Sep 13

Writers Watching Sports: On Skating Backup

Writers Watching Sports Shelley Belly

An Interview with Shelley Belly

1. Who is your favorite figure skater of all time

Mao Asada!!! She began her career as a technical wunderkind and over a decade developed into skating’s most lyrical and mature artist. Her long program at the Sochi Olympics literally makes me weep every time. And, during her performance to Madame Butterfly’s famous aria “One fine day” at the 2016 World Championships, the Russian commentators opine that when Mao takes the ice, she does not compete on behalf of any single nation, but rather she belongs to all of figure skating. I am still deeply sad about her recent decision to retire, but she will always be remembered as one of the best skaters of all time.

2. The Winter Olympics are coming up soon. Who do you think is going to win gold?

I will be shocked if Evgenia Medvedeva doesn’t win. She’s broken 11 world records and hasn’t been beaten in at least a year…she’s unstoppable.

3. What song would your dream figure skating routine be set to?

I’m deeply ambivalent about this. If I got one more crack at it, I would love to skate to Judy Collins’ version of “Send in the Clowns,” but I don’t know if anyone should ever skate to that song again after Yuna Kim’s devastatingly gorgeous interpretation of it at the 2014 Olympics. I suppose it would be an homage…

Johnny Weir skating

On Skating Backup

Everything was velvet. Lyra Angelica. Crystal. Ice blue. Plastic video gay mincing midnight velour. Spandex. Stiletto madrigals. Oceans of holographic droplets. False unitard tasseled and wet. Hot pink corset. Velcro fastened under bespoke boots. Italian suede. Everyone flush and rubbed into soft expensive nap. Opaque. Ornament. An assembly of saints raptured and sobbing. I drip head to toe in ooey gooey Puccini. I get stabby in my faggy bugaboo jubilee—I am sutured couture de rigueur. Feathers and lace and Ace of Base. My ice is resurfaced with champagne.

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The nineties were weird. When I was eight years-old, a hockey player at my rink told me all figure skaters are faggots who die of AIDS. The entire U.S. figure skating team died in a plane crash in 1961, but if they were alive today, they’d be dead of AIDS. O, selvage pearlescent skin, I rupture and ooze! Thrush-white chiffon extrudes from my sugared o/pus. Every crease of my crushed velour contaminates. I blow Swarovski antibodies from my nose in the Puffs® Kiss and Cry and the camera catches AIDS. It shutters in ecstasy, transmitting AIDS over live TV. Ratings spike like a fever and my sponsors gag, honey. American judges vomit fat black globules: 6.0! 6.0! 6.0! Canadian, Russian, Japanese: 6.0! 6.0! 6.0! 6.0! 6.0! 6.0! I blow kisses and pose nude on the podium. I put the anal back in bacchanal. I bite my gold and break off chunks to lob at fans. The audience stands in ovation, flapping their sheer georgette faggot shrouds. I cross my heart as the star-spangled banner twirls into oblivion. Outside, a rainbow arcs across the civic center. It rains roses made of AIDS.

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🎵But where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns. Quick, send in the clowns🎵

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When I was fifteen, hockey players pissed in our locker room’s microwave. They would stand at the boards and yell gross boring slurs and try to trip us with their sticks. Sometimes their dads egged them on. This was bad but almost too absurd to internalize. More insidious was the constant policing by other male figure skaters, including coaches and choreographers. From the outside, it’s all arcane pageantry. After all, we really do look like gay princes from the Ice Capades. But behind the scenes, the locker room was a stage for strange and inscrutable displays of teenage masculinity. It was just as dumb and mortifying as any high school locker room, only somehow worse. Most everyone I knew was straight (for real). And with all the guys feeling fragile in their skin-tight Lycra and sparkle mesh, the urge to prove just how not-gay they were had become a daily practiced madness. The social script was confounding—the theater of raw outward “man” lobbed at me like a rock, a crushed beer can, a whole roasted hog. I was repelled and elated. I was awkward, aroused, and always wrong.

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In 1996, Rudy Galindo, a camp icon and openly poz gay man, won the national title with a (joyously bad) “jazz” rendition of Swan Lake. Meanwhile, several skaters around the world quietly died of AIDS as critics debated the need for more athleticism and masculinity in the sport (down with decadent dandies and their fin-de-siècle excesses, et cetera, et cetera.). A decade later, Johnny Weir was chronically underscored and lambasted by skating officials and the media for his unapologetic flamboyance. Women from all over came to his defense. They cheered and wept and made him angel wings. These self-proclaimed Johnny’s Angels gave him everything, and for a while he became their tiny martyr. Mine too. The bummer thing about queer icons, though, is they’re always-already a little bit dead. Vamp. Alien. Angel. Even as they’re worshipped, they are marked for excision, always existing as the constitutive limit to what is good and proper (and family friendly entertainment). Johnny Weir was exceptional, and in his exceptional Weir(d)ness, he became divine. A spectral body-text saturated with the supernatural glow of infamy. The more famous he became (the more visible his queerness), the more success in skating became impossible. Ultimately, Weir was robbed of a medal at the 2010 Olympics, while his overrated, hysterically masculine teammate Evan Lysacek (whose shoulders were adorned with a menacingly phallic rhinestone snake) won Gold.

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🎵Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer? Losing my timing this late in my career…And where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns—

Don’t bother…they’re here🎵

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Not all scientists agree on why ice is slippery. Some say it’s intrinsic as surface molecules have nothing to bind to, thus causing them to swish around, semi-liquid, searching for stability. Ice is gay like that. It’s sissy and slick, obscene and subterranean. Ice resists fixity, but it’s still hard as fuck. And if you treat ice wrong it will break you…Or melt. That simile may be a stretch, but what are skaters if not stretchy? Experiments using atomic force microscopy mostly disprove this hypothesis, however.

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The last piece of music I ever skated to was “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.  My progress had plateaued, and after several injuries I was facing the end of my skating career. In one of my last competitions I fell on literally everything. I laugh-cried afterward when I realized this moment was exactly why my coach had chosen the song for me.

🎵This is my quest, to follow that star / No matter how hopeless, no matter how far…That one man scorned and covered with scars / Still strove with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable star🎵

Like, honestly…lol, fuck you.

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sensual circus fracture spectacles kitschy death drop imported moody gilt lubricating pocked shiny disgusting inebriate stupid bone bruise inflames ambiguous sublime flutzing suppurated specular anachronism maximal smutty artifice i am stronger toxic gayer i am bad bad bad bad cabaret

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Everyone sharpens their skates a little differently. Some want more bite, and others more flow.

The blade is a valley, a radius of hollow.

After Derek McCormack and Jonathan Swift

About The Author

Tasha Coryell is originally from Minnesota, home of some of the worst sports losses in history. She now lives, writes, and runs in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she rolls with the Crimson Tide every Saturday in the fall. More from Tasha can be found at tashacoryell.com.