Scanning Around With Gene: Extravaganzas on Ice
When I was growing up there seemed to be an ice skating rink in almost every town, and this was in sunny California where hockey was virtually unknown. I suspect in colder climates there are still plenty of ice rinks to be found, but they seem to have disappeared from the areas I frequent. And it’s clear that ice skating as a fun family activity has enjoyed better times.
We spent lots of Saturdays and plenty of kids birthday parties at the local ice rink, mostly trying not to fall down and drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace, which seemed to be a fixture at most rinks. And every year for a while there, my dad would get free tickets to the Ice Follies show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The Ice Follies, along with the Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice were popular travelling ice shows. These shows often featured former Olympic skaters and were famous for their extravagant costumes and elaborately choreographed ice dance numbers. Today’s images come from several ice-show programs dating from 1959 to 1967. Click on any image for a larger version.
My own ice skating efforts always fell short – I was a hopelessly uncoordinated kid and even after quite a few times at the rink usually found myself flat on the ice or holding on dearly to the safety rail along the edge of the rink.
But the ice shows were inspirational and I always imagined I’d eventually get to gliding around the rink doing various twists and turns just like the pros. They could jump, spin and skate backwards without a second thought.
Part of the fun of going to see ice shows was bundling up with sweaters or coats for the always-cold venues. I was just as impressed with the fact that they could put down a floor of ice in the arena as I was with the actual show.
Ice shows reached a height of popularity in the Sixties, when multiple shows competed for attention, and the showmanship got more and more elaborate.
But of course as television changed the nature of family entertainment, places like ice rinks and miniature golf courses began to lose favor, and ice shows started to lose audiences. Several merged and others went out of business.
There are still travelling ice shows such as Stars on Ice and Disney on Ice, so the art is not completely lost. But the era of ice extravaganzas is clearly over, and you don’t hear about individual skaters the way you use to.
I haven’t been to an ice rink since I was a kid except to see an ice hockey game once with some work buddies and to the Rockefeller Center ice rink in New York at Christmastime.
This year, just for nostalgia sake, I should make my way to the ice rink they set up in downtown San Francisco for the holidays and try the sport once again. Only now when I fall I have to worry about breaking a hip, so it’s probably not a good idea.
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