Ever watch the first day of the ice show rehearsal? What a mess. I always lose my voice because those kids are Never Going To Pay Attention.
But by the third or fourth rehearsal it really starts to come together. We're lucky at my current rink, because we get six 30-minute rehearsals with the ice to ourselves, plus a run-through, plus a tech/dress rehearsal. But even at my former rink-- with three and four groups sharing the ice for a rehearsal, only 3 weeks, no run-through, and two casts, it followed pretty much the same pattern-- chaos giving way to a really good time.
Here's how choreographing the ice show tends to work.
Once the music has been assigned, the pro or pro's in charge of each group number listen to the music and map out a basic pattern. Some coaches do this on the fly at the first rehearsal, some do it in advance. I love seeing people's different notational systems; since there isn't a set system it's like reading heiroglyphics. First rehearsal for some reason NEVER has all the kids there. I've had first rehearsals with fewer than half the participants. So you sketch it out, see how it fits the music, then clean it up as the rehearsals progress and parents remember to start bringing the kids. sigh.
Here's a good sign-- if the kids run over the music by 10 to 20 seconds at the first rehearsal, it's going to work out with very little additional choreography. This is because as inexperienced skaters get comfortable with a pattern, they will skate faster, and will also tend to jump cues and shrink the pattern. So choreography that's too long for the music at the first rehearsal with tighten up and fit. Choreo that's on time or, worse, short, will need to be expanded.
There's a LOT of yelling in rehearsal. The kids have more ice, and know that it's just for fun (I agree) so they're a little less disciplined than in class. There's also not that much time in each rehearsal, so the coaches tend to yell a lot. Sorry.
You will usually start to see it come to together in the third rehearsal. If it really starts to come together you can add dance steps and other fun accents. I don't start to worry until the last rehearsal. If it's still not coming together there, you're in trouble. But I've seen numbers get fixed at the run-through and even at the dress rehearsal. I always remind the kids not to let on if there's a mess up, because the people in the stands won't know unless you signal it. After all, they don't know the choreography!
Oddly, it's the higher level numbers that seem to have the most problems. Even though the choreo is going to be more complex, I somehow expect the older and more experienced skaters to pull it together sooner, but this is not usually the case. It's the little guys that seem to rock the choreography.
Here's my advice to parents-- don't watch the rehearsals. Let it all be a surprise, with the lights and the soloist and the music at the actual show. Let your child have her mess-up with her team; she's entitled to do the hard work without having to share the mess ups with you. You'll find it's really enjoyable when all you're seeing is the end result.