Two Nashua high school seniors skating their way to Europe
Kate Bedinger was a 6-year-old watching figure skating during the 2002 Winter Olympics when she told her parents she wanted to try the sport.
Rachel Weintraub started skating around the same time, when a friend from kindergarten signed up, and asked her to come along.
Devon Dillon, who coaches skating at Conway Arena, got hooked as a 4-year-old in Wakefield, Mass., around the time Nancy Kerrigan of neighboring Stoneham was competing for Olympic gold.
All three will be in Spain next month representing the United States and the Colonial Figure Skating Club of Boxborough, Mass., at the Nations Cup championships of Theatre on Ice.
Bedinger and Weintraub, seniors at Nashua High School North and South, respectively, went through the triumphs and heartbreaks of singles and pairs competition when they were younger.
Now they are part of a team of 30 skaters in the relatively new discipline of ice theatre. Dressed in costumes the team acts out theatrical stories or ideas while skating.
The routines are carefully choreographed for months. Certain props are allowed and considerable skating ability is required to perform the spins, pair moves and techniques required by a particular routine.
The 27-year-old Dillon, who teaches skating in both Nashua and Boxborough, is both a coach and one of the team’s 30 performers.
Weintraub said she first heard about Theatre On Ice from Dillon about three years ago.
“Skating was becoming too competitive, singles wise,” Weintraub said, “but I still liked skating so I decided to audition for the team.”
Dillon said Theatre on Ice has been popular in Europe for decades but wasn’t introduced in the United States until about 10 years ago. It’s just beginning to take off.
“It’s the artistic part,” Dillon said, explaining the popularity of Theatre on Ice in Europe. “The ice dancing incorporated with pairs, incorporated with theatrics.”
For many participants, it’s the perfect gateway toward professional skating with well established programs like Disney on Ice.
“It does help you develop your creative skating and performance,” Dillon said, “to go on to other things, like some of our skaters have.”
For Weintraub and Bedinger any thoughts of professional skating would be on hold for at least four years. Both plan on attending college, Bedinger at Simmons College in Boston while Weintraub, already accepted at Brandeis, has yet to decide.
Each plans on continuing to skate, but even the demands of an ice theatre team would probably be too time consuming to work with.
The teams perform both a long and short programs. The short program theme this year is cultural dance, so the Broadway Blades routine is based on the Argentine tango.
“We brought in two professional tango dancers,” Weintraub said. “They taught us about it and we worked that choreography into the program.”
Short routines run about two and a half minutes and can be physically demanding.
“You are not only doing jumps and spins,” Dillon said, “you are using everything you have.
“The way we do choreography, everyone is moving all the time.”
The long program, which lasts for over six minutes, is somewhat macabre, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mask of the Red Death.”
“It’s taxing physically, but also emotionally,” Weintraub said. “We all die at the end.”
“You have to get into the mindset of what you’re about to perform,” Dillon said. “There is a lot of single skating and pairs skating, and a lot of acting.”
There is no limit to the number of men or women on a team. The Broadway Blades senior division team has five men and skaters ranging in age from 12 to 32.
“The men come in real handy when it comes to lifts and pairs,” Bedinger said, “and I think the judges like seeing guys playing guys, instead of girls dressed up as guys.”
Over 100 skaters tried out for the Broadway Blades senior division team, but some of those who didn’t make the senior team are currently skating on a preliminary level team coached by Dillon.
At the last world championships, on Cape Cod in 2011, the Broadway Blades took fourth in their division. They’ve finished as high as second in national competitions in the last few years.
The team’s head coach and choreographer, Mary Wanamaker, is a former dancer with the Boston Ballet Company and Radio City Music Hall, who performed on Broadway.
Wanamaker had made the transition to training figure skaters, including a number of Olympians.
For Bedinger, team skating was a great transition.
“It’s less stressful and more fun to be part of a team,” Bedinger said. “I wanted to bring more fun into skating because competing as an individual can get really lonely.”
Good teams will capitalize on the particular strengths of its individual skaters. Weintraub, for instance, is particularly adept at spins and spirals. She also likes acting, and took part as a director and dancer this winter in Nashua South’s production of “Singin’ in the Rain.”
On ice, it can all come down to having the right theme and choreography and the Broadway Blades were successful with versions of “Alice in Wonderland’’ and “42nd Street’’ before moving on to Poe.
“Our musicality is what we’re known for,” Dillon said, “along with being very dramatic.”
In Spain, teams will come from all over Europe, with French teams often dominating the competition.
“They tend to be more ballet on ice,” Dillon said, “but often with a political theme. I love watching them.”
And skating fans should succumb to the Broadway Blades, even if they do all die in the end.