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Interview With Stephanee Grosscup

The story of Stephanee Grosscup's skating career - which has spanned over four decades - is full of some of the most fascinating moments that you could possibly could find. A combination of natural talent, hard work and dedication created a thriving professional career for Grosscup that began at a very young age and saw her tour with Disney On Ice, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice and perform for over two decades as a soloist in the Sun Valley summer ice shows. Her work has a choreographer has seen her work with Olympic Gold Medallists and fan favourites. She was part of the choreographic team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, choreographed Stephanie Rosenthal's much loved "Rockit" program, skated in the Emmy winning production Carmen On Ice and even appeared on The David Letterman Show but that's really the tip of the iceberg. Over a glass of wine with Douglas Webster (the Artistic Director of The Ice Theatre Of New York), I was told I NEEDED to interview Stephanee. I told him to make it happen! Without fail, they both came through and it was my absolute pleasure to speak with Stephanee at length about her incredible career as a skater, coach, choreographer and lover of the sport:

Q: I don't even know where to start with you! Let's see... you've been on The David Letterman Show, won the U.S. Open Challenge Cup in 1990, worked alongside Sarah Kawahara and other greats on the 2002 Olympic and Closing Ceremonies choreography team, toured with Disney On Ice, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice, The Nutracker On Ice and countless other professional shows and events. Looking back on your performing career, which moments or memories stand out as your absolute favourite - or shining - ones?

A: Absolutely, one of my most favourites would be the twenty two summers as a soloist in Sun Valley. You were skating under the stars - sometimes the full moon - once a week with an incredible cast and an environment that is so beautiful. To be able to have that honor is no doubt one of my favourites. The most outrageous was in 2002 when I was on the choreographic team at the Salt Lake City Olympics. They let the choreographers skate at the end of the first segment. I was in this huge icicle costume so I took the liberty to skate backwards and watch the entire stadium light up with these beautiful lights. It was incredible to be able to skate in that! I was asked by Brian Orser to skate in a show called Skate The Dream for the Rob McCall Foundation in memory of Rob McCall. Everyone who was in that show was some kind of champion and then there was me. I was super nervous skating alongside Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Judy Blumberg and her partner at the time and all of these greats. I lost myself and skated this performance where I felt like something else had come through and possessed me.

Q: I want to talk a bit about your "amateur" career. So you competed on the regional and sectional level in the 1970's... so you were competing in the era of ladies skating that included skaters like Janet Lynn, Dorothy Hamill and Linda Fratianne. What can you share about your skating days before you turned professional?

A: I trained from age eleven to fifteen in California and did a lot of correspondence school - six hours a day, ballet class and off ice. I think I did figures four hours a day and I loved patching. It was such an incredible discipline and was worth sixty percent of our score back then. I would say a huge part of my amateur career was spent doing figures. I did okay competitively but at around seventeen with the split of my Mom and stepdad, there wasn't a lot of financial support to keep me in skating. By the age of sixteen, I had made my way to Sun Valley and was working as a rental skate girl and in 1975-1976, I actually started skating in the show there. I was a junior lady at the time and I pretty much gave up competing because I knew that (performing in shows) was what I wanted to do. I started teaching skating at nineteen and at twenty I was in a professional show and never looked back. As soon as I came to understand that there was a venue for me, - an avenue where I could express myself outside of the competitive box - I went that way.

Q: As a professional, not only did you do a lot of the "usual touring" but you also got to do a lot of great performance work such as skating with the Ice Theatre Of New York and performing with Carmen On Ice... as well as doing professional competitions also. A big criticism of the skating "climate" today is that there really aren't a lot of opportunities for skaters (especially those who are lesser known) to get out there and bare their soul on the ice. What are your thoughts on competitive skating and bringing in professional competition again as an alternative? 

A: I think that question has a lot to do with the changing of the judging system. I feel like there is so much confusion perhaps about why someone wins and why someone hasn't won. Our viewing audience is looking at competitive skating with confusion. So then, if you take that confusion and take it to a pro competition where it's scored out of one to ten, there's a huge disconnect between an overall opinion and the opinion of many. We've lost a huge viewing audience because of the way it changes every year and the fact we don't have "skating heroes" anymore. We don't have a Michelle Kwan who wins the national championships nine times in a row. The spectators love to have their idols. The judging system is confusing and diluted. If you really want quantify something, just have a jumping competition. Make it measurable like figures but use a radar gun to measure jumps or something just like in track and field if that's the direction it is going. There's just a lack of support from sponsorship and audience. People lose a sense of interest in what's going on. I feel like if they were going to mark skating in pro competitions, the categories would need to be very clear cut. It's all over the board and still so highly subjective but in my opinion; competitive skating has gotten more diluted than when someone can say six, six, six.

Q: You coach and choreograph alongside so many fabulously talented skaters it's unreal - Sonya Dunfield, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Linda Fratianne, Ryan Bradley, Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, Judy Blumberg, Lisa-Marie Allen, Craig Heath - I mean, seriously... If you need a fabulous coach, apparently Sun Valley's the place to go! When it comes to your coaching and choreography, you know that I have to ask about the amazing "Rockit" program you put together for Stephanie Rosenthal back in 2006. It was probably one of the most unique and cleverly choreographed pieces I've seen. How can you describe the creative process of working with Stephanie?

A: Well, that season I did the short and Stewart Sturgeon did the free skate. Always for me even if its with younger kids, I like to sit down with the kid and say "what are we gonna be this year? What character can we portray?" I look at it like they are married to that program. She had been in school taking dance and started doing hip hop so I first created this for her as a junior lady. I instantly thought of Herbie Hancock and brought the music to her and Stew (her primary coach at time). That year, she did well at Regionals but didn't skate well and didn't make it out out of Sectionals. I said that if we were going to do hip hop, let's go robotic because the judges wouldn't go crazy for harder hip hop. She moved into seniors and maybe in her second or third of seniors, she just came to me and said that she had a feeling she'd make it to Nationals that year and she had to do "I Robot" in a stadium. I said, "yes you do, Steph!" We followed the same map and structure but her hip hop moves had become so much better so we brought in new movements she'd perfected that particular year and spliced them in. Basically, my last piece of advice before she left for Nationals that year was "Steph, when you start the program start as the robot. When you end, end as the robot. Make it one goal that when you get to that footwork sequence, get that audience on their feet and dance, dance, dance with joy. This is your last Nationals!" It was the same process with Nathan Chen. Nathan will always inevitably come up with something he's very interested in being as a character. It's wonderful working with kids like that. I like them to know their voice counts with me. It's my piece but it's not. Once it's on them, I turn it over to them. I've been to Burning Man three times and that's what they do, make these incredible works and blow them up. My favourite thing is when the skaters themselves take ownership and find themselves in the choreography. I feel so humbled by that energy, to be able to give it to other people.

Stephanie Rosenthal's "Rockit" short program choreographed by Stephanee

Q: You've also choreographed for many professional skaters like Anita and Frank, Steven Cousins, Oksana Grischuk and Evgeny Platov and Elena Leonova and Andrei Khvalko. What pieces are you proudest of?

A: I did this piece for Liz Manley to "Uninvited". I love that piece SO MUCH! That was one of my favourites. Another total favourite was Steven Cousins. He came up to Sun Valley for several summers and asked me to do a piece for him so I got him "Great Balls Of Fire". I knew there was this sense of humor... something inside him that was dying to come out. He took that piece and he rocked it! It was so great to see him to do that. It was fabulous to do "Foxey Lady" with the Russian Olympic Champions Grishuk and Platov. That number was great.

Q: You recently won the first live professional figure skating competition in North America in over a decade - the ProSkaters Live Open event in Sun Valley this summer with a group piece you choreographed called "Transience". The piece was a tribute to the seemingly lost art of edges and figures and was so well received. What can you share about this piece? 

A: It was based on the depth of figures. Nine skaters from the Sun Valley Ice Show volunteered to join me. I was dressed as a harlequin clown and I started off doing figures to Pink Floyd's "Great Gig In The Sky". It was like I woke up in this dream where figures were being skated again. It was really powerful. I ended up winning out of nineteen entries. "Transience" was very much based on the idea that things are very transient with what we do in skating. We will have a student that's with us for years and then they go. Figures lasted forever and then they were gone. We meet people we love in skating and form these intense bonds and then off they go. It was based on the deeper meaning of people coming and going and things coming and going.

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: "Love In The Time Of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There's just so much happening.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Peggy Fleming - she was an Olympic Champion around the time I started skating. She was so graceful, so beautiful. There was a simplicity to her skating. I remember thinking "that's what I wanna do". Kurt Browning - absolutely. His ability to pay attention to detail, character, incredible sense of musicality, the ease with which he skates... it's incredible. An amazing person. Janet Lynn - she just had an ability to move through space. She was incredible. I could go on and on... John Curry, Brian Boitano, Brian Orser, Robin Cousins, Yuka Sato... There are so many!

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

A: People may just see this wild and crazy side but I also have an intensely solitary and introspective side. On that flip side, you have to recharge. I go for long walks by myself. I introspect and am a very thought filled and extremely spiritual person. I have a deep connection to nature. I can't live without it.

Q: Who are you thankful for?

A: If it wasn't for people in my life such as Herman Maricich who was the Director Of Skating here or Sarah Kawahara who choreographed my first solo in a pro show, people like Robert Paul, Karen Kresge, Douglas Webster, I don't know where I'd be. Those people and many others... I learned so much from them. They fueled a fire that was already burning inside of me. I think the incredible web of people who give to younger people and pass the torch... that's so important. That's the only thing I can do, to give to people - to younger people - because I have no idea that would have become of me if it wasn't for those people who were like "you got something girl"! I am just so grateful.

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":