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By KAITLYN MEADE | It might be the middle of summer, but it’s also ice skating season for the “Reach for the Sky Rink All Stars,” whose summer practice sessions at Chelsea Piers paid off August 4 when the ensemble was awarded a bronze in the United States Figure Skating Showcase Nationals — making them one of the best theatrical skating ensemble in the country.
“We were thrilled because the competition is so fierce,” said their coach, Marni Halasa.
Their winning program was called “Cirque du Patinage…a Skating Circus”, performed to a medley of Cirque du Soleil music.
It was the first time at Nationals for the nine girls who travelled to Cape Cod. Most of the group, which ranges in age from 12 to 17, has been skating together since tit was formed six years ago by Halasa, who also runs a professional skating company and is a self-styled “parade personality”.
The team comes from all over the city to practice at Chelsea Piers. They are now Sky Rink’s longest-running showcase ensemble team and have an outstanding list of accomplishments from Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade to shows at Rockefeller Plaza and the Standard Hotel. In July, two of them were invited to perform at Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir’s “Great Gatsby” themed birthday party.
However, Halasa said the New York City skaters really were the underdogs in the competition, especially since production groups can have anywhere from eight to 30 skaters.
“I would go so far as to say the number one highlight of my teaching career — it was so unexpected,” Halasa added.
Fourteen-year-old ice skater Alida Monaco put it another way: “Everyone was jumping up and down, jumping on each others’ backs, screaming.”
“We were really happy to be able to reach our goal,” said Mona Johnson, 14, who hails from Lower Manhattan near Chinatown. Johnson triumphed as a soloist as well when she made it into the finals for Teen Dramatic Entertainment with a program to “Don’t Tell Mama” from the musical Cabaret.
Monaco, a Tribeca native, also made the final round in her solo category of Teen Light Entertainment, where she said she did a routine to a mash-up of Hannah Montana and Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science”.
In showcase skating, the focus is on portraying a character or scene, and points are awarded for creativity and choreography, rather than on technique. It gives skaters who want to compete but also want to be involved in school and other activities — like many of the Sky Rink All Stars — the opportunity to shine.
When most kids get out of school on Friday afternoon, they can start the weekend, but the All Stars head for Chelsea Piers for their once-a-week practice. Many of them also put in extra time outside of team practices.
“Being an urban ice rink in the city at Chelsea Piers, we don’t have a lot of ice time,” said Halasa.
Both Johnson and Monaco said they got up early a few times every week to practice before school.
Johnson said balancing skating and her other passions can be difficult “because I’m in the tech theater program at LaGuardia High School and not only is that a commitment, skating is also a commitment.”
Monaco, though one of the original All Stars, said she had only rejoined the group six months before the competition because she had scheduling issues that prevented her from attending practice. She was glad she did.
“Ice skating can be such a singular kind of sport and this group can help us to connect and make friends,” she said.
“The girls have all really grown up with each other,” said Halasa. It was the winning factor on the ice, she said. “We had the chemistry and a great routine. They’re great performers, so we had all the ingredients to make a successful performance.”