On the Ice with David Liu

The Ice Theatre of New York is making a mark in the world of artistic figure skating by fusing elements of the contemporary dance, music and art worlds into performance skating.

I caught up with Olympian ice skater and choreographer David Liu before a rehearsal for his performance with the Ice Theatre of New York in France on Jan. 29 and Jan. 31.

Q: Tell me a little about your background. Where did you grow up?

A: I was born in Taiwan and grew up there until I was six when my family immigrated to the United States, and we moved to New York right away. Since my childhood, I’ve lived in just about every borough of New York, except Staten Island. I started dance first – kind of the typical story: both of my sisters danced, and I went along, and they stopped, and I kept going.

When my family immigrated here, they didn’t really have time to take me to dance classes. We lived near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and that’s where I started skating when I was around eight years old. It looked like dance. I fell in love with it and started pursuing it.

I skated until I was 11- or 12-years-old, when I had to stop because skating was very, very expensive, and my family had a very difficult time with working. So, I went back into dance, auditioned for the School of American Ballet and went through there. I got back into skating when I was 17, after I graduated from the School of American Ballet. I tried to make up for a lot of lost time: I lived around the country and trained in different states.

In 1987, the national Taiwan team was recruiting for the winter Olympics and asked me if I would represent them. I thought it was a really good opportunity, so I took it on and went to the winter Olympic Games in 1988. I went again in 1992 and 1998.

Since then, I’ve always had one foot in the skating world and one foot in the dance world. I love dance and the theater; I never really left it and try to stay involved. After competing in the Olympic Games, I was just so sick and tired of skating. So I decided to go back into theater. I danced around with different companies and worked a bit in Asia.

Now I kind of bridge the two. I’m more interested in the performing aspects of skating and finding my own language and figuring out how work dance and skating together.

Q: What it was like to go to the Olympics to compete, and to represent Taiwan?

A: The Olympics is an interesting thing – it’s so huge, and it seems like the ultimate thing. But what I found that is different about that sporting event, as compared to other competitive sporting events, is that there are so many sports involved, and that all these countries come together and support one another. It’s not just about me-me-me-me-me. That camaraderie was great, especially when you’re in a competitive sport, it’s hard to find that kind of spirit.

I’m not so sure about the Olympic movement nowadays because it’s so commercialized – it’s such a big deal; there’s a lot of hype. But I think that the simplicity of the whole thing – where all the athletes get together and are housed all together – I feel like that feeling is quite different and unique, and I’ll always remember and cherish that.

My first time at the Olympics was nerve-wracking and scary. You go there, and don’t really know what’s going on, and before you know it, it’s over. My second trip in 1992 was the most memorable, because I wasn’t a rookie anymore, I kind of knew it, and I was able to take the experience in.

Q: Who were your mentors and role models who have helped you through your career?

A: There are so many – I’ve had so many teachers. My skating career is a bit unusual in that respect, because a lot of skaters tend to have one or two coaches throughout their careers, although maybe things are changing these days. Because of my dance background, I’ve always had many different types of teachers, so I’ve always had a very curious mind about “oh, why does that work for that person,” and “what does that coach teach.”

There were several people that I think had a tremendous impact on me. Two of them stick out. One of them was JoJo Starbuck, who was an Olympic competitor and world medalist in pair skating; she was on the U.S. team with her partner Ken Shelley. She was truly a mentor. She taught me not just about skating, but about being a person, being a competitor. She was truly a role model by how she lived her life, and how she was with other people. She was just so gracious and humble and a fantastic woman. She’s like a big sister to me.

The other was Sonya Dunfield, who was a coach of mine off-and-on throughout my career. She really gave me a very keen sense of my body, and how it feels to do things. She was quite unique.

There are also so many numerous people who are really helpful and just giving. There was a woman, Lisa Webster, who was just so fantastic and supportive in her spirit, and very generous in her finances and stuff like that.

Q: What is Ice Theatre of New York? Tell us a little about your upcoming performances in France.

A: Ice Theatre of New York was founded by Moira North. I’ve worked with them off-and-on for about a decade. It’s an ice skating ensemble company. We’re going to France to do two performances there. We had gone there over spring 2008, and they invited us back.

Q: What is your hope for the future of your unique blend of skating and dance?

A: When I think about developing as an artist, it’s always about finding your voice and your perspective of things, and having the time to devote to that. You evolve and you change, and I don’t ever want to stop doing that. I feel like it’s very easy to get stuck in a place, or get complacent. I hope to always push myself and to be daring.

TaiwaneseAmerican.org admires your heart and dedication, and wishes you well, David Liu! We look forward to seeing you create more of your unique artistry on ice!

Visit the Ice Theatre of New York website: http://www.icetheatre.org

Margaret Chen is a staff member of TaiwaneseAmerican.org and currently lives in New York City. Contact her at margaret@taiwaneseamerican.org.

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