March 01, 2023
An ice skating program in Kensington is working to make a popular, and expensive, winter sport accessible to all.
Scanlon Figure Skating offers affordable weekly skating lessons for people of all ages and skill levels, as well as opportunities to perform in exhibitions throughout the year and travel to competitions across the region.
The program is housed within Scanlon Recreation Center, located at 1099 E. Venango St, which also hosts after-school programs and summer camps run by Ed Snider Youth Hockey & Education.
Students in the program range from 2 years old to 40-something years old. They come from neighborhoods across Philadelphia — including Kensington, Frankford, Port Richmond, Bridesburg and Fishtown — forming a diverse community of people who might not have crossed paths otherwise, through a shared interest in a sport that may not feel welcoming to all.
"In our sport, it's very white dominated," Michelle Shaw, the figure skating coach who runs the program, said. "When we go to competitions, kids feel it, and they know that they're different, so we're just trying to just be able to have a diverse community for basically anyone that wants to skate ... It's something that you don't see too often in our sport. I think a lot of the ice rinks are in areas that are mostly white to begin with, so that doesn't help the situation either. So we're just big on having a diverse community."
Beginner lessons, held every Saturday at 3:15 p.m, are open to anyone and cost just $5. For more experienced skaters, there are advanced lessons later in the afternoon for $7.
"If you compare this to your average ice rink, (the) cost would be between $20 and $30 a class and that would be a group class as well," Shaw said. "It is a big difference cost wise, so we're able to provide it at a low cost for people in the area so that they can participate."
Skaters also receive help acquiring competition costumes and ice skates when needed through sharing and donations.
The program is run through Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and the figure skating coaches are essentially volunteers.
"We all love to give back to a sport that has given us so much," Shaw said. "(Playing a sport) teaches you a lot of life lessons outside of athletic ability, and we just find that to be the most important part. You know what I mean? Like, what's the point of being a good skater if you're not going to be a good person?"
The beginner classes are designed as walk-in, so coaches never know how many students they'll get on a given Saturday; they may get 40 students one week, and 20 the next.
"We keep it very flexible, especially for beginner class ... You might try it just to try it, decide you don't like it, and then never come back," Shaw said. "Or you might try it, fall in love with it, and it sticks with you forever. It's just like any other sport in that way."
Scanlon hosts an in-house competition each January, with events for skaters from all age and skill level ranges. There is also a spring ice show held on Friday, April 14, and Saturday, April 15 featuring solos, duets, trios and group routines. Both the competition and show are free for the skaters to participate in, and the public is welcome to attend.
"We make room and make space for everybody to participate, because we're kind of like a community," Shaw said. "All the kids, for the most part, they know each other. They cheer each other on; it's nice."
Some students in the program decide to move forward with their skating careers, and Scanlon helps them to take their routines to competitions across the region. Scanlon skaters have recently competed across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Shaw has a personal connection to the place where she coaches. She grew up skating at Scanlon from the age of 7, taking private lessons at other rinks and then walking over to Scanlon after school to get extra practice time
"If I didn't have that rink, I wouldn't have been able to do as much as I did in the sport," Shaw said. "The cost is very high, and my parents couldn't really afford much more than me skating one time a week. So I was fortunate enough to have this rec center that had an ice rink and within walking distance, so I could go practice."
Scanlon's figure skating program has been around for over 50 years, but Shaw began revamping it in 2014, boosting it to where it is today.
"They did have skating lessons back then; it's just a little more elevated now," she said. "You know, we have kids in our groups that are doing double jumps ... that's when you jump up in the air, and you rotate two times."
Those interested in learning more about the program can visit Scanlon Figure Skating's website and Facebook page.
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