Written By Elice Jrbashyan Photography By Artineh Aladadian and Andrew Caldwell Edited By Eboni Collins
Malik Walker interviews Mike Sonksen
What’s so hard about balancing on ice? It’s the same as walking. All you have to do it put one skate in front of the other and just like that you’re gliding across the ice. I guess since I’ve been ice skating for fourteen years, it never took me by surprise as to how difficult it can be since I was already a pro when I first started off. If you ask me, it’s much easier than roller skating because at least you can stop yourself if you know the right way. On the other hand, with roller skates, God knows what can happen.
As I step on the rink, I feel the cold wind brush up against my face and without realizing I have the biggest smile. I feel free. I have spent half my life on the ice so for me it’s considered like home. When I skate it comes natural to me and without even realizing, I gain speed as though I’m about to lose control. I simply clear my mind and find myself escaping from reality. Millions of people come to skate every day for their pleasure and for some experience. With the help of many professional trainers, people are able to learn whenever they want starting from the basics. Pickwick Ice Skating provides everything for people of all ages thanks to their amazing coaches. She’s an extraordinary woman who has had a lifetime experience of ice skating ever since she was eight years old. She has been figure skating her entire life and enjoys teaching all the techniques she knows to her students. Now, she has chosen to not only figure skate but to learn how to play hockey which in her opinion is more fun and challenging. It was a pleasure talking to her and getting to know some interesting stories about her life on the ice.
Mike The Poet admiring the imagery at the Museum of Neon Art
What made you want to become an Ice Skating instructor?
When I first stated ice skating I was 8 years old and I was one of those rail hangers where you just get on the ice and can’t get off the rail and I was stumbling off. I toured with Ice Capadesand I enjoyed the show but I knew right away that it wasn’t my thing and that I wasn’t going to make a career out of it so I came back home and immediately wanted to get back to the ice rink. This time I thought I might be a coach so at the time the Culver Ice Arena needed a skating school director so they hired me as a Skating School Director and I asked them when they found a replacement would they allow me to teach figure skating and they came through for me so I started teaching back in the nineties. Are there any specific Ice Skating tricks or movements that you like? If yes, please explain the process of your favorite one.
In figure skating I love jumping, and what we do is basically take off from backwards, go around 360 degrees, and land backgrounds again. Usually we come off of one foot and we land on either that same foot or the other. We sometimes have what’s called an edge jumps so we bend and lift to get into the air. We use our foot and our arms to lift us in the air and then other times we’ll use our extra foot so our toe will vault us up. I got through my doubles and started on triples and I have to say that my favorite jump was this jump called the double toe loop and then that becomes the triple toe loop and that was always my favorite. It was a tapping jump and it’s where you do a right inside three turn and we vault our left leg back then you go up into the air and then we rotate and then we land on our right leg. So you know it’s not easy, but I was one of my favorites.
As early as the age of 17, Sonksen began to explore his love for writing. He knew at 17, he could make writing into a career for himself. “It was a gradual process,” says Sonksen. “As early as 17 I knew I loved writing. Through my 20’s I was freelancing. I was doing freelance journalism, record reviews, poetry gigs. I briefly worked as a production assistant; did a little bit of TV.”
Mike Sonksen talking with David Svenson at the Museum of Neon Art
During your class sessions how many students do you usually tend to have? Is it easy teaching them?
I actually like fuller classes. I teach beginners the little two and a half year olds or three years olds up through like 12. But I love the little ones, and my average class size is about 12 students. They’ll take 20 in a class but usually after about 15 I’ll ask for an assistant just to make sure that if anybody is struggling that we can have another set of eyes out there. I love the larger classes because we keep it moving. Like everybody kind of moves across in a pack and it’s more fun. I’ve also started teach snowplow hockey which is the babies for hockey. So they have their hockey gear and their little sticks and then they’re trying to skate and they’re just completely incased in gear. So if they fall it doesn’t hurt or if they bump into each other they don’t even feel it. So yea it’s adorable! We do those on Wednesdays. So if you came in from 4:30pm to about 6:15pm I’m out there coaching all the different classes and it’s a lot of fun.
Is there anyone famous or well known that you have taught how to ice skate?
I teach a lot of musicians but you know what, I actually skated with Jim Carrey! Okay so I would actually work with his girlfriend at the time and we would do figure skating, then I would switch skates do hockey skating with Jim; because he was always playing goalie and he wanted to learn how to skate out, which means to be more of a player rather than a goalie. We were learning three turns, crossovers, and mohawks. We were really just having a blast. He’s a really hard working and takes his skating very seriously. I’ve also taught a lot of other actors. I train actors prior to movie shoots, so I’ve skated with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Neve Campbell, Lacey Colbert, Shia LaBeouf, Christy Romano and I just finished with some of my fellow colleagues here at Pickwick we just did a Jim Carrey show and it’s called Kidding. There was a skating episode where we went to a skating show and all of us my colleagues and I were dressed up as felt Christmas trees in a skating show which was a lot of fun. We do ice skating commercials and there is always something for everyone.
In your opinion, is it easier to teach a young student how to skate or an adult who has never ice skated? Explain why.
Personally, I love the adults because the adults are motivated like they truly want to be here. They’re paying for the lesson they know how serious this is I mean it’s a lot of money to have skating lessons. They have to pay to skate they have to pay for the skating lesson, they have equipment; I mean really good equipment that they are willing to invest in and sometimes when you get younger skaters and the parents are paying for it, it’s kind of like,“Oh wow,this is really expensive.” And then sometimes they’ll try to cut corners. If you have a really talented child and a very talented adult, it just depends. It’s almost equal for me cause anyone that has passion, I’m there for you. I look at the clock and without even realizing, because of how much fun we are having, it’s already time to go. The worst is when obviously, in all sports, is when the kid isn’t feeling well or changes their mind about the sport. We try to readjust the family to figure out if figure skating is not their sport then maybe they can try hockey or speed skating. There are lots of different things that you can do so it just depends on where your strength is.
What advice do you have for beginner skaters?
Definitely get good equipment! If you’re going to have skating lessons, invest in a pair of skates first because if you’re in rentals you might be sliding, you don’t know when they sharpened them last. Yes, they all try to maintain them but the sizes vary and maybe your foot’s narrow or it’s wide and you need a little bit different sized skates and all that can be handled by getting a nice pair of skates either used in a good condition to not spend too much money of your feet are still growing or bought. I would also encourage ballet and dance lessons for figure skating because both are very closely related.
If you have any children, do they like to ice skate? If they do, do you teach them personally?
Okay yes! I have two kids. I originally started teaching them ever since their first birthday and if they didn’t like it I would try again for their next birthday for like 15-20 minutes every single year until they finally said it themselves that they wanted to go skate. My daughter started out figure skating, and what’s interesting is that as skaters, we jump in one direction, and normally most kids will skate and turn counter clock wise. What she did was go the opposite way because her friend did it and that’s when I offered other sports and ideas and she fell into the tennis and the golf and fashion. My son on the other hand, he started skating and at the age of four, we threw a helmet on him because he wanted to do ice hockey and at 13 years old and he was playing with guys that were 16 and 17. Both my kids love ice skating and we go during the holidays and it’s just really fun. It’s a great sport that teaches kids about other sports and I feel that my kids are very athletic and they can do just about any sport because they have basics like dance, golf, tennis and skating was the beginning of all of it. My kids always hung out at the ice rink, and my colleagues would always keep an eye on them.
Is it easier to ice skate with regular skates or with hockey skates? Why?
I just started off skating in hockey skates. Well, I started teaching hockey four years ago, just hockey basics like skating. I bought hockey skates because I wanted to really feel what they’re going through because they have no toe pick, no heel, so if you lean forwards you’re going on your knees if you’re going back you’re falling on your butt or worse. So it helps me tell them what protection they need. You should definitely be wearing elbow pads because when you fall off your heels, that’s a terrible fall. When you fall forward, you definitely have to have a helmet on, and if you can with a cage because it protects your chin but specifically knee pads. I felt like when I was wearing hockey skates, it helped me become a better hockey coach to figure skate soon after. It’s like nothing. It’s like wearing shoes. I can run in my figure skates and it’s no big deal. So now slash forward four years later, last year I started skating in hockey skates and taking classes myself for pleasure and then one of the girls on a hockey team saw me skating and she was like “Oh we want you on our team!” I said, “What? I just learned but I don’t know, I’ve never been in a game.” But then she told me, “It’s okay we’ll teach you!” So four months ago I got a jersey and I started playing hockey and it’s a lot of fun. As I notice that I’m getting better and more balanced at my hockey skates; so when I go to put my figure skates on these huge toe picks in the front and now I’m tripping on my feet and it takes me about five minutes to adjust but if I go from figure to hockey skates it’s like no adjustment. I don’t know if I should be saying this out loud but I think it’s actually easier to skate with hockey skates but check back with me next year!!
Do you prefer figure skating or playing hockey? Why?
I’ve been skating for a long time and I have crossed over. I am actually enjoying the hockey but I have to tell you, when I’m jumping and spinning, because I said you have to really practice almost every day or a couple times a week, jumping is no easy feet so when you’re jumping sometimes you’re falling, and crashing, and burning and it’s nice to get out there and just play hockey because you’re not crashing and burning. Now, yes, you are banging into people, but I actually I think it’s a challenge because figure skating is something I’ve done for so long, and it just feels natural. But whereas hockey, it’s a whole different world. There’s the game aspect which I’m learning, then there’s stick handling which I’m learning, and on top of that there’s skating. And they say skating is the most important part because it gets you to the puck faster, but I personally feel that the stick handling is more important because I can’t stick handle. So there’s different areas of it but I have to say I enjoy it more.