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Interview With Jodi Porter

Photograph of American figure skating choreographer Jodi Porter

Organizations and cooperatives like the American Ice Theatre and New York Ice Theatre have literally been the life support and life blood of professional skating in recent years. Imagine taking a gifted artist like Beethoven or Chopin and making them play nothing but "The Wedding March"... over and over again. Now watch any figure skating competition and draw the parallel. Jodi Porter and American Ice Theatre (AIT) have created a safe space for choreographers and skaters to express themselves, create fantastic new works and learn and develop their choreographic skills. People like Jodi have in essence kept artistic skating alive in so many ways... and being a lover of expression and creativity, I've been so looking forward to a chance to interview Jodi. We not only talked about AIT, but also Young Artists Showcase, Ricky Harris, her background and how we can continue to revitalize the sport

Q: You are the founder of American Ice Theatre, which is based in San Francisco. This organization has really brought to the forefront the artistry of skating and helped fuse the art of skating of art with dance. What was your background in skating prior to creating AIT and what was your main motivation for creating the Ice Theatre?

A: Thanks Ryan, yes we founded AIT in SF in 2003 and are currently in the process of moving headquarters to Chicago where I recently relocated. People are excited to have a platform to create and present professional work and we have some expansions planned for the near future. My motivation to start an ice theatre company sprung from wanting an opportunity to choreograph work that blended my experience with dance and skating and at that time in the mid 90’s there wasn’t an opportunity for me unless I started my own company... so that’s what I did. In skating I competed for 10 years, but never accomplishing what I had hoped.  At age 15, I missed Sectionals at the Novice level by .10 after having severe tendonitis and I remember being crushed.  I never really recovered and ended testing out my Gold Freestyle and started a new journey in the shows which renewed my love of skating.  I toured for seven years and had many great opportunities.  I actually loved doing principal pairs which I never did competing. After the shows my pursuit of choreography led me to dance and changed my life. I happened upon one of the top two modern dance programs in the US at the University of Utah completing a BFA and followed that with a position as Associate School Director for Ballet San Jose which was a dream come true.  These experiences really prepared me to create a company fusing the two worlds.

Q: What have some of the most interesting projects you've been involved in to date been?  

A: Well, there are so many interesting and fun projects... I would have to mention being an Assistant Cast Coordinator for the 2002 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, choreographing a couple of  events at the games. (Opening for the Exhibition of Champions/Bud World Party)  Starting one of the first official cheerleaders (Grizz Girlzz) for a professional hockey team. Directing and choreographing pro cheerleaders for Lacrosse. Winning a first place trophy at the Grand Prix Italia dance competition with students from Ballet San Jose. Creating and teaching Master Choreography Techniques. Working with Ricky Harris to launch the workshops. Creating and working on our new project Dance2Ice Barre. I love seeing the enthusiasm for artistic skating and would have to thank The Young Artists Showcase for including me in their list of judges. However, I think the most interesting projects are yet to come from my growing list of students...

Q: If you were to create an original piece of choreography for any 3 skaters in the world, who would they be?

A: Kurt Browning, Shae-Lynn Bourne, and  St├ęphane Lambiel of late.

Q: You have been instrumental in bringing the Ricky Harris workshops to life and teaching a whole new generation of skaters about different choreography techniques that help skaters and choreographers paint a clearer picture through movement. In what ways do you think Ricky's teachings and beliefs are unique to anything else and how can they breathe new life into skating?

A: I feel very honored that Ricky chose me to continue her workshops. She was the pioneer of choreography fusing dance concepts into skating, and her work has come full-circle for me.  She was so ahead of her time! Ricky developed teaching methods that are clearly unique - for example “energy balls” - teaching students how to move energy through their bodies in different ways... genius!  The concepts apply today more than ever.  Ricky handed me over 100 lesson plans, so no two workshops are alike.  This is unique and teaches not only how to make a more artistic skater, but opens skaters up to creativity and creation as an artist. Yes, I believe by getting “hands on” training,  skaters will have the skill set to breathe new life into skating. 

Q: You also offer master classes in master choreography and through these classes have certified and worked with fascinating people like Garrett Kling, Kate McSwain, Katherine Hill, Robert Mauti, Madeline Stammen and Zabato Bebe. What are the most fascinating and creative things you've seen in these classes and what is actually involved? 

A: I love teaching Master Choreography Techniques!  It is so rewarding for me to share the information I learned and pass it on to the next generation.  It was a difficult road putting myself through school and pushing against the grain in our sport for the past 20 years.  My hope is to make it easy and accessible for others to become educated and be able to critically articulate work.  It is magic for me to see when their eyes are “opened” to see how and why great choreography works. Some students are like sponges and their work transforms.  It is so exciting to help make a difference in people’s lives.  After this school year we will have close to 50 AIT Certified Choreographers and like a small army, I know they will make such a difference... more than I could ever do alone.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about the positive impact of ice theatre and things like Young Artists Showcase, which you will be judging next week. What else can the skating community come up with to revitalize the sport and bring new fans to the artistic side of skating?

A: Thanks to Audrey Weisiger, Sheila Thelen and the crew. By shining a light on artistic skating, people are coming out of the woodwork to be involved!  It is fantastic! I so much appreciate having an opportunity to share my knowledge to a fresh new community that is being created.  It is spurring new projects and new enthusiasm that I believe IS revitalizing the sport. Like the arts, we need to find a way to be current and relate to our culture of today. If that means creating digital works, collaborating, re-evaluating what adds value I am all for it.  I think the mentality of old-school skating is breaking down a bit.  Why is dance topping the charts right now? Well, they tuned in to what the audience is looking for.... We need to be ready to embrace and create a new future to stay afloat.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know? 

A: I grew up with humble beginnings. Coming from a split family I had to work very hard for all of my accomplishments. 

Q: There has been a LOT of openness and frankness as of late about the USFSA and the direction it seems to be taking with its elite skaters and programs. Do you think that the USFSA is respectful towards its athletes, listening to its fans and understanding of the real situation the sport is in right now? 

A: I don’t want to comment on USFSA, but I know there is a lot of success to be had through collaboration, partnering, and support. The more we can work together and support each other the more strength we have.  That has always been my motto and I actively support organizations that have an interest in the future of skating artistic and otherwise.

Q: What kinds of changes do you think need to be made to ensure a brighter future for the sport,  its fans and skaters?

A: Teamwork. We all need to ban together to ensure our sport sticks around. All hands on deck. 

Q: What is the biggest secret to good choreography in your opinion?

A: Education! I don’t care who you are, learning the "craft"... will only make you better.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":