If you have a boy in figure skating, sooner or later someone is going to approach you about pairs or dance. If you have the time and financial wherewithall, think about it.
Especially if you have Nationals ambitions, pairs and dance is a great route, because the field is so small. While the rules have recently been changed to make Sectionals more competitive in these disciplines, you're still up against maybe 10 or 12 teams in your level, rather than hundreds (girls) or dozens (boys) of other skaters.
Thank you to Christopher Hyland, national dance coach (and good friend), for help with this post.
Here are some issues you might encounter:
Coaches will start eyeballing boys for the team disciplines
as early as Delta, but more commonly around FS4-5/Pre Juvenile. When a boy lasts in figure skating long enough to reach low
generally over the ew-girl factor, because he spends all his time in
the girl zone.
When do you need a coach who specializes in pairs and dance?
For beginners, especially if you're doing something like ISI "Couples", your freestyle coach is probably fine for the very beginner skills. For dance you will need a dance coach from the outset to teach the patterns. As you progress, competitive teams will have a multitude of coaches-- personal coach, team coach, spin coach, jump coach, choreographer. This is because the elements in dance and pairs are highly specialized. However, at ISI Pairs 1, most coaches with competence through high freestyle know the basic lifts and pairs spins. Kids that low are not doing throws, but even throw waltz jumps are generally within the capability of many coaches.
How do I know if my coach really knows what they're doing?
Ask the coaches whether they have taught or competed the following elements-- simple pairs/couples spin, throw waltz jump, lasso lift, drapes. Over Couples/Pairs 3 you must have a specialized Pairs coach, for safety if nothing else. Ask for the resume and check the resume. I hate to tell you but coaches have been known to exaggerate their background. If you are competing at USFS Pairs or Dance you need a coach who has either competed or had competitive teams in the discipline.
How does the coaching fee work when there are two kids in the lesson?
It is typical for Pairs and Dance coaches to split a lesson fee between the skaters for joint lessons. You can expect coaches in specialty disciplines to charge a higher fee than non-specialty coaches (although they don't always). Sometimes a coach will add a small premium of 10-20% for joint lessons, but are still splitting the hourly fee. I do hear of specialty Pairs/Dance coaches charging full fee to both parties (and thereby getting double their regular hourly rate). I asked Chris about this and he thought it was an abusive practice, and should be questioned, especially if your coach is not a pairs/dance specialist.
You will also still need to continue your freestyle lessons (with the same or a different coach), and will
have to work off-ice, either with the pairs/dance coach or an
Off Ice training
For dance and pairs, because of the lifts, and in pairs the throws, strength training is an absolute must. Teams will also need to do additional off-ice artistic training to learn the lifts and throws on the floor first, before taking them onto the ice.
I hear stories of Lobby Parents
accusing boys of being out of control, of "stealing" the idea of doing
Pairs or Dance, as well as crueler insinuations about children's
sexuality (really) and more. And here's the only thing I can say: Stay.
Out. Of. The. Stands. When parents accost you with bullshit just smile
and say, "Oh? uh hunh, uh hunh, I see." over and over. As someone said
to me the other day, dealing with figure skating parents is like dealing
with panhandlers-- do not make eye contact, do not engage.
Copycatting? People say that? Really?
Yes, apparently. But even if you got the idea of doing pairs because you saw someone at the rink doing pairs (or dance), it's not exactly a secret that this is a skating discipline. If you copy choreography, music or costuming, shame on you. But deciding to do pairs because that little team at the rink looked like they were having so much fun is not copycatting, it's flattery.
Issues involved with training are largely concerned with cost and scheduling-- you now have another family to coordinate with, and you've added a discipline that needs its own hours. Some free style time can be dedicated to the new discipline but there is no question that your skaters will be on the ice more.
Where do you find ice?
This is a huge problem, even in large markets. We used to drive our daughter more than 30 miles to the rink that gave us dance ice. Many rinks restrict pairs and especially dance teams-- they're not allowed to work together on freestyle sessions. Large districts will have dedicated dance ice, usually run by the clubs, but I've never heard of dedicated pairs ice outside a major training facility. Your best strategy is to always be really really nice to everyone--other coaches, club leadership, rink management--so they think of your problem as their problem and work with you.
What about jealousy from other coaches?
This also happens, sadly, and is a harder problem to overcome than jealous parents. Coaches can sometimes try to undermine a team by getting management to restrict the use of freestyle ice, by refusing to yield (a team executing a lift for instance, by standard accepted protocols always has the right of way), etc. This is another instance where being super nice to management and club leadership will pay off.
Have you considered or done Pairs or Dance? Tell us about your experience.