Feature: Adding 'flavor' to figure skating

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Dec. 20, 2002 at 5:20 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Champion skater Rory Flack Burghart isn't out to revolutionize figure skating, but she is working on adding "a little bit more flavor to it," as more and more blacks skaters join her on the ice.

Burghart, a former American Open and U.S. Open professional champion, is a relative rarity -- a black professional figure skater. She is part of a generation that has opportunities denied to those who came before them to participate in activities that formerly were available largely for whites only in the United States.

"It's just been since the '60s that blacks have been able to compete in the sport of figure skating," said Burghart in an interview with United Press International.

At 33, Burghart is enjoying her professional life in skating as well as her personal life as the mother of two sons with her husband, seven-time Austrian men's skating champion Ralph Burghart in Wasilla, Ala., near Anchorage.

After her 1994 win at the U.S. Open, Burghart was hired to play the Sugar Plum Fairy in the "Nutcracker on Ice" tour, skating with such established stars in the field as Olympic champions Brian Boitano, Oksana Baiul and Viktor Petrenko. At the time, she told the San Diego Union-Tribune that was a big step for a raised by a single mom.

"Maybe some girl will see me and say, 'Hey, if she can do it, so can I,'" said Burghart.

Recently, Burghart said, she got exactly that kind of feedback from kids in Chicago, where she and her husband produced the first all-black ice show, in which she starred with a cast of 18 other skaters.

"Kids, parents, the older generation -- we had every generation there," said Burghart. "The children were excited. Even little boys said, 'I want to be just like that guy out there.' It was the first time they got to see a handful of blacks on the ice all at one time."

If al goes according to Burghart's plan, it will not be the last.

"We're solidifying dates for a tour now," she said.

Asked whether the inclusion of more blacks in the world of figure skating might revolutionize the sport, Burghart said she doubts it.

"We're just going to add a little bit more flavor to it that's all," she said. "I don't think there's going to be a huge change. It's going to take a while. We can help evolve the sport more."

Burghart is one of the stars of a new NBC TV special, "Ray Charles on Ice," taped in October in Los Angeles and scheduled to air Saturday afternoon. The show features live-on-tape performances by the 13-time Grammy winner, and skating performance by 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano and 2002 Olympic Pair champions Jamie Sale & David Pelletier.

The bill also includes Olympic silver medalists Brian Orser and Rosalynn Sumners, three time U.S. National Pair champions Jenni Meno & Todd Sand and eight-time British national champion Steven Cousins, among others.

Burghart skates to Charles' classic hit, "Hit the Road Jack" -- not exactly the kind of music that has traditionally accompanied figure skating programs, where there has been more Rachmaninoff rock and more Haydn than hip-hop.

Burghart said competitive skaters have tended to favor the classics because it is easier listening for the judges.

"As professionals we get to pick anything we choose," she said. "I personally love to skate to R&B. It's the type of music that I listen to. I grew up on Ray Charles."

Actually, Burghart said she believes everybody grew up on Charles to some extent -- and she said she and the other "Ray Charles on Ice" cast members were thrilled to meet and work with him.

"He's a great guy," she said. "To be able to be that close while he is doing his thing ... it was the just biggest thrill."

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