Dennis Norris II Writing for AWSOME SPORTS PROJECT

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Finding Michelle Kwan: A Black Boy’s Childhood on Ice

By Dennis Norris II

Long before it actually happened, I tried to tell the world that I was a figure skater. I tried on Saturday afternoons, back in the nineties when skating was on TV every weekend. I tried by pushing all the furniture to the edges of the living room. I tried by learning the proper technique for every jump and its takeoff years before I took my first skating lesson. And I tried by idolizing Michelle Kwan, by taping every performance on VHS, by learning all her choreography. I paid close attention to every opening pose, and assumed them when she did, matching my breath with hers, my movements with hers. I was a boy in those years, pre-pubescent, still under five feet tall. I knew little of the world, other than the fact that I loved watching figure skating. It enchanted me, captivated my attention for hours at a time. But for many years, for me, I thought skating was for watching, not doing.

I didn’t become a real figure skater until I was fourteen, which in skating, is geriatric. I had just started high school at University School (US), an elite, all-male college preparatory school. Though there were no formal gym classes, there was the expectation that every boy participate in some kind of sport, school sponsored or otherwise. I had never shown any real athletic talent in anything, but had obsessively followed figure skating ever since my baby-sitter exposed me to the sport in the early nineties. My earliest memory of fandom was in 1994, during the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Olympic controversy, though I know my enthusiasm came about years prior. So by the time the 1998 Winter Olympics rolled around, I’d been “figure skating” around the living room for years. I had plenty of dress socks—the best kind for slipping and sliding on a hardwood floor, pretending to jump and spin and fall. In middle school gym class, my favorite days were free days—I didn’t have to be bothered with kickball or basketball or running track. I was happy to be left alone pretending I was Michelle Kwan—that it was me moving across the ice telling stories with my body, presenting every detail flawlessly, from the top of my head all the way through my fingertips, to the point in my toes. I was Salome, I was Desdemona’s Dream; it was really my love story that built the Taj Mahal.

Read the rest of Dennis’ essay here:  Finding Michelle Kwan