Every accomplished skater at one point started with their very first program. Often I work with beginner students who have a few moves but a great desire to perform. I've outlined the process that I go through with my student to come up with a finished product. A beginner must feel very confident and not feel rushed in her first performance.
First, I ask the student to give me three choices of music that she likes. Her choices help me to understand the style of skating she feels capable of doing. The skater must LOVE the music. Liking the music isn't enough - it's going to be heard dozens, or maybe hundreds of times - it must be LOVED by the skater. I like to have a musical introduction. This relaxes the skater, rather than taking off on the first beat of music.
After the music is chosen and edited, I'm ready to do "paper planning." I think of her skating ability level, which includes power and speed abilities, as well as her ability to focus. Then I make a list of the elements that the skater is required to do, or if a recital, the elements the skater wants to do. For me, it also involves drawing out the program in sections so that she and I can go over it off the ice. (As an aside, back in my elite competitive days, my coach drew the program on paper and I would put a glass pane over the paper and outline the different tracings with my index finger to visualize the program as the music was playing.)
Next, I think of the program in three sections that bring out the music. In the first third of the program, I will include her favorite and safest move, one that she would like to be noted for. This section also has to get the skater moving and facing as much of the audience as possible. A rink is like a theatre in the round - the second section of the program will have the elements on center ice with the transitions linking the elements around the center ice area. The last section of the program has more intricate footwork, short spins and some flowing moves. It is important that the skater can perform with equal energy throughout the program.Then, I'm ready to go to the rink with the edited music and my first paper draft. I'll walk through the program while making any final changes before the lesson. While doing this, I tend to leave a little extra time for the student. Why? For beginner students, it's always difficult to judge how much time it takes for the skater to get from one point to another, or how much time to allow the skater to feel centered after a spin. The skater should not feel pressured or rushed. Because of this, I usually allow more time than is needed for transitions. Rushing is the most common mistake of beginners.
I also make three plans for the ending: Plan A, B and C. Plan A is what we want - all went well and the skater ends with the music. Plan B is when the skater has rushed and is ahead of the music. I plan footwork to use up the time before the ending. Plan C is when the skater is behind the music and is not going to do all the elements in time. I'll figure out what move/s we simply skip so that the skater ends with the last beat of the music.
When I meet with my student to discuss her program, I have edited the music, I have placed the elements, timed the program and made decisions as to what she is most comfortable with. At this first program lesson she is expected to discuss my choices so that I understand her comfort level. Also, this is when I see if I've given enough time for her placements and see if she is strong and powerful enough to cover the ice as planned. Adjustments and minor changes will happen in the next several lessons. I don't allow any changes made in the last ten days before the performance. I've seen programs when the skater is literally scratching her head because she can't remember the last change!
Finally, I coach my skaters to hold the final position and smile. On the first bow, they say to themselves, "I loved skating for you!" (Head goes down.) On the second bow, they say to themselves, "Thank you for clapping for me." (Arms go up.) These gestures make both the performer and the audience feel good.
The overall objective of a first choreographed program for a beginner is to work with the student to design a program that she is comfortable and proud of. As she becomes more advanced and confident, I encourage more input from her on what her next program should look like! This feeling of accomplishment that I've helped to instill is part of the reason why I keep (and love) coaching to this day.
Illustration at right: Drawing of a choreographed program. 1) Start on right foot. 2) Four forward strokes. 3) Glide on two feet. 4) Spiral/arabesque on left foot. 5) Hockey pull on both feet to the right. 6) Three forward crossovers to the left. 7) Three forward strokes. 8) Glide on two feet. 9) Shoot-the-duck on left foot, right leg extended in front. 10) Hockey pull on two feet to the left. 11) Hockey pull on two feet to the right. 12) Short hockey pull to enter the Two-foot spin. 13) Hold final position, smile and take your two bows!