Ballet Idaho, Meet Idaho IceWorld 

A new generation of figure skaters sharpen their competitive edge

Hate it or love it, figure skating has taken over primetime almost every night for the past week and a half. The average Olympics viewer might only think about the sport for one week every four years, but Boise has its share of figure skaters who spend almost every day of their lives practicing their axel jumps.

Ethan Redford is one of them. He's only 6 years old, and he's already been skating for two years. Every Saturday for the past few weeks, he's shown up at Idaho IceWorld at 8 a.m., not just to ice skate, but to learn ballet--and he's the only boy there. He has big plans to go to the Olympics himself, once he's old enough.

It all started with his mom, Terry Redford, who got both her kids skating but felt like they were missing something.

"I realized there's so many things that you can't work on on the ice because of fear of falling and balance issues," Redford said. "I realized, wow, ballet lessons would really benefit them."

Redford put her kids in private ballet lessons and she was right.

"I saw the benefits on the ice and it was huge," she said.

Redford decided that every Boise-area figure skater should have a cross-training program available to them, so she got busy with some liaison work. She started a conversation about collaboration between Idaho IceWorld and Ballet Idaho a year ago. She pictured the class being held at Idaho IceWorld to cut down on commute time for other parents like her, since their kids already spend so much time on the rink.

Redford purchased textbooks and cross-training resources; she asked instructors at Ballet Idaho if they'd be interested in teaching such a class; she talked to skate coaches; she reached out to parents; she left lots of phone messages and blasted out emails.

Finally, Ballet for Figure Skaters became a reality on Feb. 1, and every Saturday since then. The eight-week, off-ice class is taught by instructors from Ballet Idaho in an upstairs room of Idaho IceWorld, overlooking two rinks. It's geared toward helping skaters build core strength, flexibility, coordination and control, with focus on head, hand and eye movement and artistic expression.

Nathan Powell jumped at the chance to teach the class. Originally from Canada, he's grown up ice skating and taught ballet for the past five years. Teaching this class, however, is significantly different than his classes at the academy.

"The most important thing is making the connection between the lower body--skaters will do what they want with their lower body because they have to skate--and the upper body," Powell said. "We have a beautiful knowledge of the port de bras [carriage of the arms] and the movement of the arms. So I try hard to help them make that connection."

Powell teaches five adults in his Saturday morning classes, using a ballet barre brought from Ballet Idaho. He plays soft, light piano music from portable speakers and leads them through classic ballet dips and bends.

He said these current Olympics have fueled lots of inspiration in the class. It also provides him with convenient examples for the benefits of ballet in figure skating.

"It's integral," Powell said. "You see some of the skaters in the Olympics who might not be as experienced. They come on the ice and they look a little rigid and stiff. They might technically be able to do those rotations, but when it comes down to how the audience sees the performance, [the audience] is not going to get the same experience in that performance as from someone who was trained in ballet. It's so important in the artistry of the sport."

One of the women carefully following Powell's instruction was 32-year-old Erin Burrow, dressed in small pink ballet slippers and black leg warmers over her nude tights. She started skating five years ago, much later than her peers--something that often makes her uncomfortable.

"It's hard at this age to get out there and feel like everyone's thinking, 'Oh, she's just a pretend figure skater.' But I had always wanted to figure skate as a child and never had the opportunity," Burrow said. "When I was 27, I was like, 'I got my degree, I got my job, I got my car. Now what do I do? How about what I always wanted?' So I signed up."

She knows her chances of becoming an Olympic gold medalist have most likely passed her by, although she has competed in a regional event, and left with a silver medal. She wasn't able to compete this year after she fell and sliced through her shin with her skate blade. She got 23 stitches instead.

With a degree in elementary education and a love for the ice, she plans to fall back on coaching someday. Burrow said she finds this class helpful, "because ice time is so expensive, so no one has the time to teach you how to move your arms or those little tiny things. We need this [class] very badly.

"In skating, there's so many things you need to do on one foot or one leg, and you just develop a muscle that will do that. It's not necessarily the right muscle, but you're moving too fast to figure it out and there's no holding still," Burrow continued. "This is the holding still."

On the other side of the room, 11 girls (and little Ethan) practice ballet exercises such as plié, battement tendu, port de bras and the splits. The Redfords spend six days a week at the ice rink, and Ethan's already been in six competitions. His routine for the Boise Skate Classic this April combines a Beethoven number with hip-hop.

His mom doesn't discourage his Olympic dreams.

"If you work as hard as possible to go to the Olympics, you're going to reach a higher level than if you never set your sights that high," Terry Redford said.

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