National Showcase 2017

By Terri Milner Tarquini

August 1, 2017
   In The Loop Extended Articles

Sometimes all it takes is a seed.

“I had this vision to turn my club in Texas into a showcase mecca, like Lake Placid was for ice dance for so long,” said Melissa Bowman, U.S. Figure Skating’s national vice chair of the theatrical skating committee for National Showcase. “So I talked and talked to everyone who would listen about evolving our local showcase competition – which was totally dying – into a national thing. And in 2002 we had Showcase America – and only 40 skaters came.”

And sometimes that seed needs a lot of nurturing.

“I got on a U.S. Figure Skating program development committee and I wouldn’t leave it alone, I just kept bugging people,” Bowman said. “The first National Showcase was in 2004 and we were thrilled when we got over 100 skaters. Since then, it’s just grown and grown.”

It’s certainly in full bloom now.

The 2017 National Showcase, which took place August 9-13 and was hosted by the Santa Rosa Figure Skating Club, boasted 541 individual skaters and 111 skaters in duets or team with over 1,000 starts.

“The competition has evolved quite a bit over the years,” said Sarah Sullivan, coach to Kyle Barnes, two-time overall champion in this year’s competition. “The skating quality is just amazing and the theatrical level is so involved that so many of the pieces could have easily been in a traveling ice show.”

During the five-day competition, skaters let their inner actor run wild in the following categories: dramatic entertainment, light entertainment, extemporaneous improvisation, duets, mini production (with three to seven skaters) and production ensembles (with eight to 30 skaters).

Skaters qualify by placing in the top four at a showcase, theatrical, or interpretive event at a sanctioned, non-qualifying competition in the previous year or by placing in the top four at the previous year’s National Showcase.

“There’s a misconception that showcase skating is easier,” Sullivan said. “It’s not easier; the emphasis is just different. Showcase skaters really tap into a different emotional level and they have to be really, really good at that to do well.”

Winners in each event compete in the Parade of Champions, where an overall champion is named in four disciplines: Parade of Champions, Junior Parade of Champions, Parade of Duet Champions, and Interpretive Champions.

“I really love those moments when the spotlight is shining and I know that everyone is watching – that’s when I can let loose and be myself the most,” said Kyle Barnes, winner in both the Parade of Champions and Interpretive Parade of Champions categories. “At the competition, there is an incredible environment. In general, the atmosphere at National Showcase is more relaxed and constructive than that of ‘normal’ competitions – skaters compliment each other after they leave the ice and, in general, are much more willing to focus on the fun of watching others skate, rather than just the semantics of who places where. I’ve made so many great friends in my years of skating at National Showcase.”

Barnes, who has skated with Sullivan for nine years, competed in three events: light entertainment to a jazzy version of “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,” in the interpretive event where skaters are only given the song they’ll be skating to just prior to the event, and in the dramatic category to a song from Les Miserables called “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

“Kyle’s really good with hand-eye coordination,” Sullivan said. “We’ve done several props over the years – a hat, a cane, a bamboo stick, all sorts of things. In the back of my mind, I thought we could use a chair this year. In the piece we finally chose from Les Miserables, it’s from the part of the musical where there’s been a battle and the character is sad because all of his friends are dead, so he’s alone in a bar with empty chairs at empty tables. We kept at it, working on it, and it became something really special.”

Undoubtedly, exploring the artistic side of skating has been a draw with the advent of the IJS system.

“For the competitive skater, interpreting and feeling the music is still a part of your total score,” Sullivan said. “Showcase is a fun way to work on expression and musicality. It’s also a wonderful way to break up the intensity of training. I feel finding and keeping that sense of fun is so important for the hard work required to be a competitive figure skater.”

Showcase can also be an avenue for skaters who are finding it difficult to find their place in the newer skating world of demanding elements.

“Kyle grew so quickly in his teen years that the IJS requirements became challenging and frustrating,” Sullivan said. “For the skater that is finding it difficult to commit to the extra hours of competitive skating, showcase offers an avenue to stay in this wonderful sport. This is a commitment, but not the same intense level of commitment. Showcase enabled him to stay in the sport he loves so much.”

Barnes started Princeton in the fall, majoring in Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and plans to join the Princeton University Figure Skating Club.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing what I have started here in Dallas – performing in shows and volunteering as a Special Olympics coach,” Barnes said. “I definitely want to keep skating with me for all of my life. Showcase allowed me to find a creative outlet. Beyond my skating career, showcase skating has made me a more outgoing and creative person.”

The growth in popularity of the National Showcase was evident at the 2017 event. And, really, the imagination is the limit.

“In a word, ‘wow,’” Bowman said. “Watching these programs is an emotional roller coaster in the best possible way. You can be brought to tears in laughter and brought to tears by something emotional that really touches you. But all of the programs express the pure joy of the sport.”

In the last 14 years since the inception of National Showcase, the avenues to creativity have grown right along with the competition itself, resulting in more in-depth ideas translated to the ice.

“The programs keep getting better and better,” Sullivan said. “I’m sure the internet has something to do with it, as well as reality shows like ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ There’s so much more input everywhere now that can create little sparks of inspiration that coaches and skaters can pull from. You see something that hits you and it just grows. It’s

The simple fact that showcase does not use the IJS system sets it apart from other skating disciplines.

“Not using IJS allows the judges to keep it simple and free of distraction,” said Bowman, herself a judge. “I tell the judges to think of themselves as a producer of a show, the skaters are auditioning and it’s time to decide who you would hire. This mindset allows for the programs to be looked at holistically and to be ranked. It’s so great to sit back and enjoy the whole program, the whole package, the whole performance. It’s a fun way for skaters to do what often was what brought them into the sport in the first place.”