Autumn Lorca-Merono has coached at Sherwood Ice Arena in Sherwood, Oregon since 2012. Throughout her journey as a competitive skater she has trained with expert coaches and former Olympians. Autumn won the gold medal at the 2008 Regional Championships, as well as earned a gold medal for Moves in the Field in 2011, and a gold medal for Freestyle in 2014. Autumn's focus is now on the younger generation of skaters where she feels lucky to have the opportunity to pass along her knowledge and love of the sport.
Elesia Ashkenazy: What drew you to become a figure skating coach?
Autumn Lorca-Merono: I began skating when I was 6 years old and I completely fell in love with it. I knew from a young age that skating would always be apart of my life, and what better way to stay involved with skating than to coach? As I grew up, I spent many years training with great experienced coaches. I always had a desire to give back, and to pass along my knowledge to the new generations of skaters. I love the idea of helping young aspiring skaters achieve their goals and progress in what they love to do.
Elesia: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
Autumn: I love watching skaters grow and improve. The excitement they feel when they accomplish something new is an incredible thing to watch. My skaters make me just as excited about their skating as they are. Sharing my passion of skating with my students creates a wonderful bond.
Elesia: Do you recommend solid ballet or dance training for your students? If so, how does ballet help skaters and why should a skater should invest in it?
Autumn: Yes, I definitely encourage my skaters to take ballet. Ballet is a great way for skaters to learn musicality, rhythm, and grace. I find that a skater who takes ballet is able to use their arms, head, and whole body to relate to music much better than a skater who doesn't do any cross training with dance. Ballet training helps skaters to improve their overall artistry on the ice.
Elesia: What's your dance background?
Autumn: I started taking ballet at four years old, before I even began skating. At the age of eight, I had to make the decision of picking one or the other. I chose skating, however, as an adult, I am taking ballet classes again.
Elesia: I admire the choreography you set for your students. Tell us how you go about the process from start to finish.
Autumn: I always try to find a piece of music that will best fit the particular skater I'm working with. I strive to find music that will bring out the skater's strengths. I also like to give my skaters the opportunity to select music that they like and feel they can relate to. If a skater is not connecting with their music, it will be obvious and everyone will notice. Choreography is similar. I try to involve the skater with certain aspects, such as their beginning or ending pose. It makes them feel more comfortable and excited if they get the opportunity to put their own unique style into it.
Elesia: What inspires you most about choreography and how do you go about creating fresh ideas and material?
Autumn: Listening to the music and "skating" around my living room. That's honestly how most of my choreography begins. I love to really get involved and do the movements myself. I find that it helps the skater to perform the movements if I can go through the motions myself. Ballet also helps me in this area. I love incorporating balletic movements into my skaters' programs.
Elesia: What's your favorite program to arrange and cut music? Also, what's your go-to place for new music?
Autumn: I use Garageband to cut all of my music. It has been a great program. I use a variety of different resources to find music. I don't have one particular site that I revisit each time.
Elesia: What are a few of the most common tips that you give to students?
Autumn: Most of my tips for choreography are about the little details that make a big overall difference. Corrections such as, whole body use, facial expression, pointed toes, and pretty fingers.
Elesia: (Thank you so much for that pointed toes and pretty fingers comment!) You have been very supportive of my work and ballet for figure skaters. What improvements have you noticed in your students who take lessons from me?
Autumn: Their movements have become much more graceful and they do a much better job of telling a story with their skating. Their chins are up and their arms move much prettier than before. Also, I've seen their confidence grow. It's amazing how much better skaters perform when they know that they look good.
Elesia: I'll say! Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like others to know?
Autumn: Working with you is a joy. You really care about the kids and put in all of your effort to help them. You also do a wonderful job of staying in contact with me as a coach. You've been great about answering questions, and you always address what I specify for my skaters. Lessons with you have been a great addition to my skaters' training!
Elesia: Thank you for your time Autumn. My readers and I wish you the best of luck! See you around the rink and studio.
Welcome to Part 2 of this bright informative interview!
Jenie Lau is a ballet for figure skaters instructor located in the Seattle, Washington area. Her full bio has been posted below. To schedule private or group lessons with Jenie, check out her business website, Young EduArts LLC!
Elesia Ashkenazy: What personal attributes do you bring to the field of teaching ballet to figure skaters?
Jenie Lau: The most prominent attribute I bring is my understanding and compassion for how grueling training can be. Ballet and figure skating training are similar in that they both require hours of daily dedication, plus countless hours within a week, month, year, etc. I experienced dedicated rigorous training in ballet, dance, and martial arts.
I also bring my personal thoughts on pedagogy of children from my studies in education (I am a student of the University of Washington pursuing a degree in early childhood education and family studies). The majority of my students are aged from preschool to teenaged. While the age range is wide, they are all children, and I am very cognizant of the teaching/learning relationship between student/teacher.
Elesia: How do you organize and run your private lessons and group classes?
Jenie: Private lessons are the ideal format for many figure skating students. They need the most “bang” for their money and schedule. I therefore individualize all private lessons specifically for each student.
I begin with foundational ballet exercises that have been customized to address individual needs--for example, stronger extensions and better alignment and fluidity.
There’s usually always a stretching component in addition to movement in the center/across the floor that stresses musicality and expression. Also, each student has a checklist of flexibility/strength exercises they need to complete between lessons.
Group classes follow a similar format. The lessons address the technique, artistry, and musicality needed for skaters. I address the needs of the group as a whole vs. individual skaters.
Elesia: What are a few of the most common tips, corrections, and advice that you find yourself giving students?
Jenie: Posture, artistry, and musicality. These are big things I find to be very common when I give corrections and that skaters seem to lack consistently. Posture is critical for a skater yet many skaters seem to skate years without having learned the correct alignment (a neutral spine with the back muscles engaged, which in turn pulls down the shoulders and elongates the neck and head).
Artistry is developed over time. Ballet is where a figure skater really learns to tell a story through every minute detail of the body such as the placement of their hands and fingers. Musicality is critical for a figure skater. For some, the ability to stretch the movements to illustrate the silences in the music is innate. For others, musicality must be developed over time with continuous exploration of different tempos and genres of music.
Elesia: How do you involve your students' skate coaches?
Jenie: I always prefer having a student’s skate coach involved, as they know the student’s figure skating needs best. From there, I can determine what elements should be emphasized in their lessons, such as extensions, flexibility and/or basic artistry (hand and finger positions, gaze, etc.).
I generally like to touch base periodically--especially if there have been changes to the skater’s program--so that I may determine if there are new ballet relevant skills to be addressed. A new spin position, or a new arm position with a jump--any of those elements can be enhanced in the skater’s ballet lesson if the coach and instructor are working as a cohesive team to benefit the skater.
Elesia: Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like others to know?
Jenie: I strongly encourage figure skaters to start their ballet training as early as possible. In my experience, ballet is an afterthought, yet it is the ideal form of cross training as it supplements the technical and artistic skills needed for figure skating.
Children--even at the age of 4 four years (such as Learn to Skate students)--should be encouraged to try a creative movement/ballet focused class. The foundational elements of ballet, inclusive of music, movement, and personal expression can be learned and then transferred more easily and earlier on to the ice.
Lastly, figure skaters should look for an instructor who is willing to look at ballet as enrichment for figure skating. There is a huge difference between an instructor that teaches ballet to figure skaters solely for the purpose of continuing the ballet tradition, and an instructor that crafts ballet training for what each individual figure skater needs.
Elesia: Thank you for your time and for this excellent two-part interview! I wish you the best. Your students are lucky to have you!
Jenie: You’re welcome, and thank you!
Jenie Lau began her dance training at the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet and Music under Artistic Director Debra Rogo in Richland, Washington. She trained in both Cecchetti (Italian) and Vaganova (Russian) styles including jazz and tap. As a pre-professional student, Jenie attended summer intensives as a scholarship recipient, inclusive of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and the International Ballet Competition program. She has studied character, musical theatre, and modern dance with renowned instructors. Jenie was also a competitive dancer and member of the nationally ranked Eastern Washington Elite Dance Team, and was also a member of Mid-Columbia Ballet where she performed soloist roles in classical and contemporary repertoire.
Jenie's ballet for figure skaters background includes work as the guest ballet instructor for Sno-King Ice Arena-Renton's Figure Skaters 2015 Summer Camp. She is also the guest ballet instructor for the Tri-Cities Figure Skating Club 2015 summer class, and the 2015 Ballet for Figure Skaters Workshop. Jenie is the pending fall 2015 ballet instructor for Washington Ice Emeralds, a synchronized skate team. She is also the guest instructor for Skyline High School's Dance Team Summer Camp 2015 where she will be teaching technique class.
Body alignment and finger placement bring out the stickler in me. Whether I happen to be watching my students skate from my perch in the dance studio, or instructing them during a private or a group lesson, they're going to hear about it the minute I see a finger out of place. I avidly remind my students that finger placement has a significant impact on presentation because our fingers make or break our lines. Even after the stomach is pulled in, the shoulders down, and the neck elongated, there go our fingers ready to distract or enhance.
Look at the hand as a whole and create space between the fingers. Elongate each joint. From there, allow the thumb and middle finger to be magnetized toward each other. Not enough to actually touch, yet enough to say hello: enough to begin a thousand-word conversation.