By Stephanie Meditz
Beginning on Feb. 2, Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY) will begin its New Works and Young Artists Series (NWYAS) for the first time in three years.
The program gives the gift of ice dance to NYC public school students by providing them with free live performances by ITNY professionals and ice skating lessons.
“Its goal is to introduce underserved public school students to skating on ice,” executive director Jirina Ribbens said. “And beyond just regular skating activity, to give them arts exposure to what we call dancing on ice, which is beautiful, choreographed performances and expressive movement on the ice.”
ITNY’s mission is to establish ice dancing as an art form rather than a competitive sport or recreational activity.
It is a repertory company that works with choreographers from both the dance and skating worlds, meaning that a choreographer might set a piece on one performer and reset the same piece on a different performer years later.
“As a repertory company, you come in and you have to just learn all the different repertory that we are performing that season,” Ribbens said. “So it’s really truly like a dance company.”
Ice Theatre of New York was the first company in the nation to be recognized as a non-profit dance company and is one of few dance companies that dances on ice.
NWYAS performances include young apprentices who are close in age to the attending students, so they can see the possibility of their own progression.
Ribbens said that NWYAS is many students’ first time ice skating.
“We teach them how to safely fall and then to get up again on the ice,” she said. “The program is really inspiring for the children as well as for our performers because they feel like rock stars when the children respond to their performances, especially the young performers.”
The New Works and Young Artists Series is open to NYC public schools, mainly Title 1 schools, and students visit their local ice rink as a class during the school day.
The program will visit Lakeside in Prospect Park and City Ice Pavilion in Long Island City, as well as several rinks in Manhattan.
ITNY also began virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, which it has continued this year.
“That reaches the children in the other boroughs or people who are further away from the rink,” Ribbens said. “And not all schools have bussing programs or are able to come to do the live programming. So we reach out to those schools with the virtual program where they get to watch a short video and then we teach them in their classroom how to fall and get up. It’s actually hilarious.”
Ribbens is grateful that the program is operating in-person again, but during the pandemic, the virtual program was a nice change for students whose classes were strictly online.
“They got to ask all these questions from the performers and they got to see exciting videos,” she said. “We didn’t know how it was going to be received, but it was very well-received. The teachers loved it because it really gave them a different thing to do with the children during the pandemic.”
By bringing ice dancing to students’ neighborhoods, ITNY hopes to spark their love for it and inspire them to continue skating.
“We introduce them to their local rinks and then we say, ‘Look, come back, come skate again,’” Ribbens said. “Not only is it an activity that they can do safely outdoors in the winter, but they can also learn about all the different jobs that are at the rink, from ticket taker to zamboni driver, which is usually everybody’s favorite.”
In addition to the New Works and Young Artists Series, ITNY offers weekly classes at Bryant Park and Sky Rink during the season.
It also holds several concerts to engage the community, including one at Bryant Park on Feb. 21 during Kids’ Week that spotlights young performers.
“We cater the programming to the audiences that are coming, but they’re all free,” Ribbens said. “We try to reach as many audiences as possible. We’ve even done programming at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. They have a small synthetic ice surface.”