On a Friday night at the McCann Ice Arena in the heart of Poughkeepsie, eight young skaters clad in black and red form a circle at one end, then glide down the rink together to a medley of Cher and Christina Aguilera. Mid-ice, they break formation to re-form in a “three-spoke”—think of a Mercedes-Benz logo, minus the circle—and three skaters peel off to perform the spins so familiar to fans of figure skating.
Except this isn’t figure skating—it’s synchronized skating, the specialty of Iced Brew, a Vassar team now in its sixth season.
Iced Brew was the brainchild of Hannah Erdheim ’10, who, in her final semester at Vassar, told the Miscellany News that being the founder and president of Iced Brew was “the greatest accomplishment of my college career.” The team is still going strong nearly three years after Erdheim moved on from Vassar, and this season, 10 skaters comprise the crew.
The team will compete this Saturday in the Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships, which will be held in the same Lake Placid, New York, arena that hosted figure skating during the 1932 Winter Olympics. It’s the third and final competition of Iced Brew’s season, which also included meets in Stamford and Boston, where Erdheim recently came to watch the crew compete.
The group is defying quite a few odds with a combination of grace and grit. Not only does it manage to integrate skaters of all skill levels to produce a lively show; it also keeps itself going with a combination of funding from the Vassar Student Association and a considerable amount of fundraising by team members.
“Most college teams have their own rinks,” says Lauren Chin ’13, president of Iced Brew. “We’re paying for ice time, renting the Vassar van, and paying our coach.” (Though “not nearly as much as she deserves,” adds Alicia Robinson-Welsh ’15.) Tabling at the College Center helps Iced Brew to cover these costs and many more, such as their nifty skating costumes and transportation to regional competitions.
The season starts in September, when those selected for the team must make a commitment to three hours of practice on- and off-ice every week. There are also three exhibitions at McCann for Vassar fans and fellow skaters from the Poughkeepsie community.
For a small team, Iced Brew is an amazingly diverse group. Members hail from as far away as Beijing and Manila, and as nearby as New York City and Utica. Surprisingly, none of the team members are from places you might expect, such as Alaska or Minnesota, but there are representatives from warm climates such as California and New Mexico. All four class years at Vassar are represented, too, including two seniors for whom coach Deirdre Bonanno, from the Dutchess Figure Skating Club, must find replacements next season. But for the most part, she’s not worried about that.
“We get newbies every year,” she says. “Some have experience, some don’t. If one person is having a hiccup in their skating, no one ever turns their back; there’s always someone from the team right in there helping.”
Indeed, the team members’ experiences vary widely. One of the newest members, Drury McAlarney ’16, from New York City, admits he’d had “zero experience” before joining.
“I had skated at a couple of birthday parties, and thought it was fun,” he says. “When I started with Iced Brew, I thought, ‘This is nice, but how am I ever going to do this?’” But as soon as he says it, his teammates assure him—in chorus—that he’s doing just fine.
Michelle Molina ’14 started skating at age seven in the Philippines. Kari Holmes ’14, from Baltimore, started two years ago. And Morgan Howe ’14, from Redondo Beach, California, had some experience with skating and, even more, with ballet.
On the more experienced end of the spectrum, Patrick Yao ’16 had skated a lot as an individual back home in Beijing, and had even considered going semi-pro. Yet, as Bonanno points out, even for skaters experienced in singles, “It’s a whole new world if you’ve never done synchronized skating before. Everyone on the team has some kind of challenge, but they want to be challenged; they step up to the plate and ask to be challenged.”
One thing is for sure: The members of Iced Brew will face these challenges together. As coach Bonanno says, “This team, from its inception, is based on camaraderie. It’s a happy team.”
Photos © Vassar College-Buck Lewis