April 28, 2022

Transitioning From Competitive Figure Skating to Professional Figure Skating

Skaters compete for many years, and only the tiniest percentage make it to the Olympics. That’s just how it is! Luckily the skating career doesn’t have to end when you graduate high school or finish competing. Professional shows are a great way to continue learning new skills and showing off what you took years to learn! However, if you were a serious competitor like me growing up, the transition to show skating can be difficult and surprising. Below I discuss the pros and cons of professional skating and cover everything there is to know about how to become a professional skater.

What to Expect During the Transition

If you have ever considered professional skating as a side job or a full-time career, I highly recommend trying it! It can be an excellent experience for skaters who love performing and entertaining crowds. However, it is very different from competitive skating and takes some getting used to, so I’ve listed some things to expect if you are new to professional skating.

A Different Training Style

There is less focus on jumps and spins but more attention on choreography, dancing, and technicalities. Shows are more theatrical and focus on the performing/entertaining aspect. This was hard for me because I was used to training 2-3 hours a day, working on complex skills. When I started doing shows, I missed that. I worried that I would lose jumps and progress I had made over the years because shows typically don’t require advanced skills unless you are the soloist, and even then, it’s nothing too crazy. However, after being in shows for a while, I noticed that my performance skills improved! This made me an overall better competitor and helped with competition nerves. I got used to the crowds and people watching me and just had fun!

Small rinks

Bigger shows such as Disney on ice or Holiday on ice will have a larger stage, but smaller shows have teeny-tiny stages, and some are even plastic ice or a combination of both! Learning to skate on fake ice takes some practice, but it is definitely possible. In my first show, I thought the size of the ice wasn’t too bad, and then we started practicing with the stage set and all the props, and it took up a third to a half of the ice! You get really good at looking like you’re skating fast, but you’re hardly pushing at all. Plastic ice takes a lot of getting used to and dulls your blades very quickly, but it starts to feel normal once you get the hang of it.

Opportunities to Travel the World

Traveling is probably my favorite perk of professional skating. There are lots of amusement parks around the world that have stationary shows, and those can be great to start out, and then there are traveling shows that move to a new city weekly or monthly all over the world. Each contract and cast is different, so where you go depends on the show and the director. It is quite an adventure, but it can also get exhausting, especially since the contracts can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year. I’ve met many professional skaters and found that they will stay with a company for several years because they love it so much!

You NEED to Get Comfortable With The Cast

One of the biggest shocks at my first show was when we started dress rehearsal, and everyone just stripped down naked! There are many times when you have to start taking clothes off as you are walking off stage to make it back out in time. Costume changes go by so fast, and sometimes it’s not even in a locker room, but just a space off to stage left or stage right. You get used to it but just be prepared (: I like to keep a robe handy with me backstage in case I need to do any walking around, especially in between shows. That way, I don’t have to keep getting in and out of my street clothes, and we are not supposed to walk around or sit in our show costumes. I also keep a pair of slippers in the dressing room to wear because, why not (:

You’ll Make Lifelong Friends

Typically at the beginning of a show contract, there are about two weeks of rehearsals, and you spend every day all day rehearsing and learning the show. So as you can imagine, you get to know your cast quite fast. Your fellow cast members will become some of your closest friends. You get to see each other at your best and worst of times, support each other, and have lots of laughs. Being part of a skating cast is a blessing because of the kind of people you get to meet. Of course, there can be drama from time to time, but I have found that down the road when you run into someone who did a show with you, it is just like old times, and they will always have your back. Some of my closest friends are from past shows that I have done, and now I have friends all over the world!

How to Enter The World of Professional Figure Skating

Many of you are probably asking, “well, how do I even get hired for a show?” Unfortunately, it is a competitive world to get in, and sometimes it comes down to who you know. However, there are some ways to increase your likelihood of getting hired.

Go to Pro Skater Competitions

These are held a few times a year when the casting directors are there in person to watch the competition. You can also sign up for a live audition. You can talk to them in person, or they will reach out to you. If a casting director knows you by name, you already have a better chance of getting hired. 

Perform in Live Auditions 

Most skating companies prefer a live audition over a video, so they often announce a time when they are traveling to your city and will open a live audition. If not, you may have to reach out to them and see if you can set one up. Usually, you will skate for them and show off your tricks and learn a quick choreography step so they can see how quickly you pick up the moves. This can be nerve-racking and scary, but it is the best way to show them you are confident in performing in front of people. There will be other cast members there, and they are always happy and friendly.

Film Your Video Auditions

If you cannot go to a live audition, most companies will accept a video audition where you showcase your strengths and show who you are. Even if you do a live audition, you will want to send in a video audition as well so they can go back and review it. These should be fun, confident, and include a variety of styles. For example, you want to show yourself skating to different lyrical, jazz, and modern music. This way, they can see that you can skate to other styles and where you might be a good fit in their cast. It is best to hire a professional to do the video and take some pictures if possible. Make sure everything is not up close and that you have videos from far away showing your speed and how you look on the ice from an audience perspective. Wear something professional as well. You can wear a nice skating dress or just a black top with black pants is more common. You want it to be somewhat form-fitting so they can see your body shape. Definitely don’t wear something baggy or distracting. Just keep it clean and simple.

Create Your Skating Resume

In addition to a live or video audition, you will want to include a written resume like you would for any job but catered to your figure skating history. Including big competitions and awards you may have received, past shows you have done, and include your strengths. Also, be sure to include quality pictures of yourself. Unfortunately, in show biz, looks can matter for specific roles, so they want to see what you look like. For instance, some European shows look for tall skaters, so you want to include your height on your resume. 

It is vital to have good references. Every show I have ever applied for has contacted my references, and honestly, they are the ones that got me the jobs. If you have a connection who knows the casting director, they will be more likely to hire you. Some casting directors will have stacks of hundreds of applicants, so you need something that will help you stand out. Otherwise, you may not even be considered because of how many people are applying for skating shows.

Along with your written resume, casting directors want a headshot and a full-body shot. So again, if you can get professional photos done, that is the best option, but if not, a nice iPhone picture with good lighting will work just fine.

Reach Out to Casting Directors

Once you have your videos and resume ready, it’s time to get your name out there! The more casting directors that see or hear about you, the better chance you will have because when it comes time to cast for a show, you will be at the top of their minds. Email is a great way to get in touch with casting directors and send them your resume. 

If you reach out and don’t hear back, don’t hesitate to follow up – casting directors are very busy people. Be persistent and go after what you want. Always feel free to send in an updated audition video if you are progressing and have new skills you want to share with them.

The Cons of Being a Pro Figure Skater

You Will Turn Into a Robot

Depending on the person, this may or may not bother them, but when you do professional ice skating shows, you do the same exact same show Every. Single. Day. And sometimes not even just once a day, but three or four times a day. You do the same moves, songs, costumes, and everything exactly the same. This can get very repetitive and boring. We often count down the shows until the last day because we can’t wait for them to be over!

Drama Doesn’t End When You Go Pro

I don’t think this one is surprising at all, but I thought I would mention it anyways. Skating shows are a lot like theatre and show biz, so naturally, there will be drama. There may be rude people, or maybe you won’t get along with some of the cast members. Whatever it may be, it can affect everyone there. So, If you don’t want drama, stay out of it. 

One of my favorite directors of all time is Karen Kresge. She had two rules:

1. Respect: show respect to each other, show respect to the director and the backstage crews and other personnel and show respect for yourself. 

2. Get over yourself: Don’t get offended by others, don’t take things personally, and if you mess up, don’t beat yourself up, just get over yourself and get on with the show. 

You May Get Home Sick

Occasionally you may get lucky and get to perform in a show that is close to home. Still, most of the time, you either move somewhere temporarily (housing is typically included in the contracts) or travel with a touring show. In this case, it can be challenging for people who are homebodies to be traveling a lot. It is tough being away from loved ones for long periods, which can put a damper on the excitement and fun of show biz.

The Schedule is Not For the Faint of Heart

When you sign a contract, you are signing your soul over. Okay, that may be a little dramatic… but the company basically owns you once you start. You are given a rigorous schedule that is not very flexible. You don’t get days off unless they are written in the contract. You usually don’t earn an hourly rate, which means during rehearsal weeks, you are there until you say you are done and will be paid a fixed rate. This can be exhausting and hard, but you get used to it.

Final Thoughts

The main thing is to stay in the loop. Pay attention to dates and keep in contact with the right people. Sometimes that can be another show skater who knows the casting director and can introduce you. In any case, remember that this takes time. Find the groups on Facebook where they post about upcoming shows that are casting too. Some skaters wait a couple of years before landing their first show but if you get the opportunity, take it because it is a fantastic experience! The adrenaline and excitement of doing professional shows is so much fun, and it’s something you’ll never forget!

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