Dec 12, 2010

How To Survive the Ice Show

After a night like last night, you'd be amazed to hear me say that the winter ice show (Nutcracker at my rink) is still one of the best, most fun jobs I've ever done. But it was one for the record books. After a stuttery start, we had two text book performances. Then came Saturday night. I may never have another normal bowel movement, I had so many new ones drilled for me.

By day three of an ice-show marathon, the pros start getting a little glassy-eyed, the volunteers are sneaking liquor into the stands, the kids reach waaay too much of a comfort level, and the parents are feeling their oats, meaning they've seen the show 3 whole times now and are ready to share their feelings on "fixing it" with every pro they encounter, or seek out.

Tempers flare, tears are abundant.

So here's how to cope:

Know and accept who's in charge
Just like in school, the teacher is in charge. If the rules are posted and you need special dispensation, you must tell the person in charge before the show. Children who receive conflicting instructions will insist on following the parent's instructions, which can run the range from confusing to wrong to dangerous (like telling a 6-year-old "find daddy at intermission, I'll be in the stands"). Better yet, don't give the child any instructions at all, because they will garble it, which is confusing, and time-wasting, and distracting for the volunteer or pro.

The best thing you can do to ensure your child's safety and enjoyment is to drop the child off with a volunteer or staff person, and then leave. The chaos and confusion is created by too many conflicting authority figures.

Conflicts with pros or volunteers
If you think there's something wrong with the set up, you may be right, or you may be out of your head. Once the show is running, you have exactly two options. One, if you really feel your child is in danger, then pull them from the show. We will understand. Two, call the skating director the week after the show and ask for an appointment to voice your concerns. If it's about observed behavior, be sure to have documented it, with names, times and the day it occurred.

Do not confront the first random pro that you see and start yelling. If you're really upset and you find yourself in this situation, stop and let the pro explain or apologize. Stun and run complaints don't help anyone. Here's what's happening while you are screaming at the pro-- they are unable to do their job. You are worried about one child. They need to worry about a hundred or more. Let them do their job, you protect your child, and document the incident.

Lost children
If your child is lost, here's what to do: make sure someone the child knows well is at the child's locker or chair or wherever their temporary "home base" is. Send another person to watch the main exterior door to the facility. A third person should find the pro and ask for help locating the child. Save the screaming for after we find her. I promise I will stand there and take it. While you're screaming, I am not looking for the child.

Here's a harsh, home truth: children wander off, especially after a couple of shows are under their belts. An ice rink is a sieve, it is nearly impossible to block all escape routes. The kids often don't know they're lost. They think they're fine. We've had a lot of children wander off at ice shows; it's terrifying. We've never had one actually go missing (we're talking 30 years of ice shows at my rink).

The biggest problem with wandering children is parents who bring them in and out of the dressing room, who have large groups of extended family coming and going into restricted areas where they are not supposed to be, and basically teaching the kids that it's okay to wander around. The kids really don't get the distinction between going off on their own, and going off with mom or dad or uncle or whomever. If they are regular students at the rink, they know a lot of people, they know the facility, so they feel perfectly safe. We understand this, which is why every rink I've ever worked at has a policy that the children are not supposed to leave the dressing rooms for non-emergency reasons.

The only instruction you should give your child is-- ask the coach.

Mistakes in the show
If the choreography is bad (folks, it's a kiddie show, who the hell cares if the choreography is bad), the children fall, miss a cue, forget the steps, run into the soloist, sit on the ice, refuse to perform, have I missed anything?- I have one thing to say, very loudly. DOESN'T MATTER. It's not the Olympics. There is quite literally nothing at stake, and furthermore at this point, complaining about it is beyond pointless, because if something can be done, the staff is doing it, and if nothing can be done, incredibly, the kids will cope.

We had a group of learn-to-skate level students who improvised their own choreography last night when they finished way ahead of their music. I'm just betting that no one watching the show last night could tell. Kids are amazing. You are out of control.

Don't compare this show to the other rink's show
They aren't the same. Rink cultures vary; some are very permissive with kids in the stands and parents in the restricted areas; some are little police states. Some rinks are set up in such a way that security is easy, and some have so many possible egresses that you just want to cry. Some provide extra security staff, others require the pros to provide the security and run the show. Some have long rehearsal periods, some throw the show together in a couple of weeks.

Enjoy yourself
I love doing the ice show. Don't ruin it for me, yourself, your child, and everyone around you.

I got the test session horror stories a few weeks ago. What are your ice show horror stories?


  1. Nothing too bad. Except last year at our rink's Christmas show, I was sitting on the bottom level of the stands. Little kids were clambering over me in skates, resulting in some minor toepick scratches. One kid managed to step on my thigh (also in skates), but fortunately they were tiny so it didn't hurt. :D

  2. After arriving an hour late for the show, parents should not get out their screwdriver and try to remount the kid's blade on his rotten boot. Thanks to Sam for dealing with this one.

  3. This is why parents need to volunteer; it occupies them and keeps them from hitting Maximum Freakout Mode. "Why can't they do some of those cool hops and... oh look! A big flashlight!"

  4. My friend's daughter was in your show, Xan. The daughter is a first grader (not sure what level, but she was a toy soldier) -- she had a wonderful time, and the mom thought everything was fantastic! Wish I could have come to see it.

  5. Sounds like we missed a legendary Nutcracker, Xan. It can't get any worse next year, right? Right???

  6. The drunker you are the better it is. Just sayin'

  7. The kids who stand around looking confused in rehearsal will be fab at improvising on the night! In our first of four shows, we managed to go out too early, got in the way of the soloists by doing a train to early, then had to stand around improvising flirting between the Silly Girls and Townspeople. Then the townspeople managed to go off too early as well.

    And NO ONE NOTICED! This is the point, as long as you can make it look like it's how its supposed to be, the audience won't know any different. And if you cn't, hey, it's only a christmas show, not holiday on ice!!! Nobody expects perfection, and if they do, screw 'em!

  8. Erica, exactly! This is what I always tell the kids: first, the audience doesn't know the choreography, second they don't know one jump from another, but they DO know what a fall looks like, and third, no one's watching anyone except their own kid.