Despite social distancing Figure Skating in Harlem has a lot to celebrate

LOIS ELFMAN | 4/29/2021, midnight
The participants in Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) spent their days doing their schooling online but were able to get ...
U.S. ladies competitor Starr Andrews performed a tribute to Mabel Fairbanks Credit: Courtesy of FSH

The participants in Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) spent their days doing their schooling online but were able to get on the ice to train at several locations (Riverbank, City Ice, Rockefeller Center and Lasker), adhering to protocols with small groups and wearing masks.

“The unity it creates, I feel I have another home where I can go,” said high school sophomore Emily Delbrun, who has been with the program since the age of six. “I’ve always been athletic and outgoing, so when I get on the ice, it’s another way for me to be free. I can release all the stress I have in school and be myself.”

FSH held its annual gala online again this year. The honorees on April 22 were Susan Kittenplan, a longtime supporter of FSH, and Atoy Wilson, the first Black skater to win a U.S. national title. The overall theme was honoring the late Mabel Fairbanks, the coach who began the careers of Wilson and other high-profile skaters of color.

“I encourage the young girls, the bright stars of FSH to support, encourage, inspire and definitely respect each other as they are together in this world of figure skating,” said Wilson, the executor of Fairbanks’ estate. He and Tai Babilonia are working on projects related to Fairbanks, including a children’s book.

Participating in FSH has proven eye-opening for high school senior Nia Moore. When she entered the program nine years ago, she thought she was just going to learn how to skate. It has become a second family. These past few months skating has been a welcome respite from a day spent online.

“I go skating and…take a break and get to do something that I’m used to and like doing,” said Moore. “We all need that sense of familiarity and things that bring us comfort during this time.”

FSH did not do its annual show, but the skaters did get to perform. “The coaches filmed these routines with the girls in costume, and we edited it together for our end of the year awards ceremony on April 16th, which we did virtually,” said FSH Founder/Executive Director Sharon Cohen.

Cohen called the virtual gala a “true celebration of skaters of color and of our girls.” Coach and choreographer Derrick Delmore created a routine performed by U.S. ladies competitor Starr Andrews and three-time Olympian Vanessa James that was shown during the gala.

“The program is absolutely beautiful,” said Andrews, who was filmed at Chelsea Piers by Jordan Cowan of On Ice Perspectives. “I feel that Mabel Fairbanks is a huge part of the sport and it changing. To skate the program in her and Atoy’s honor is just amazing.”