The Localist

DJ Skate Night – It’s a dance party on ice!

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Given my warm-weather Filipino DNA, I tend to shy away from winter outdoor activities in Toronto. This year my partner Jeff finally convinced me, after a few years of pleading, to try ice skating.

For those unfamiliar with this cold climate activity, ice skating entails sauntering over to your local hockey arena, outdoor public rink or frozen pond, lacing up your skates and doing laps around the ice while expertly avoiding a collision with fellow skaters.

Ice skating is a popular social event for kids and teens, particularly for those growing up in Northern Ontario.  Being from Timmins, Jeff grew up doing all kinds of winter sports and has many fond memories of times spent on the ice.  Like every Wednesday, when he and some friends would head over to the Mountjoy arena and pay something like $5 for the privilege of partaking in a couple of hours of mischief.  Cheeky kids such as himself would defy all the established anti-horseplay rules, such as skating too fast or skating in the opposite direction of the flow, and even rules that are too idiotic to put in writing like NO WHIPPING GIRLS’ TUSHES WITH LICORICE.  Break any of these rules and you could get kicked off the ice for 15 minutes by one of the staff members patrolling the ice.

Toronto has over 50 outdoor public skating rinks, sometimes in very picturesque locations, like the converted water fountain pond at Nathan Phillips Square with its concrete arches overhead and the distinctive towers of our City Hall as a backdrop.  However, what finally convinced me to take the leap and go ice skating one Saturday night in January was that it wasn’t just any skating event.  It was DJ Skate Night at the Natrel rink at Harbourfront Centre, arguably the city’s most scenic outdoor skating venue, boasting spectacular views of the waterfront and skyline.

Every Saturday night throughout winter, from 8 pm to 11 pm, skaters glide to a mix of soul, electro, latin, hip hop and even K- and J-pop tunes, spun by some of Toronto’s premier DJs (Jeff remembers his pre-teen self having to suffer through Bon Jovi and Paula Abdul playing on the arena loudspeakers).  Best of all, it’s all free (minus skate rental).  Needless to say, this weekly event is a popular destination for couples on their date night, as well as friends and families with young children looking for an inexpensive way to have fun.  We specifically wanted to attend the January 18th event as Footprints, a DJ collective that plays more obscure funk, soul, afrobeat, latin and other like styles, was providing the ear candy.

Before DJ Skate Night, I hadn’t skated since elementary school, partly because I realized early on that smacking my butt on the ice wasn’t my idea of fun.  Plus I grew tired of telling my friends that the “creepy” man sitting on the bleachers watching me was not a pervert. That was just my overprotective father looking to scare off potential suitors or would-be kidnappers.

Jeff also hadn’t skated for at least 15 years, even though I was reminded for the 10th time that he scored the game-winning goal in the championship game in his Peewee ice hockey league as a child. And then there were his multiple MVP awards in Tyke and Atom hockey.

Our friend Tina, who is of Indian decent (another ethnic group that does not have a longing for winter activities in their DNA), joined us for our skate.  Her experience with ice skating was even more limited than mine…we were in store for an interesting night.  And if it ended up a disaster, we told ourselves that at least it only cost us the skate rental and we could always rock out to the wicked tunes while grabbing a drink at the rinkside bar.

From the start it was a struggle for Tina and I, and we wondered if the great music was enough to sustain us.  Just climbing down the steps onto the ice was a challenge.  But eventually we made it down while holding Jeff’s arm tightly.  The next challenge was to actually move while on the ice.  Tina and I had to be content with just standing on the ice without falling for the first two minutes.  Jeff asked if he could scoot off for a few laps so that he could get his own bearings, since he had also lost his skating skills, despite his MVP awards and having scored the winning goal in the championship game in Peewee hockey. Upon his return, he noticed that we hadn’t moved very far, so he agreed to drag us across the ice, which one could argue isn’t actually skating. What was more embarrassing were the preschoolers sporting helmets and moving along faster on their own than we were.  Luckily, we weren’t the only adults struggling out there.  We witnessed a hipster fall on his bum (he was fine) and a guy skating backwards holding his girlfriend’s hands as she learned to skate.

After a few minutes of struggling, I was able to regain the little skills I thought were long gone to start moving on my own, albeit slowly.  Eventually, Tina was able to ‘skate’ on her own too, although she was more or less walking on ice.  Periodically, Jeff would offer to drag her around so that she could achieve a more reasonable speed and not feel embarrassed by the toddler in the diaper zooming past her.  While Tina decided to take a break, Jeff and I finished off our skate by taking in a few more laps while listening to the music and gazing at the Toronto skyline.  After a couple dozen or so laps spanning over an hour (with a few breaks) in between, the three of us gingerly climbed off the rink, unlaced our skates and looked for a nearby Tim Horton’s for a hot chocolate.

For more information on DJ Skate Night, head to: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/djskatenights/

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MEET THE LOCAL: KRISTINE BERNABE

 

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