Taking Time and Space For Joy: An article about a skater’s relationship to the ice

Taking Time and Space For Joy: An article about a skater’s relationship to the ice

By Eve Chalom

Eve Chalom is a two time world competitor in ice dancing.  She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, a yogi, and a figure skating coach.  She is continually exploring the connections between dance/movement therapy, figure skating, and life in general.        
In dance/movement therapy, the emphasis is on “being” instead of “doing.”  For those who are not sure of the distinction between those two words, I want to illustrate the difference.  Two people are on a beach.  One person is looking around at the ocean, smelling the salt air, and eating an apple.  She hears the crunch of it and tastes the fruit.  She is sitting on a bench, her back relaxed against it.  She is comfortable and definitely not in a hurry.  These processes may or may not be conscious, but the person is aware of at least one of these experiences, if not more.  The second person is pacing back and forth on the sand, unable to appreciate the feel of the sand under her feet, running back to the car to pay the meter, then continually trying to spread out the picnic blanket so that it doesn’t get sand on it, and eating her lunch while wishing she had brought something to drink.  Compared to the first person, the second person is having a much harder time “being.”  She is less present in the moment, which leads to her not having what she needs to be comfortable, as well as feeling less satisfied with what she actually has.  This is not a judgment on her, however, for there are many reasons why some people tend towards “being” or others towards “doing.”   Dance/movement therapy works to uncover the reasons that push someone towards feeling the need to “do” a lot in an effort to remove herself from feeling her existence in the present moment.

As I worked through my Master’s Degree in dance/movement therapy, I found myself wanting to bring the philosophy of “being” onto the ice and into my skating.  I realized I didn’t know how to “just be” on the ice.  Growing up as a competitive skater, I had learned to always be in a working mode when I was on the ice.  The ice rink took on a negative association as a place where I felt insecure, frustrated, and constantly not good enough.  Those feelings drove me to push myself for continual improvement.  This is a common experience in the skating world, and in a way, those feelings do motivate people to achieve excellence.  But the lack of contrasting experiences on the ice can lead to burnout.  This was true in my case, as I quit competing when I was nineteen.  My search for peace on the ice began when I gave myself a chance to see my skating as a way towards better health and happiness.  I began to be grateful for my years of training and expertise because it meant I had that much more knowledge to apply to my path of health and happiness.  I stopped seeing skating as something to distance myself from or pull away from.  The poison had become the antidote.

One of the first steps that I took towards bringing dance/movement therapy onto the ice was asking myself to just “be” on the ice without “doing” anything.  I gave myself permission to only glide around the rink and not “do” any work or try to get anything done except breathe.  There were no planned ideas of what I should “practice.”  I did this for a few months.  It may not have looked like much to someone on the outside, but to me, this was exactly what I needed.  I often focused on my breath.  The fact that I already had some facility and ease with skating gave me something to look forward to when I would get on the ice, because I always did enjoy movement in any case.

A powerful shift happened during those hours of gliding around on the ice.  All those years of emotional, physical, and psychological baggage had combined to pull me away from my original feelings of joy and connection on the ice.  By taking the pressure off myself by telling myself I didn’t have to “do” anything, I found that once in a while, I actually felt like doing something.  Surprisingly, my body would feel like doing a particular exercise or movement or stretch.  I would follow my impulse and go do whatever my body felt like doing and then, when finished, go back to my gliding again.  I felt more relaxed after following my impulse and often noticed my breathing and other internal changes.  The main idea was to give myself space to “be” on the ice without having a specific goal of what I was supposed to “do.”  As a side benefit, because I had committed to the goal of only doing something specific when it felt enjoyable or satisfying, I began to build more self-esteem.  Because I only did what I wanted to do, a lot of the movement I wad doing felt nice instead of uncomfortable.  Because the movement now felt good to me, it contributed to my having good feelings in general and by extension, good feelings about myself.

It became apparent that I couldn’t really “be” on the ice without also “being” myself.  It was a shock to realize that learning to be myself on the ice is more important than any work I could possibly do on my skating.  After many years in the competitive world, I had forgotten how to be myself.  As a young competitor who was in the spotlight, I often sacrificed my own needs for the demands of my sport because I didn’t know there was another way to achieve my goals.

And to “be yourself” is not always that easy!  It can be a life-long journey to truly grow into yourself and to be comfortable being yourself.  I had grown very used to identifying my self-worth on the ice by how fast I could skate, or by how deep I could take an edge.  Instead, I belonged out there on that ice because I loved to skate.  It was very freeing to no longer judge myself anymore by how good I was at something.  It was a very different way of being on the ice than I was used to.  Instead of putting skating first before my needs as a person, my skating became mine and was for me, Eve.  Not only did my skating become mine, but my love for skating became mine too.  This love transformed me.  I am no longer the woman on the beach who is pacing and unable to enjoy herself.  I feel the freedom of the glide, the deepness of my breath, and feel truly, completely, alive and happy.

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