By Amy Engeler
The Sky Rink All Stars, an ensemble skating troupe of young figure skaters at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, made New York City proud, winning bronze and pewter medals at the prestigious United States Figure Skating National Showcase competition in Boston, Massachusetts, August 5th. Moreover, every skater from the Skating Club of New York who participated came home with a gold, silver, bronze or pewter medal.
“It was almost like a dream,” explained coach of the All Stars, Marni Halasa, a veteran coach at Sky Rink. “But the skaters were so prepared, so excited and honestly, the energies aligned. Every skater not only skated their personal best, they came together as a team and most importantly, had fun. We coaches can never guarantee that our skaters are going to win, but if they have a good experience, it becomes transformative and catapults them to the next level.”
Teamwork, Dedication and Entertainment on Ice!
The junior team, Avery Asher, Angelina Eckhard, Ryder Goldstein and Sophie Skinner, ages 8 to 12 years of age, had the skate of their lives, emulating the memorable characters Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sofia, from the 1980’s sitcom “The Golden Girls.” Definitely the crowd pleaser, the skaters executed synchronized jumps, complicated footwork, as well as a show-stopping “Single Ladies” dance and Rockettes-inspired kick line in unison. The senior team, Sarah Bluberg, Emily Farrell and Sofia Liu, also made a splash, performing a more comedic routine, inspired by Boogie Storm, a group of hip hop dancing Stormtroopers from America’s Got Talent, with Halasa herself skating a cameo as a moonwalking Darth Vader as well as a vogue-ing Princess Leia.
“We wanted to do something that the judges had never seen before — which in our case, was ice skating Stormtroopers that could dance,” explained team captain Sarah Bluberg, who also qualified and had a stellar showing the prestigious Parade of Champions at the competition. “From Madonna’s “Vogue” to PSY’s “Gangnam Style” to the Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump on It,” we performed iconic dances that everyone knows and loves. And in the end, it paid off.”
With the use of props, scenery, elaborate costumes and theatrical performance, showcase fuses figure skating with artistic creativity. For the past decade, is has been one of the most growing areas of skating according to US Figure Skating (https://www.usfigureskating.org/skate/skating-opportunities/showcase) because it is more about the theatrics and choreography, than having quadruple jumps. In that sense, said Halasa, it’s a better fit for our New York City skaters whose priorities are academics and getting into good colleges, while still wanting to have a compelling competitive national experience. But they still have to “bring it,” she added.
“Make no mistake, showcase competitions are extremely competitive. You have to search for months for the right concept, spend hours upon hours splicing music, and then come up with brilliant choreography. But if your team has the right stuff: teamwork, commitment, the ability to take risks, along with a hefty dose of empathy for each other, then you’re golden. That’s not to say there aren’t issues — these are young girls with Type A personalities — but we always work it out. We run the team very democratically, where each skater has an equal say. They learn early on that they have an important voice in the process.”
The Group Dynamic
Known for teaching groups at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, Halasa believes that the group dynamic is important in child development. The team format, she explains, is an excellent learning exercise for children — helping them understand how to work together, even if they have different visions or their skating levels are not the same. Studies show that children will participation more in sports if they believe they can do their best, exercise and play well as a team. The likelihood of winning, researchers found, was not a priority in participation. (https://www.vice.com/en/article/a35pmj/sports-are-fun-because-of-teamwork-not-winning)
“In my experience, children begin to see that is it not all about their individual needs, but the needs as a whole. They begin to develop a certain maturity and begin to ask: ‘How can we come together to make the group better.’ There is a shift in consciousness that happens and it’s amazing to see,” she said.
The skaters, from neighborhoods all over NYC, always appreciate the performance opportunities they have had. Early on, the team had their own segment on NY1 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCNfqFoC40Q). This winter season, the team will be performing at Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, Riverbank State Park and Brookfield Place. In prior years, the team has performed for guests at the Standard Hotel as well as Olympic commentator Johnny Weir’s birthday party at the Soho Grand, performing for his guests on synthetic ice.
It Takes A Village
A victorious team, said Halasa, always takes a village. The All Stars have a track record of success, as national medalists from 2013 to 2023, nearly 9 years in a row has relied on the major players in the city’s figure skating community. We really have to thank everyone involved, she stated, including Sky Rink coach and colleague Nancy Quach who was the teams’ secondary coach at nationals this year, Moira North of Ice Theatre of New York, Skating Club of New York’s President Terri Levine, Sky Rink’s Figure Skating Director Stephanie Hernandez and the other Sky Rink coaches and parents who never hesitate when lending a hand is needed.
“I’ve always said this: There is no better childhood than a figure skating childhood,” Halasa asserted. “It gives you an identity, friends, incredible skills and challenges you in ways that ultimately prepares you for life. Years later when I see my students all grown up as adults, they always mention how important the team was during their teenage years, and how positively it impacted their lives. When you get that kind of feedback, you know you’ve chosen the right calling.”
Marni Halasa has been a staff professional teaching figure skating at Chelsea Piers for nearly 30 years (https://www.iceskatingnewyork.com/). An owner of The Purple Tongue, a wine bar in Hells Kitchen, she also ran for City Council in 2021 as a Democrat, pushing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, saving Section 9 public housing as well as organizing independent contractors to have a voice in the workplace.