By Liz Leamy
A sold-out crowd of more than 2,600 people gathered at Twin Rinks Ice Center in East Meadow, N.Y., on Sept. 20 to cheer on several of the country’s top skaters and a talented local contingent as they performed in the show “Ice Dreams.”
Headliners included Olympic medalist Jason Brown, 2012 U.S. pairs champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, 2013 U.S. pairs silver medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, and New York-area standout Samantha Cesario, U.S. junior silver medalist Mariah Bell and U.S. junior bronze medalist Jimmy Ma.
The show served as the official opening for Twin Rinks, a privately funded $15 million state-of the-art venue nestled in Eisenhower Park, located near Jones Beach, the famous New York State Park. The 165,000-square-foot facility consists of two indoor, NHL-sized skating rinks, as well as one outdoor rink.
Senior and pre-juvenile teams from the Skyliners, a nationally ranked New York-area synchronized skating program, glided, turned and twizzled their way around the ice, along with a cast of more than 120 young up-and-comers who performed group numbers.
The 18-year-old Bell, who trains in Monument, Colo., under coach Kori Ade, felt the crowd’s excitement.
“It was so much fun to be out there,” Bell said. “Everyone has been so great and I have had the best time.”
Show producer Tara Modlin was thrilled with the turnout as well as the energy that permeated in the building.
“It was a great night and I don’t think one person left without getting a picture or autograph, which is nice because you want people to have those memories for years,” she said. “We want to reach out to as many people as possible to increase interest in skating, and shows like this are a way to do that.”
The good feelings continued at the show’s after-party in an upstairs room at the venue, where skaters posed for photos, signed autographs and chatted with fans.
“This has been such a fantastic experience, the people have been so great and the energy is amazing,” Brown said. “I love it here and being in New York; it’s an incredible place.”
Brown ignited the crowd with a lively rendition of Little Walter’s song “Juke,” the competitive short program he will use this season, as well as “Cotton-eyed Joe,” which he performed in the Smucker’s Stars on Ice tour this spring.
In the latter, he wore overalls and a red and black plaid flannel shirt. He reeled off a soaring Russian split and lightning-quick triple flip, triple Lutz and two triple toes.
“I’m always pushing myself to be the best I can be and I just want to inspire people with my performances,” the 19-year old from Highland Park, Ill., said.
Brown put skating in the national spotlight last season with his electrifying Riverdance free skate at the U.S.
Championships in Boston. The performance helped earn him a U.S. Olympic Team berth.
To date, this program has generated more than 4.8 million YouTube views, making it one of the most-watched figure skating programs ever on the Internet.
“I love to perform and bring skating to people; that’s what drives me,” said Brown, who like Bell, trains under Ade in Monument.
Brown’s presence was much of the reason for the huge crowd, according to the show’s organizers.
“I think [the show] represents a means of introducing skating to people and this was a way of really bringing it home,” said Mary Lynn Gelderman, Twin Rinks’ skating director and coach of Cesario. “I think the U.S. has a wealth of talent and I would like to do everything I can to help these athletes reach their full potential.”
Last summer, Gelderman, who with the late Peter Burrows, coached 1982 World champion Elaine Zayak, relocated to Twin Rinks with the goal of helping grow figure skating in the New York-metropolitan area.
“Over the next few years, I see limitless possibility here,” Gelderman said. “We’re trying to bring a training facility to Long Island for all levels, from the grassroots to the champions, and everyone has been great in terms of making this happen, especially the owners who are people with incredible vision.”
Vision, of course, is everything, particularly in a sport such as figure skating.
Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic champion who grew up and trained for many years on Long Island (with Patti Johnson D’Alonzo, a Twin Rinks staff member, who had taught her from Basic Skills through junior ladies) said in her opening speech that learn-to-skate programs and shows are what help spark the passion in athletes.
“This is where it all begins,” Hughes told the crowd.
Skyliners coach Josh Babb agreed.
“We want to bring the sport to as many people as possible,” Babb said. “This show has been a fantastic opportunity for the Long Island community to see a skating display of this type and I’m so glad synchro is a part of it.”
Other coaches here said shows like this have a profound effect upon people, particularly the younger generation.
“This has been an extraordinary opportunity for young skaters to watch and admire some of U.S. Figure Skating’s top talent,” said Dawn Wagner, a coach who works at Twin Rinks. “It’s exciting to be part of this experience, because it’s all about helping build the sport to its biggest possible extent.”