TRAVERSE CITY — Stirring music, flashy costumes, dazzling synchronization.
That’s what the Traverse City Figure Skating Club hopes to bring to the area when it hosts the Tri-State Synchronized Skating Team Championships Feb. 15 at Centre ICE Arena.
The competition is part of the 2013-2014 Midwestern Synchronized Skating Challenge Series and is expected to bring dozens of “synchro” teams to the region from Michigan and surrounding states. Besides Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, skaters may come from as far away as Canada, said Stephanie Miller, a coach of the local club’s synchronized skating team The Northern Lights.
“Some are going to Nationals, so they’ll want to get another competition in before they go,” she said. “Some teams won’t come because they are going to Nationals and don’t want to spend the money here. It just depends.”
Synchronized skating was born in Michigan nearly 50 years ago, when the first group of skaters was organized to perform at University of Michigan ice hockey games in Ann Arbor. It has since grown into a competitive discipline of skating with thousands of athletes participating all over the world in teams with names like Sweet Mozart (Austria) and The Sun Things (South Africa).
U.S. Figure Skating held the first U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in 1984 and hosted the first World Synchronized Skating Championships in 2000.
The sport works like this: a team of eight to 20 skaters perform a program together to music ranging from classical to film soundtracks like “Aladdin,” “The Sound of Music,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Great Gatsby.” It uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and dance and is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences.
Elements include blocks, circles, wheels, lines, intersections, moves in the field, moves in isolation, no-hold blocks, spins and pairs moves.
“I always say, ‘If you like the Rockettes, put blades on them and now watch them do their number,’” Miller said.
The variety and difficulty of elements mean each team member must be a highly skilled individual skater. The typical senior-level athlete has passed a senior or gold test in at least two disciplines.
The Tri-State Synchronized Skating Team Championships will feature beginners through senior levels, including the collegiate level, Miller said. Synchronized teams in the U.S. can compete in 14 different levels according to the age and skill level of their members.
The Northern Lights, composed of 14 local skaters, not only will compete at the intermediate level but also will take on hosting duties, from posting the judges’ result sheets to running skate-guard buckets from one end of the ice to the other in time for skaters’ entrances and exits, Miller said.
“They’re really excited because they all have to work,” she said.
Competition and practice will take place on two ice surfaces, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. As with the other skating disciplines, all teams perform a free skate with required program elements. Teams at the junior and senior levels also perform a short program consisting of required elements.
The event is expected to bring an estimated 1,700 visitors to Traverse City in the slower shoulder season, giving a shot in the arm to area businesses, said Mike Norton, media relations manager with Traverse City Tourism. At least some of them will go from first-time to repeat visitors.
“Once you get a group to like the area because you treat them well, they tend to come back again,” Norton said.
You can get a front row seat to the skating action; general admission at the door is $10 for adults and $5 for children (5-12) and seniors (60 and over). Children 5 and under get in free.