason you can tell there are these standards is that people usually conform to them. It's hard to tell exactly how you're being penalized because other things come into play. With me, what comes into play is I don't do that well in competition, so it's hard for me to say if I wasn't wearing a skirt with chains on it I would have placed higher.

But I think there's a genereal understanding that if you don't conform to those rules, you're probably punished for them. And a really good example of that is skater Johnny Weir. I think he is the perfect example, because he is a superb skater. He can do all those things that other people can't, and yet there are all these different ways that he has been punished over the years for not conforming. 

Q: What are the guys' standards? 

A: I think male skaters are supposed to avoid looking feminine. 

Q: Is that because they don't want to be viewed through a stereotype?

A: Well, I think partly it's a sport where people assume that a lot of people are gay, but nobody really is, visibly. Nobody is out, in a way, except Johnny Weir and one Canadian skater there was a palimony suit against 20 years ago. I think there's this anti-feminine prejudice out there in the world in a lot of different contexts. I think men are just not supposed to be what is perceived as feminine, and skating, the whole sport is perceived as feminine.

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