The sound of skate blades tearing at the clean ice surface mingles with the sounds of children laughing, while instrumental music rotates through each child’s individual routine.
This is the Juan de Fuca Skating Club’s junior practice. It is calm, calculated composure. Everything you would associate with the beauty of learning to figure skate.
But soon their CanSkate members will take to the ice at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, after a quick scrape. That’s an entirely different experience.
“It’s organized chaos, that’s what we call CanSkate,” says coach and director of skating, Leslee Rushton, laughing. “It’s a great program.”
A herd of knee-height children lace up their skates – with the aid of their parents – and buckle up their helmets as they wait for the Zamboni to finish resurfacing the ice. While most skaters are four or five years old, some are as young as three. They stampede once the doors open, smiles spreading from ear to ear. While some take carefully measured steps, others bound around on shaky ankles, all closely monitored.
Every week the CanSkate program has a different theme. This week’s is dinosaurs, so helmets are adorned with construction paper spikes, fabric tails poke out from under jackets and the odd toy peeks out from inside hoods or backpacks.
It’s not just figure skaters in this group. “The hockey players use our CanSkate program to learn the fundamentals,” said Rushton. “We use this learn-to-skate program for hockey, ringette, figure skating and just enjoyment.”
CanSkate is Skate Canada’s flagship learning program for beginners of any age. Practices run three times a week at the local club, but members don’t have to go to all of the practices and can join at any point in the season. And inside the warm lobby, there’s a siblings table filled with crafts and activities to keep non-skating members of the family occupied during the sessions.
For those watching, it may seem like chaos, but there is a lot of structure laid out for the children. Skaters work their way through stations that focus on different movements. When a new skill or manoeuvre is mastered, students earn ribbons, and they earn badges for different levels as they move up in the program.
“It’s little goals they have to work towards,” Rushton said.
It isn’t only coaches on the ice who aid the younger members’ development. “Without our older skaters, our program wouldn’t function,” she said. Senior club members go through specialized training at the beginning of the season to learn to become program assistants. They then help mark out stations, teach skills and work with the CanSkate students throughout the year.
“It’s an amazing club,” Rushton said. “We do more than just skating. It’s so much fun.”
And the club isn’t just focused with on-ice development. Along with off-ice dryland classes, coaches organize a number of club activities through the season. The club had its own float in last weekend’s Santa Claus parade and will perform on Butchart Gardens’ outdoor rink on Dec. 13. As well, members will stage a special performance for family, friends and the community on Dec. 20 at Juan de Fuca for the club’s Christmas gala and dessert night – the last ice time before winter break.
For more information go to juandefucaskatingclub.ca.