Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dead Poets and the Battle for the Soul of Figure Skating


I'd like to invite Mr. Cinquanta and the ISU Technical Committee to watch my favorite movie — Dead Poets Society. No, I'm not losing my mind. What could figure skating have to do with movie about poetry and a boys' academy? Everything!

In case you ever watched this wonderful movie, you may remember one of the most powerful scenes in the beginning when the teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), asks the boys to rip out the first chapter of a book on poetry in which the author plots various measures of the poetry's value on a graph to calculate its greatness.

"Excrement!" Keating declares.

"We're not laying pipe!" he says. "We're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? 'I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can't dance to it!'"

That's exactly what you've done to figure skating, Mr. Cinquanta. You've chopped up the intangible qualities that are part of an artistic whole, assigned them point values, and then added them up at the cash register to produce results and records that mean absolutely nothing. Zip. They are, in Keating's words, excrement.

Keating goes on to say:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion."

And so is figure skating, when done right. Music is passion, and a captivating, heart-searing performance on the ice is all about passion and connecting with the audience.

How can you plot that? What number, what component score can measure passion?! Ultimately, is that the worth of a John Curry, Katarina Witt, Torvill & Dean, Brian Orser, Gordeeva & Grinkov, Paul Wylie, Stephane Lambiel, Sasha Cohen, Johnny Weir, or whoever your favorites may happen to be? Is that what they're all about? A Code of Points?!

Poems cannot be assigned numbers, and neither can a passionate figure skating performance be looked down upon with enough contempt to be broken up and plotted and assigned ridiculous meaningless numbers for interpretation and skating skill and other magical qualities that we instinctively appreciate as a whole.

"This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls," Keating sums up in Dead Poets Society.

He's right. So is the battle to judge the sport and art of figure skating. If we do nothing and let Mr. Cinquanta and his cronies get away with treating art like a calculus equation, we allow them to rip the heart and soul out of figure skating forever.