Remarks From Sarah Kawahara

Dear Mr. C -

After my last letter to you, I thought there has been so much that has been unsaid.
I remember waiting, anticipating your arrival at East York Skating club. I would be going round and around my tracings of my school figures, waiting to hear the timbre of your voice when you entered the rink. You always had something merry to say as you came in and a deep chuckle would resonate in the arena. I’d look up to see the silhouette of your head in your cap as you looked down at the ice from the corner of the rink. My heart would dance because it was time for my lesson. You never looked at the clock. You strolled onto the ice like you were in Central Park greeting people as you passed. Sometimes my lesson was
10 min. and sometimes it was 25. Sometimes you were working with someone else and you thought how it could apply to me and wanted to share the knowledge, and then you’d skate away and say “I’ll leave you now…” .What I loved so much about working with you is that you could make me do things I never knew I could do. Almost like a magic wand, the timing on a jump would line up and I’d be gliding on my landing edge ready to do that counter exit you used to love. Just when I thought I really knew how to do something well, you’d say, “ now, don’t be satisfied with the fact you did the jump, where someone else would just be happy to be on his feet, think about how else you could move out of it, and turn in a direction you wouldn’t expect.

When I first came to you at the early age of 6 yrs. I used to bob my head up and down a lot, along with my left hand bouncing along side of my body. You would compare a movement in everyday life like walking down the street …do I look down all the time, is my head still when I speak, do my eyes look you straight in the eyes when I talk to you? I had a lot of work to do off the ice as well as on.

Doing school figures you really demanded my large motor skills to articulate with small motor skill precision, Boy that was tough. But it was like drawing only a lot larger. Sometimes you’d get exasperated and tell me “if you can’t do it, be a hairdresser”. Some days you’d tell me to“ take up tennis” I’d get so mad I’d prove you wrong. But TENNIS…I have really bad hand eye coordination.

You brought me up with your palette of movement. And I draw from your palette in every aspect of my life, trying to create my own colors and find their place, their meaning. Even from the beginning, colors, levels, textures, lyric, dynamic, percussive movement were part of your everyday vocabulary of learning.

I’ll never forget one summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts we were getting really for the end of summer performances. I was 11yrs. And you had us working on a group prod. no. to the music from Hovaness’ Floating World. There was a scaffolding platform that you had us climb up on and you gave hammers to the guys and sticks to the girls and we beat rhythm on the scaffolding over the ice with dry ice swirling at our skates. It was exhilarating!

That summer Suzanne Russell was back from Ice Follies between seasons and you were working on her new Porgy and Bess piece. It was the first real skating poetry in motion that I had seen. I loved watching you create. When I worked with you, I became a piece of clay and something new was born.

In 1962 you had the vision to create a skating division at the Banff School of Fine Arts which had a strong life of 12yrs. In my 6 summers, I got to benefit from your Team teaching approach of which you originated  and lead the skating field. We got to work with our own coach, Gus Lussi, Don Jackson. Gordon Crossland, Guy Revell, Peter Firstbrook, Paul  Thomas, Florence Kingsbury and Sonya Davis.

You brought in teachers from the different departments of the Banff School and showed us how we were cut of the same cloth. It was then I realized that all the arts are related…. music, acting, painting, sculpture, dance. 
This changed my life and gave me the platform, the palette to draw do what I do and ultimately be who I am.

You often spoke of your days in Ice Follies where you starred for 8 yrs before you began your teaching career in 1946. As a two time Canadian Champion you, of course did solo work and also paired up with Fran Claudet who later moved on to become Head Choreographer. I think that was a seed that you planted in my brain for later use.

When I joined the Ice Capades, I knew I would miss working with you every day and so visiting with you on the phone, sharing all my experiences became such an important part of our relationship. I became an adult and went through those changes with you on the phone. I remember calling you from San Francisco at 4 am because I couldn’t sleep and just wanted to hear your voice.

Every summer between Ice Capades seasons, we worked on my new programs. You brought to life a chimney sweep, a marionette puppet, a jewel of the Caribbean, a tin pan alley pianist, a firebird, to name a few. It was really fun, passionate work. That was when you asked me to smile with only my eyes and not my teeth. Testing my small motor skills again, we explored my face and how to make it speak without sound. You made me use my legs as though they were long. You were a firm believer of using an imperfection to your advantage, and thereby creating a signature apart from the norm.

When I decided to move on and leave performing, you inscribed into a book of poems “ it took 10 years to see 80 percent of what I envisioned”.

Having directed and choreographed Barbara Ann Scott’s Canadian tour, produced numerous ice, television and fashion shows, I felt like you would understand my need to create in a more complex and dimensional way. I marveled at the diversity of your talent, authoring many articles and co-authoring Barbara Ann Scott’s book “She Skated into Our Hearts”.

With every step you took, you raised the bar for yourself and all those around. Some of us are still chasing the last 20 percent. But, Mr. C. you were always ahead of us, embracing change, new thought, never looking back, only forward. Reinventing new ways to express old and new alike, never content to just be.

Being an Lifetime Honorary Member of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, you carried on the lineage from your father who was one of the founders of the Club. When you were inducted into the Canadian Skating Hall of Fame in1995, it was such a great reaffirmation of your contribution to skating.

The enrichment we gained from knowing you and working with you is something that we all carry with us. Whether or not skating became our chosen field, you were always interested in what people did with their lives. You developed us as individuals and encouraged us to search and be curious about life …I used to laugh when you would say you were the oldest living coach, when you really did have the youngest thoughts.

You were a fountain of youth always able to keep so fit and limber that at any given moment you could throw your leg up in the air and do a high kick, and those splits on the ground!….in 1999 you told me, how the audience roared and stood up when you performed in the Legendary Night of Champions.

With so many former students including Don Laws, Karen Preston, Gordon Forbes, Patrick Chan, what a great honor it was for you to receive the 2005 Skate Canada Central Ontario Section Competitive Coach of the Year Award! Prolific to the very end…Your wisdom, foresight, patience, humor, passion are all passed on through your “kids” for generations to come.

When you came to Los Angeles to surprise me for my 50th birthday my children and my husband Jamie, had dinner with you the night before I got back to town. My son Thatcher does his impression of you … tomorrow we will “…dance”, with your sparkle in his eyes.

I may not be able to write to you again, but we will speak often. After all, we have spoken with each other, every week of our lives for the past 46 years. I will continue to share my life with you in my thoughts and dreams.

Love Sarah.