At one point in my life, there was nothing I wanted more than to figure skate Olympic style. Problem was, I didn’t start training until I was 23 – just a tad bit late. So as I sit here this morning doing one of my favorite things these days (sipping coffee in bed) and wait to watch a few hours of Olympic ice dancing, I remember.
A ballerina – that was my first artistic dream. I wanted a beautiful tutu and I wanted to be the featured dancer. I think I was about four years old. I pretended in secret because of physical limitations due to a couple of surgeries. I wasn’t supposed to “strain” myself in the abdomen and groin area. So I hid from Mama and pretended and practiced on my own without formal dance lessons. I had three crisp cancans (white, yellow, and blue) that I wore with my Sunday dresses. These became my tutus. I changed my wardrobe when I changed the old 78 records on that old player. I didn’t understand what first position was, but that didn’t stop me from dancing. I dreamed it, and I danced what I felt from the music.
Did I become a famous ballerina and that star? Obviously not. But I did the little I could at the time. And life changed and evolved as did I. Life happens as we make choices and decisions. But my love for dance, elegance, and choreography always remained.
Ice skating fascinated me as well, but there was never an ice skating rink in the towns in which I lived. I watched Peggy Fleming then Dorothy Hamill and dreamed of flowing elegantly and being a ballerina on the ice. Instead, my sister taught me to twirl a baton when I was 14. I perfected that well enough to make the team and enjoyed the formations and choreographed routines.
And life continued on. I did a stint in the military then focused on continuing my education and a corporate career. I squeezed in a few ballet lessons (Mama wasn’t around to watch or worry :-)) then settled in Kansas City when I was 23.
There was an ice skating rink – a few of them actually. So I signed up for adult group lessons. If I could just learn to skate backwards … that would be awesome. There were a few basics to learn first – like how to stop and start and how to trust the blades to hold you, the inside edge and the outside edge, balance, bending the knees, and then finally the basic 3 turn. After a few weeks, skating backwards was on the schedule. I couldn’t wait. The teacher worked with each of us individually after some initial instruction and demonstration. Nothing she showed me worked. “Bend your knees, lean on the edge. Try to cross your left foot over the right as you lean.”
It was hopeless. I was not going to get this. The thing I longed to learn above all else would not come easily, maybe not at all. My body didn’t cooperate and neither did my brain. I stayed late during the open skate session and practiced on my own for a couple of hours to no avail. I just couldn’t get it and left my weekly Monday evening lesson disappointed. I went about my normal work week and thought that I would not sign up for the next set of lessons since I couldn’t seem to get past this hurdle of skating backwards. And then, that Thursday night/early Friday morning, I awakened from a dream.
I dreamed I was skating on a highway. I was on an exit ramp that wrapped around in a complete circle. I completed a 3 turn to switch directions from forward to backward. I maintained my balance on the turn and since the ramp was spiraling down, crossed my left foot over my right, bent my knees, leaned in deep on the inside edge and kept going and going and going!!
But it was just a dream. My eyes opened and I was fully awake instantly. Yes, it was a dream; but it wasn’t “just” a dream. I felt it. I had figured it out, and I knew it. Out loud I announced, “I can do it, I can do it!!” I couldn’t wait to get to work and tell someone. Others didn’t seem to share my excitement. But I knew I could do it. The following Monday, I sat down on the bench outside of the rink and laced my skates. I was early and excited. My instructor arrived as I tied up my last lace and I bubbled over that I could do it. She questioned, “Skate backwards? Did you practice?”
“No. I dreamed it!”
I don’t think she believed me, but I didn’t hang around to explain further. I stepped out on the ice and showed her. Just like in my dream, I did an outside 3 turn and kept skating. And then I discovered the most amazing thing. I could skate much more powerful backwards than forward. I didn’t want to stop for the lesson. I didn’t sign up for additional group lessons but instead signed up for private instruction with a coach, made a skating skirt, and purchased a pair of very good customized boots (skates). I learned a great deal over the next couple of years – dance steps, spirals, spread eagles, layback Ina Bauer, a few jumps and a few spins. I had tremendous stretch and flexibility but poor spinning technique. I knew I couldn’t really compete, but it was fun to learn and dance on the ice.
I cried when Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner had to withdraw from the 1980 Winter Olympics just before their performance.
And then life continued on … babies to have, sons to raise, ballgames to attend.
I remembered my dream and stepped onto the ice again 25 years later. At some point over the years, my customized skates were sold in a garage sale. I rented a pair and was surprised at how weak my legs were. I could barely complete a 3 turn. I stayed an hour but left when a hockey team showed up to practice. What was I thinking? I’m 50 something!
Dancing, dreaming, skating – these days I have a small wardrobe of dresses (not tutus) and shoes (not skates). I dance on a wooden floor instead of an ice rink. I dance for enjoyment and exercise. I don’t compete. I listen to the music and sometimes I fall asleep meditating on a new waltz pattern. And I know it’s true: if I can dream it, I can do it.
And I cried when Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the first Olympic gold medal in ice dancing for the USA. It was beautiful.