May 11, 2013

A community ice show done right

"Done right" is perhaps a little unfair.

I've done ice shows at many different rinks. They are universally adorable, inspiring, and lots of fun for the kids. They're even fun for the coaches, although you'll seldom hear the coaches admit it.

They make the programs a little money, and they give kids in the recreational side of a very lonely sport something to aspire to.

And then there's Northbrook On Ice.

If you're a coach or skater in north Chicagoland, you know about Northbrook. Their kids win all the competitions. Second place to their Synchro team kinda counts as first place because Northbrook always wins. Their class standards are legendary.

And they brag about their ice show. To which everyone just rolls their eyes and says, yeah yeah, Northbrook whatever. That and a buck fifty will get you a ride on the bus.


I have to say, I'm about as cynical as you can get about local ice shows but I just saw "NOI" last night for the first time and wow.

It's a tight, professional production with great skating and great choreography and everyone in the show smiles.  This is worth pointing out because getting kids to smile during ice shows is like pulling teeth. In fact, I think most kids smile more when they're getting their teeth pulled.

But I'm not going to talk about the gorgeous costumes, well-rehearsed numbers, superior choreography, tight tech, superior production values, or the fact that the finale was actually an interesting, well-choreographed extra number.

I'm going to talk about all the things they do to make those kids feel incredibly special, things that I've never seen at any other ice show, however well done.
  • Their graduating seniors get their own marquis display with a huge poster portrait, plus a page (each of them) in the program plus a special step out number. This is such an obvious thing to do. When I suggested this at a different rink (which shall go unnamed) I was laughed at.
  • The Synchro girls made dresses for American Girl dolls to match the costumes of each Synchro team. Beyond adorable.
  • All the group photos are prominently displayed in the lobby. (In fairness, Northbrook has a huge facility with lots of display space, which is rare in municipal ice centers. However, the fact that they spent the money to have that display space I think says a lot.)
  • Their specialty group is called the Icettes, and you have to audition. In September-- and then they spend a year making these kids feel successful and special. It's freakin' Girl Scouts on ice.
  • They send parents and coaches frequent, concise, informative emails about what to expect, when to get there, where to park, who to talk to. So even a newbie like me didn't feel completely at sea.
  • They announce the soloists by name during their time on ice. So you don't have to try to read the program in the dark.

And finally,

I have not heard one child being yelled at. Not for forgetting choreo, or freaking out over quick change, or missing a cue, or falling, or any thing else.

The show's theme is "social media" and I would have live tweeted the whole thing last night (look for #NOI to see what people were saying), but I can't get a signal there with my crappy phone.  There are three more performances (you have to buy tickets in person) twice today and once tomorrow.  If you're in Chicagoland, drop the cynicism and the parochialism, and go see it.

What is your ice show like? How do they make the kids feel special?


  1. Well I can tell you more about our ice show in just a few hours. It is the Wizard of Oz and there are about 100 kids from tots to soloists at the senior level. I am one of the dressing room moms for the boys room. It will be my son's 3rd show and this is what he lives for during the rest of the year. The parent volunteers are beyond belief. The coaching staff is awesome. It includes a group lunch of pizza and it ends with a skater and parents tailgate party in te parking lot and blackout skating in costume - because after two dress rehearsals and two shows kids just cannot get enough ice time. My son is in 3 ensembles and I have been at the rink so many times in the last 3 months but we will do it again come fall. This is what makes our rink great. We are in Southern California.

    1. I love the idea of Wizard of Oz on ice! Who gets to skate as the flying monkeys!

  2. The flying monkey were one of basic level groups skating to Hey Hey We're the Monkeys and playing air guitar while sliding on ice. Totally cute.

  3. More info, please...Is the show sponsored by an ISI or USFS club or a skating school? What are the requirements for participation in the show? How are the soloists chosen? (Love the idea of the seniors being recognized!) How much does it cost to participate? Who is the ice show director--the skating school director, rink manager or someone chosen specifically for this purpose?

    Our rink's ice show is HORRIBLE and has been HORRIBLE for years. This year the show's publicity declared they were "The best show in he Midwest!" I nearly choked when I read it! The show is 3 hours of mediocrity, at best. The themes are pathetic and unimaginative and the music choices don't usually support the theme of the show. The young kids love it. The older, most advanced skaters won't participate any longer. This year they had soloists who were preliminary level skaters and the highest level soloist was a test track juv skater. They start weekly practices in February with the show the final week in April. I can't believe so much practice goes into such a horrible show.

    Our ice show is put on by an ISI skating school, so you have to be in skating school to participate (hence the low level soloists). The USFS club at the rink officially is not involved in the show and they do not have their own ice show or any way to recognize graduating seniors. Thankfully the skating school director retired a couple of weeks ago. Time for new blood and hopefully some improvement. I hope they don't hire someone who will continue on in the same manner. I have been very vocal about the need to change things. If they would only go and look at the shows put on by other rinks in our area...some are VERY good! But, unfortunately in our area, almost all the ice shows take place on the same weekend, so no one gets to see what is going on elsewhere. I feel like bombarding the new director with DVDs of other clubs' shows, so they see what's going on elsewhere. Problem is, most of the coaches at the rink grew up at the rink and have never experienced what happens at other clubs. To them the show is great because we have a spinning mirrored disco ball and a black light. OOOOOOOOO!

    1. You can see the images from our show here. Scroll down and you will see the ensemble images. I think you will see a smiling Dorothy in the first one.

      Our director is a retiree from Knott's on Ice and now just works on our shows. We have kids and adults. We had a guest this time around, the principal skater of the Knott's show. He is a coach at our rink and stepped in when our Oz quit so we had an Oz doing backward flips on ice followed by an audience screaming! That was not planned. It was supposed to be one of the students but our coaches are great and they just do what is needed!

      All of those things are great but I think what really makes the show is a combo of great participants and really supportive parents who don't mind living at the rink over the 9 weeks while we prepare and staying that extra hour for off ice practice and extra weekend practices. Backstage and the house are run by volunteer parents who put in hours, really hours. The coaches know all the kids because they are the skating school coaches. It is run by the skating school. Kids are typically put into ensembles by level. Soloists and step outs must audition - requires a clean Axel to audition.

      You can buy a video here Look for Oz. The videos tend to be pretty bad, unfortunately, but it can give you an idea.

      I would be happy to put you in touch with the insiders, especially our main parent volunteer who basically keeps the show together backstage. Click on my name and send me an email. I would also be happy to tell you more by phone if you are interested in ideas. I am very lucky I live where I do and have a rink like Lakewood.

    2. anon at 7:03: The rink is Northbrook Sports Center Ice Arena, just give them a call to get details. All ice shows require that participants be part of the skating school program; it sounds like yours excludes USFS skaters who use their practice ice, something I've never encountered (This is the fifth rink I've worked at). Usually rinks require either participation in at least one class or a minimum number of practice ice sessions as a prerequisite for participation. Generally USFS clubs are NOT involved in the show itself, but shows get sanctions from USFS so their competitive skaters can participate. There is no reason for USFS skaters, competitive or test track, not participate in the ice show.

    3. Ours is treated like a course. You don't have to be in anything but you do pay for the show as you would a class. Same price but different in that a class only meets once a week and depending on how many groups you are in you can meet up to 3 sessions a week for the same price.

    4. This is something people never seem to realize-- the show extends the class "season". Based just on ice time, shows are an incredible deal.

  4. Lol I assume you meant "marquee" display.