Ben Jones is accustomed to being intensely regimented on the ice. A rising sophomore at St. John’s, he’s got three coaches and a choreographer putting him through the paces on a weekly basis. Not surprisingly, when something like this spring’s annual Ice Spectacular show at the North Shore Skating Club (NSSC) comes along, the 15-year-old Melrose native is delighted to loosen his top button, so to speak.
“A performance like that doesn’t need to be as strenuous or as rigid as a competitive routine,” says the 6-foot-2, 160-pound Jones. “You can have more fun and express yourself with artistry and share a deep connection with the audience. You do as well as you can, but you’re still not in a competition setting.”
The teen’s love for the lighter side of skating radiates in his performance value. Wearing Austin Powers’ vintage electric blue leisure suit with a high-neck, white ruffled shirt, Jones carved up the ice and brought the house down in Reading at the NSSC’s April show. Powers, of course, was the titular protagonist of a series of spy action-comedy films set in both the psychedelic 1960s and modern day.
“I’m actually not an incredibly competitive person, so there’s a part of me that prefers the shows,” says Jones, who can consistently land the toe pick-assisted double toe loop. “I have a tendency to put too much pressure on myself when I compete. I want to improve, but have fun while I can.”
Jones doesn’t dodge the crucible of competition, mind you. He won the North East Ice Skating Club Winter Classic Competition in January and he’s currently training to compete at the Lake Placid Figure Skating Championships, which will take place from June 28 to July 1. He is working toward “being comfortable” with the challenging double loop, where a skater lifts the left leg while simultaneously pushing off with the right at takeoff. He is also preparing for his Senior level certification for “moves in the field,” which tests all the connecting footwork of a free skate program. Skaters are graded on speed, flow and technical ability, whereas the jumps and spins of a free skate are tested separately.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
Jones started skating at the age of five in low-key public skating sessions at NSSC, but he got serious about it quickly. By the age of seven, he began working with his current coach, Amy Hanson-Kuleszka. He has since added Mary Wanamaker, who helps him with choreography, and Kate McSwain, who coaches him specifically on edge-of-blade work, in addition to sweating through off-ice work with Paula Shiff, who hones Jones’s quality of movement, carriage, body control, and coordination out of her Marblehead studio. Jones skates five days a week, then trains with Wanamaker on Mondays and Shiff on Saturdays.
That schedule would be demanding all on its own (to say nothing of the chauffeuring his mom, Penny, performs), but Jones also found time this past year to join the science fiction and anime clubs at the Prep in addition to volunteering as part of special skates for children with intellectual and physical challenges, and donating his time to teach group youth skating lessons every summer. He also assists organizers at local youth skating competitions. And to boot, he’s regularly earned a spot on the Principal's List or Headmaster's List this year.
Despite keeping very busy, Jones maintains the wherewithal to enjoy both the process and interpersonal relationships of his sport as much as the performance side.
“Balancing homework and everything else with this level of time commitment is challenging, but when you’re pushing through those tough days, you draw on the sense of community you’re surrounded by,” he explains. “That’s a very big part of the skating culture. People are always willing to ‘do’ for each other. It’s like a second family. They’re always there for you.”
“Ben is a very supportive teammate to all of the figure skaters,” says Hanson-Kuleszka, his primary coach. “He recently volunteered at (the NSSC’s) Basic Skills competition and he had an encouraging word for all of the young skaters as they took the ice. Several coaches as well as our skating director complimented him for taking his position so seriously and for being so professional.”
Jones does get a chuckle, however, at what some folks say, perfectly innocently, after he tells them he’s a figure skater. A common rejoinder is: ‘‘That’s not really a sport, is it?’ This amuses him rather than bemusing him.
“I think there’s a stereotype out there that figure skating isn’t masculine or a particularly American sport,” he says. “All I know is that when I come off the ice, athletically and creatively speaking, I have nothing left in the tank. I don’t care what the perception is. I love it and I love the freedom of the sport. I’ve made friends all over the country in ice skating and it’s something that for me that will be a lifelong pursuit.”
The competitive season for compulsory testing like levels certification and full free skate competitions runs from February to September, but Jones will soon have another opportunity to loosen up his routine. In November, he’ll skate at Wellesley's Babson Skating Center in the 8th Annual Celebration of Sisters, an annual ice skating fundraiser to benefit the Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital. All the while, he’s confident he can stay on top of his busy schedule.
“You have to learn to cope with the stress,” he says. “That’s the beauty of this or any other discipline. You learn so many life lessons when you face and overcome those obstacles.”