Feb 18, 2010, 3:00 PM EDT
Watching figure skaters screw up is a big reason we all watch the Winter Olympics. Hey, it’s a very slippery surface; accidents are bound to happen. But for our own Jelisa Castrodale, those ice dancing mishaps hold a special, personal meaning. Let her explain, won’t you?
By Jelisa Castrodale
Like a lot of you, I’ve spent the better part of the past week watching the Olympics, partially because it’s easy to get caught up in the triumphs of these individuals and the thrill of international competition and partially because there’s nothing else on but American Idol and Hoarders.
Most years I ignore any ice-based event that doesn’t involve forechecking or facial lacerations, but a few nights ago I was more than transfixed by the pairs figure skating competition. I watched an evening’s worth of expertly choreographed programs where incredibly talented women did things I can’t imagine doing, like executing a triple lutz or lifting their ankles above their ears or holding a guy’s attention for more than four minutes.
I’ve never been a fan of figure skating. The routines leave me depressed, since they often involve the theme from Love Story and other minor key instrumentals that I rarely hear outside the Soup for One aisle at Food Lion. Then there are the costumes, those over-glittered scraps of spandex that make each skater look impossibly lithe and sleek but would make me look like the love child of Ziggy Stardust and a Burrito Supreme.
The real reason I didn’t flip to A&E for another episode of Dead Cats and Old Newspapers, though, is because on Monday night, the skaters kept falling. It seemed like one half of each pair used their face as a Zamboni before quickly popping up and hoping that the French judge didn’t notice. Since it’s hard for me to make it across the kitchen without crashing headfirst into a cabinet, seeing the best athletes in the world splayed awkwardly on the ice made me feel better about myself … and about my own, admittedly less-important figure skating failures.
I studied theater in college and took enough of the required classes — things like “Stage Makeup”, “Advanced Stage Makeup” and “We Get It, You Can Paint Your Face to Look Like a Bluebird” — to wrap up my major halfway through my senior year. For my final semester, I loaded my schedule with a number of brain-busters that involved eyeliner and emoting but was still one credit short of the minimum requirement. I flipped to the Physical Education section of the course catalog, which was like a cruise ship’s activity guide, offering everything from Bowling to Tennis to — yes! — Figure Skating.
Figure Skating sounded like the perfect introduction to the starched white-collar life I hoped would be waiting for me on the other side of graduation, one that involved cloth napkins and roasted pheasant and other things I probably should’ve considered before majoring in Theater. So I signed up for the class, a twice-a-week commitment to tiered skirts and twisted ankles.
We were supposed to meet the instructors at our local ice rink and I should’ve known it was a bad sign when I couldn’t even make it inside before sprawling face-down on the partially-frozen sidewalk. I was already limping when I took my first tentative steps onto the ice, but still knew I was going to be a natural. I had grace. I had balance. And I had ice chips lodged in my personal areas before I’d even made it halfway around the rink.
The class was taught by a seventy-something married couple who wore coordinating windsuits and equally matched scowls. She had been a regional figure skating champion — as had he — and I’m sure neither one of them had planned to spend their golden years watching me claw helplessly at their nylon pants as I tried to pull myself to a standing position.
The next few weeks involved skating backwards, carving precise turns and jumping over small obstacles. That’s what it was like for everyone else, anyway. Since I spent more time laying on the ice than the salmon filets at Fresh Market, my Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent holding hands with one of the instructors as they led me around the rink.
I’d just spent another embarrassing afternoon clinging desperately to an elderly woman and was trying to unlace my skates without slicing my fingers when the male instructor effortlessly glided over and sat beside me on the wooden bench.
“What are you trying to do here?” he asked without looking at me.
“Make it to the end of the semester without chipping a tooth.”
“I meant why did you take this class?”
“I want to be a figure skater,” I said as he sighed deeply and jammed his thumbs into his temples. “And I needed something that was one credit.”
“I’d encourage you to find a different class. You’re failing this one.” His pants rustled softly as he pulled a Drop slip out of his pocket. He’d already filled it out, misspelling my name at the top and decorating the bottom with his overly elaborate signature.
Failing? Failing! I had never failed before, though it was admittedly hard to screw up since my other classes just required me to touch my own face. I sat there on the bench for a few minutes after he left before turning in my rentals and leaving my figure skating dreams on the same wooden shelf with the other size eights.
“At least I didn’t have to deal with the French judge,” I said to myself on Monday as I watched another sequined professional drop to the ice in the Pacific Coliseum. Then I changed the channel and called it a night.
Jelisa Castrodale is a writer and comedian who has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. She chronicles her failures at The Typing Makes Me Sound Busy, covers music for London’s BitchBuzz and twitters while she waits at stoplights. Castrodale was featured in the book Twitter Wit and was named one of Mashable’s 10 Funniest Twitterers.
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