Canadian choreographer Lori Nichol takes her place in the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame

These days, Lori Nichol has a spring in her step. There’s an extra lift to her walk. The world seems brighter.

It’s because this Canadian choreographer was just granted entry into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in mid-March, and the gesture of world support has deeply affected her. “It’s an incredible honour,” said Nichol. “For them to give this nod of approval gives me an extraordinary feeling. I didn’t even think it was possible.”

This from the woman who has choreographed exquisite routines for Michelle Kwan, Patrick Chan, Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner, Evan Lysacek, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, Denis Ten, and Daisuke Takahashi. In all, she designed programs for 11 singles skaters and one pair team, representing seven countries, at the Sochi Olympics.

Still, she’s surprised. “I was profoundly honoured and amazed that that could happen to me,” she said.

Because of this nod from the majordomo of the sport, Nichol says she’s having an uncommonly good choreographic season. “I feel more confident on the ice,” she said. “I keep being able to say to myself: ‘Just trust yourself, Lori, other people believe in you.’ I’m enjoying the process quite a bit more this year than I have in the past.”

She’s not tormenting herself so much. She bears the perfectionist’s burden: great is not good enough, every detail must be splendid. She can spend 20 minutes on a rocker, a change of edge. She’s always had this pervasive self-talk as she works, when she choreographs in her head and she’s watching her skaters and analyzing what parts work and what parts don’t. “Come on, Lori,” she says to herself. “You can do better than that. You know there is something more in that. Find it!’

“And having said all that, as tortured as it all sounds, I love it to death.”

Every time she sets to work to design a routine, she’s “petrified” the night before she starts it. She agonizes. Did she choose the right music? Has she given the right amount of breathing space to the skater to be able to perform and interpret? Has she balanced the athlete and artist enough? Will the choreography interfere with what the coach needs technically? Has she compromised the art too much for the technical? “Oh my goodness, the skater has come so far, or their family has sacrificed so much for them to be here,” Nichol worries. “Or is this the last program that this person will skate in an eligible career?” All sorts of things go through her head.

But then there are those moments when a skater does something amazing. “Then you feel so proud,” she said. “It could be as simple as four beats of movement that are just so fabulous and I get really excited.”

That’s just how it is when she works. She’s made friends with the process in a way. She’s even been tortured that she was tormented. Now Nichol says she’s able to accept that it’s just going to be like that. But now, “I just have this little burning ember inside of me that I didn’t have before that says: ‘You really can do this.’” Nichol said.

A case in point: the divine short program “Ave Maria” that Nichol did for Carolina Kostner, who ended up winning the Olympic bronze medal after so many Olympic disappointments. “It was a very difficult year, very emotional, and it was our ninth year together,” Nichol said. “And I felt sick almost for six months. It was Olympic year and for so many, it was their final year – or could be.”

Nichol had choreographed a Humeresque short program for Kostner, but when it received mixed reviews early in the season, Nichol’s experience allowed her to ditch it rather than try to fix it – and she brought in Ave Maria. Kostner wasn’t sure about it, but Nichol (as usual) convinced her that it would be the perfect complement to her earthy, sensual Bolero long program. “Ave Maria showed the sweetness and ethereal feeling,” Nichol said. It fit the skater.

So far this season, Nichol has already done two new programs for Gabby Daleman (“I’m very excited for her year,” Nichol said) and U.S. champion Gracie Gold, too. She’s excited about doing American Ross Miner’s long program. Right now, Nichol is doing one or two programs a week. She’s booked until the middle of July.

She attended the world championships in March after Kostner decided to compete and was asked to come first to Obertsdorf, then Japan. She returned from overseas on a Sunday. The next day, Nichol was at work, choreographing. She hasn’t had a day off since.

But still, she feels rejuvenated, even if she is tired. Her walk to the rink feels different and it’s because she’s been accepted into the World Hall of Fame.

Every day, when she opens the rink door, she tells herself that she will do everything she can to make a difference, no matter how small, in a person’s life or in the skating world, the art of skating. And now she knows she can.

“Just trust yourself,” she said. “I’m saying that to myself much more than other dialogues now. It’s a really beautiful gift and it’s an unexpected feeling from it. I never thought about what it would make you feel like. But it’s really something very, very special.”

You can only imagine what her programs will be like this year.

Beverley Smith

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