OCEAN CITY – As a group of sun-soaked and sand-covered visitors stood in the atrium overlooking the Carousel Resort Hotel’s one-of-a-kind ice rink on Tuesday, watching two of the Next Ice Age’s female skaters pirouette on an invisible pin like a ballerina atop a music box, they simply said, “I can’t believe this is free.”
The Next Ice Age, the complimentary to the public half-hour figure skating extravaganza, has carved its way onto the map of high quality things to do while you are in Ocean City and is truly one of the most unique things that one can see while in the resort.
The town of Ocean City has been playing up the words “free” and “value” all season long in its advertising messages, but little has been said about the quality of those events.
“If you’ve got something that no one else has, you have to get the word out there and use it as one of your strengths,” said Carousel Managing Partner Michael James. “Anyone who hasn’t seen the show will be blown away by how good it is.”
For the eighth straight season, Tim Murphy, co-founder (along with Nathan Birch) of the 20-year-old Next Ice Age Skating Company, has put together a team of lovely and fluid young skaters who on a nightly basis put on an elegant show showcasing the art of figure skating in probably the most unlikely of places: an oceanfront hotel.
In fact, the venue is so unique, that when James hired Murphy eight seasons ago, he told him that the rink was probably the only one of its kind on the East Coast.
“I told him, Michael, I’ve been to ice rinks all my life all over the world, this is the only rink of its kind anywhere in the world,” said Murphy.
Murphy is famously known in the skating world as being the 15-year coach of Olympic medal winning skating icon Dorothy Hamill, but he was also an accomplished skater in his own right, and known throughout the skating world as a top-notch choreographer.
Murphy and his non-profit organization routinely puts on skating shows all over the country, including the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
“We are like a dance company but on ice,” said Murphy. “This is our most informal performance that we do, but what I learned at a very young age with performance skating is that it’s all about the venue and you have to design the show for the venue.”
With that in mind, Murphy said that he keeps a light and fun theme for the 30-minute show, which he started putting together at the beginning of the year.
“Everything usually starts in January as far as casting, music, theme, costumes,” said Murphy. “So, there’s a lot of pre-production. We have really amazing girls this year that are just fantastic and beautiful skaters who have worked incredibly hard to put on a great show for hundreds of people each and every night.”
The five skaters, a group of 18-24-year-old collegiate and competitive female skaters, say that adjusting to the small size of the rink itself was equally as hard to adjust to as getting through the grueling 70 shows in 70-night schedule.
“Once you are out there, it gives you such a high to see people watching you from the balconies and being crowded all around you and cheering for you,” said skater Megan Marschall. “Our bodies could probably use a break, but once you are out there, you totally forget about it.”
The Carousel’s rink is about a third of the size of a regular Olympic-size rink that the cast are accustomed to training and competing on, and the adjustment, in addition to having to skate as a unit, rather than an individual makes the task all the more difficult, but the resulting performance all the more impressive.
“The ice is never in perfect shape, but you have to be a lot more aware of your edges and your turns and where you are on the rink,” said Stephanie Franczak. “It’s when you ease your concentration that you end up making a mistake, no matter how well we know the routine by now.”
On a summer’s day when temperatures can soar into 90’s, the only ice visitors to other beach resorts may expect is a few cubes in their umbrella drinks. Yet, for a half-hour each night, hundreds of guests, many of which who probably have never seen a figure skating performance before, stand totally enthralled by the unlikely site of uber-talented skaters gliding across a sheet of ice to Murphy’s playful song selections.
Technically, Murphy said what the viewers are seeing is a far cry from the type of skating that the girls are used to during the rest of their careers.
“Skaters are raised to move as individuals not as a group, so with this show, it’s incredibly difficult to make it look free and easy when there’s a girl doing the same thing right next to you,” said Murphy.
James has hammered the experience home too, in addition to a show that plays well all the way up to the balcony. He’s also included stellar rink-side dining, which plays hand in hand with Murphy’s idea to have the skaters interact with the crowd during and after the show.
“I like to call it their ‘Madonna Minute’ where they get to sign autographs and take pictures with kids in the crowd after the show,” said Murphy. “I think it’s a thrill for everyone, including the girls.”