For months last year, figure skating in Harlem didn’t include figure skating.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the 24-year-old organization that cares for young women in New York City did not see the ice from late winter through fall. Upon their return, it was an important step towards normalcy with strict coronavirus prevention protocols.
“We had 7- and 8-year-olds through 18-year-olds, and I have to say that if you can move physically it helps you mentally,” said Sharon Cohen, CEO and founder of Figure Skating in Harlem. “In a way, skating was a lifeline for these girls when so many sports were canceled. The first day on the ice we had very strict protocols, everyone was wearing masks and we were socially distant. We did everything in book, that was a change , they had to learn a new routine, but once they got used to it, it brought a sense of normality in the midst of the abnormality.
“One of our groups of girls, younger and older girls, was working on developing a routine that they would perform at Rockefeller Center by mid-January. They had to think about costumes and music and then practice performing them without physical contact. As them were able to get on the ice, this was possibly the only personal experience they had with their peers, and this was such an important part of helping our girls figure skating in Harlem: they could get together and be together on the Ice and not being isolated or endangered. It was an intermediate step for them. “
The challenges for the girls who will pay tribute to the color skaters at FSH’s Champions In Life 2021 virtual gala on Thursday went well beyond the absence of Ice Age. The program’s goal for nearly a quarter of a century has been to help girls of color change their lives by increasing in confidence, leadership skills, and academic achievement. Figure skating in Harlem combines the power of education with access to the artistic discipline of figure skating “to build champions in life”.
With the world going virtual in 2020, these young women have been forced to grapple with the separation caused by the pandemic, the economic uncertainty for them and their families, and the racial unrest across America.
That is why the FSH has increased its commitment.
“We had a class called ‘Real Talk’ where our amazing social workers and teachers practically matched the girls by age,” says Cohen, “and they could have a session just to express their feelings and where they are and press theirs Fear off and get some tools to work this through so that they realize they are not alone.
“Nobody could have imagined having a pandemic and what it would mean in everyday life, with the added unknown for the girls of fear and pressure. All in the same household for certain periods of time together. Our girls had a way. We were grateful that we could continue to support them from the ice and offer them the place where they could get individual help. “
The pandemic has also forced a second virtual gala for FSH. The award goes to the late Mabel Fairbanks, a long-time competitor, performer and trainer who was a pioneer for black skaters. Atoy Wilson, the first black skater to compete in the US championships and an inexperienced men’s champion; and Susan Kittenplan, president of the New York Skating Club.
In addition, the US senior skater Starr Andrews and the two-time Olympic champion Vanessa James from France, who will be presented by the French skater Mae Berenice Meite, will perform.
“We could really dive into the history of the skaters of color,” says Cohen. “Mabel is undervalued and the fact that we could bring her story to life – this is the most meaningful gala we’ve ever done.
“But it’s about the legacy of all the skaters of the color who have encouraged and trained them. Atoy Wilson was a supporter of ours from the start. To see it in a virtual, concise program – it’s powerful. And with our program and this one Background understanding, the struggle for skaters of color to gain visibility and notoriety.
“There have been other organizations that have been active in recent years to give color skaters more visibility. We wanted to invite everyone to the table and make it a celebration of color skaters from our girls all the way back to Mabel.”