The Skaters Assemble Backstage

She is hipless and chestless, and looks closer to 13 than her 28 years. She wears a size 0. She’s no different from the other girls. Not one hits the 105-pound mark. (“You can’t rotate three times in the air unless you’re thin,” Miller explained earlier. “Narrow hips, thin, slightly bowed legs: That’s a gift from God.”)

The capacity crowd of 8,500 take their seats. The ice is swept clean. The lights dim. The skaters assemble backstage in their costumes.

And then it’s show time

After a rousing preamble by Hamilton via offstage microphone, the show proper begins, and all the stars enter one by one to the sounds of their illustrious biographies. A man whoops for Gordeeva and is battered with disapproving glares. Ice shows are no place for horn-dog hooting. Lipinski and Hamilton skate out last, to deafening applause.

Most of the male skaters don’t smile. They get to look stern and hungry, their costumes like scaled-down Ricky Martin clubwear. The women are expected to smile, and they do, every second they are on the ice (save for the heart-wrenching classical numbers), until they whisk behind the exit curtain, where they rush to change for the next number.

The show lasts two hours, with a brief intermission. The women’s numbers are divided into what could be called “virgin skates,” where the women look ethereal and pure and spin along to ballads and Beethoven, and “tart skates,” where they wear exaggerated bikinis–or in Lipinski’s case, an American-flag bustier and leather hot pants–and strut about to rock `n’ roll. In one number, half the girls skate wearing feather boas, and the boy skaters swoon or court accordingly. The audience responds with manic applause and polite chuckling.

“She’s too cute,” says a fan, after watching Lipinski “lure” a boy away from Chen.

Such is the role of the female soloists of Target Stars on Ice. It’s a role they’ve trained for from age 5. They are women who behave like girls. Or girls who behave like women. They are sheltered and protected–by PR handlers, by the show–and presented to the public as innocents.

They are kept well within the perimeter of the skating community, a place consumed with sparkle and ratings and clean livin’, not record brewing and winning. They are not allowed to just be athletes. Instead, they are spokesmodels for the skating world, for Target, for the glimmering, intangible reflections of themselves on ice. They must become impossible creatures, models of perfection, like unicorns.

And they do this on sharpened blades, for a crowd, to music, and that is why America comes in from the cold to warm its hands in the glow.

 

Allison Glock traveled to Simsbury, Connecticut, and Lake Placid, New York, to report on the world of professional figure skating for “Stars on Ice” (page 76). Glock admits she didn’t venture from her ringside seats. “I’ve skated maybe once in my entire life,” she says. “But we’ll leave that alone.” An avid mountain biker, Glock is our new senior features writer and is working on a book about her grandmother.

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