River of January is as much about the emerging entertainment industry as it is about aviation. In particular Helen, though initially an accomplished ballerina, adapted to dance styles and built up her repertoire and versatility. Just before the war, due to sudden circumstances, Helen took up ice skating, and through her customary hard work became an accomplished performer on ice.
From 1939 until nearly ten years later, Helen, along with her sister entertained crowds in a multitude of ice shows. The popularity of the sport, turned artistic expression became especially celebrated following Sonja Henie‘s gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. So popular, figure skating lent to rinks cropping up all over the country, and the sport made it to the silver screen with Henie starring in films such as Sun Valley Serenade. (Not such a great movie, but the Nicholas Brothers rock)
While researching and writing, primarily for the second book, (still unfinished) I realized that my ice skating knowledge was pretty limited. It had been the same with ballet in the first book, (now with a publisher). What can a teacher do with such limited understanding?
Ask a kid, of course.
Two girls in my courses stepped up and obliged my request. One of them is a very accomplished ballerina, and the other a competitive figure skater. From them both I learned the lingo, the most popular moves, steps, and music–little tidbits to make the story line smoother.
The girl in the picture above was, as you can see, an ice skater. Shauna was her name and she presented herself as a shy, reserved young lady who demonstrated deep wells of untapped talent and aptitude. It was a little difficult for her to plop down sideways in a desk and shoot the breeze with me. She wasn’t that kind of person. Though full of smiles, it was much easier for her to answer my questions by writing them down on notebook paper. And she shared all she could think of to share. And Shauna knew her stuff about figure skating.
It tickled her to see my photos and programs of the early ice shows at Center Theater in Radio City Music Hall. She shyly smiled at the wide lens portraits of colorfully costumed skaters, posing before elaborate backdrops, reflected again upward from mirrored ice. Shauna liked the close-ups of the stars, such as graceful Janet Lynn, and comedy skater, Freddie Trenkler, costumed as a hobo.
Shauna wasn’t just a nice girl who enjoyed figure skating, though that was a big part of her heart and time. She was a dedicated artist, a musician who played the violin (that I stepped over more than once in class) in the high school orchestra. And it was after an evening orchestra performance a year ago October that we lost a promising, gifted young talent in a senseless car accident. The pain of her loss ripped an abyss into all of us who knew and loved her.
I would like to publicly thank Shauna for her kind support and good counsel on some of the technical aspects of my book, and know for certain that her sweet spirit lives on in the pages of my writing.
God Speed little skater.