Often, a ladies’ skater making her debut into the senior ranks faces an important decision: embrace one’s youth, or be a lady?
Kanako Murakami is no exception. Unlike many senior debuts that go more or less un-noticed, Miss Murakami’s debut into the senior ranks of ladies’ skating has caught the attention of many a fickle skating fan. Miss Murakami has not only won the bronze at NHK and the gold at Skate America, but her skating style has left a wave of divergent opinions in its wake. Miss Murakami’s style, as exemplified in her SP, can best be described as ‘sugar on steroids.’ Everything in Miss Murakami’s SP—from her bright-pink beribboned ponytail to the megawatt exuberance of her smile and movements—has indicated that she and her coach Machiko Yamada have heartily chosen the youthful route. This, not surprisingly, has polarized opinions on the matter. Some have praised the freshness and spark in Miss Murakami’s skating, while others less fond of the perk have declared her more grating than watching Rachael Flatt’s attempts to be balletic.
Whatever one may find Miss Murakami, however, it is clear that she cannot hold onto her sugar on steroids style forever if she wants to be taken seriously as a senior lady. Even Mirai Nagasu—she of kinder-Carmen and other radioactively cutesy programs—has adopted a more mature look by now. So, what is Miss Murakami to do?
Fortunately, history has many suggestions for routes Miss Murakami and others of her ilk can take.
Michelle Kwan, Salome
The classic example is of course Michelle Kwan's spectacular Salome transformation during the 1995-1996 season. In the blink of a season, Ms. Kwan went from ponytailed and fresh-faced to navel-baring (sort of) seductress. Despite appearances, however, Ms. Kwan's transformation was not simply the result of the deft application of make-up and a new hairstyle. What is less noticed is how Ms. Kwan's actual skating and presence on ice also improved by leaps and bounds as well. This newfound sophistication, combined with some of Lori Nichol's most brilliant choreography, won Ms. Kwan her first world title and ushered in the Kwan era of ladies figure skating.
Mao Asada, Chopin
Indeed, few skaters fully glide into the senior ranks with the grace of Mao Asada (her 2005-2006 GP season is disregarded for now since she technically wasn't fully a senior). Miss Asada went from twirling her ponytail in her very own version of kinder-Carmen to eliciting the superlative praise of Dick and Peggy for her style in a span of a single season. The route here is clear: put on the classical music and get your butt to ballet class for some lessons in refinement and elegance.
Alexei Yagudin, Lawrence of Arabia
Of course, Alexei Yagudin is not a ladies skater but his example is instructive here: find a new choreographer. The 1998-1999 season marked Mr. Yagudin's switch from Alexei Mishin to Tatiana Tarasova, and the results were mindblowing--Mr. Yagudin went from refrigerator on skates to artist, producing some of the most brilliant and memorable programs ever by a male skater (Winter, Revolutionary Etude, Gladiator, Man in the Iron Mask, etc). However, it is best if Miss Kanako avoids going to Ms. Tarasova to "open up her soul," especially given Ms. Tarasova's less-than-stellar CoP work with Mao Asada. But perhaps someone like Tom Dickson could work wonders on Miss Murakami.