On a humid, late summer afternoon with temperatures shooting into the nineties, 11-year-old Gillian Lopez and her coach Amy Montalbano donned long-sleeved black shirts, hoodies and pants as they took to a cooler clime: the ice at the Kiwanis arena. Training for a showcase competition in which she would channel the villain Maleficent, Lopez worked on hand movements as she glided across the ice. Her coach occasionally called out words of encouragement or modeling suggestions she might try.
Lopez, who has been skating since she was four years old, is one of the students Montalbano trains. As owner and director of the Saugerties Skating School, Montalbano works with students of all ages and levels. In the Monday figure skating classes offered by the school, she and other certified coaches work with groups of four to eight skaters on jumps, spins and techniques.
On Saturdays, learn-to-skate classes are offered. Students are broken up by level and age, and each group of five to ten students works with a single coach on one area of the ice. Typically, about 35 students drop in at each of these classes.
Those who have mastered techniques in the skating classes offered through the school can take private lessons with Montalbano and other coaches through the affiliated Saugerties Skating Club, which became official last year.
A number of younger students take beginner skate classes. There are also a number of adults who attend lessons. Montelbano says positive memories of skating as a child is the primary motivation that brings most adults to the classes.
Is returning to the ice after years away just like relearning riding a bike? No, she responds. Bodies change as they grow and develop. One of the biggest obstacles adults face when returning to skating is the the fear of getting injured. Knowing this, coaches work to ease them back onto the ice slowly.
The coaches work differently with the adults than the children. Adults, she says, typically want more verbal instruction about technique before trying something. Children just want to jump right in. Eleven-year-old Lopez, nods vigorously, concurring.
What draws younger students to the sport? They’re most often “creative kids who like feeling independence.” Lopez says she does it because “it’s a lot of fun.”
The benefits to these children include a work ethic, perseverance, and the confidence to “put themselves out there.” According to Montalbano, skaters learn to receive feedback without frustration, recognizing it as an opportunity to improve rather than as criticism.
Montalbano recalls being approached by a coach for a skating club in Pittsfield at a competition who commended her on her skaters’ overall presentation. She says this compliment meant a lot to her.
Montelbano’s students also garner awards. Lopez, for instance, recently received first place in an improv competition in July. Students participate in four or five competitions a year, on average.
The Saugerties Skating School is beginning its sixth year this year, and is currently enrolling students for the sessions beginning in the fall.