Social Media Skates into the Spotlight

When former figure skating competitor Lorne Edwards from Winnipeg started his own Facebook page during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, he had no idea he had a tiger by the tail.

“It had a figure skating thread that was becoming too long” admits Lorne. But it prompted him to think about skating as a whole new opportunity to build community.

The page has reconnected hundreds of people who haven’t seen or talked to each other in decades

After attracting skating friends Lorne hadn’t heard from in over 30 years, he decided to start another Facebook group called “Manitoba Figure Skating in the 70’s” that in just over a year has grown to over 200 members from all across Canada and the US … and yes, everyone has some connection to figure skating in Manitoba.

Lorne’s proud of this skating initiative. “Members regularly post old photos, skating programs from past events, and photos of medals and badges earned at competitions and on test days, as well as costumes that were worn that many still have hanging in their closet!”

The page is not only for communicating with competitors … judges, administrators and parents can also share their memories of skating at certain arenas and traveling to various competitions, as well as stories about the people who encouraged and supported them.

“The page has reconnected hundreds of people who haven’t seen or talked to each other in decades,” says Lorne, “although it’s certainly not restricted to only those who skated in the ‘70s. It’s really for anyone with a connection to skating in Manitoba.”

Out of the group page came the idea of a Manitoba Figure Skating Reunion.  According to Lorne, “Plans are in the works to have the reunion on April 16, 2016 in conjunction with the annual Bursary Banquet and Ice Show featuring performances from the year’s bursary winners.”

Former skaters will have the opportunity to greet old friends and support today’s top Manitoba competitors through the Manitoba Grassroots Bursary Trust founded in 1983 by a well-known Manitoba figure skating judge, Reta Barber.

“Pay it forward” is certainly one goal for Manitoba’s Alumni but Lorne and the other organizers are also looking to provide more first-hand skating opportunities for the reunion participants.

“What skating reunion would be complete without some skating?” asks Lorne. “A bunch of us from FB became inspired when we came across an event that’s been held at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club for 47 years called Toronto Ice Dance Weekend. Why can’t we do that here in Winnipeg?”

Shuna Heeney, the volunteer organizer of the dance weekend in Toronto agrees it is a huge success and a phenomenal program for keeping everyone active on the ice regardless of their age or ability. “I’m very passionate about promoting social ice dancing. Being able to skate all the Compulsory Dances is an activity that’s growing in popularity around the world. Just here close to the Toronto area, there are similar programs in Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Richmond Hill.”

When Shuna took over the TCSCC Dance Weekend six years ago, awareness of the event was waning. But similar to Lorne’s experience in Manitoba, as soon as she started using Facebook to promote it, interest in participating has triple Axeled. “For the last number of years our numbers have been steadily climbing. Part of it is through growing awareness but we’ve also tried to modernize the experience by using vocal music instead of dancing to repetitive ‘test’ music. Now we’ve created a music library that really livens up the environment and motivates the skaters.”

With more than 100 participants ranging in age from 13 to 87, social dancing at TCSCC offers skaters of all ages the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie the sport offers.

“Our participants are having fun dancing without being judged,” says Shuna. “We have a wide variety of skill levels and ages. Some are competitors, some are beginners, but regardless of ability, everyone skates with everyone.”

Next year’s event at TCSCC is scheduled for Feb 26-28, 2016.

Back in Winnipeg and following the example set by TCSCC, a reunion committee has been set up with Co-Chairs Lois Howard and Lorne, as well as Leanne Howard, Colleen Woods, and Don Brown leading the planning. Lorne has even booked ice time. “Here’s a chance for former Manitoba skaters to lace up again, remember the dance steps and have some fun.”

And word is spreading fast through social media.

“The list of those confirmed has grown to over 120!” boasts Lorne. “A reunion website is in the works but in the meantime, simply search Manitoba Figure Skating Reunion. It’s all about continuing to enjoy the sport and then passing it on.”

During next year’s Manitoba reunion, the Ice Dance portion of the weekend will be held April 17, 2016 in Winnipeg, the day after the Bursary Ice Show, giving attendees the chance to see the current crop of up-and-comers and then to skate with people they haven’t seen for 30 years or more!

For any other skaters interested in social dancing, Shuna has some advice about how to test out this exciting initiative. “A group called IDOL (Ice Dancers on Line) organizes a database of social ice dancing events in North America to help spread the word. There are lots of social media opportunities through Facebook and Yahoo if anyone wants to find out more.”

Whether you’re in Winnipeg or Toronto, social dancing may be a perfect way for you to continue exploring skating throughout your lifetime.

No partner is required … just come and dance!

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