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Coach Babb aiming for the sky in synchros

Former ice dancer is thriving in the world of synchro

Josh Babb is director and head coach for Skyliners. The junior team performed to a standing ovation in the exhibition of the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro.
Josh Babb is director and head coach for Skyliners. The junior team performed to a standing ovation in the exhibition of the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro. (courtesy of Josh Babb)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(06/02/2011) - His name appeared twice among the nominees for this year's U.S. Figure Skating/Professional Skaters Association awards. Although consistently busy since he began coaching a decade ago, recently Josh Babb has been receiving increasing amounts of public notice for his work with the Skyliners, a synchronized skating organization for which he is director and head coach.

Babb was the 1999 Canadian junior ice dance champion with his sister Rebecca. They trained in the U.S. for several years, and Babb decided to stay in the New York area and start coaching when they ended their competitive career after a year at the senior level. Rebecca is a coach and mother of three, living in Waterloo, Ontario.

Babb joined the Skyliners around seven years ago and has seen the organization grow from a couple of teams to a thriving program with eight lines -- beginner, pre-juvenile, preliminary, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior and senior.

"Doing the choreography is very challenging," says Babb, who is the primary coach for the junior and intermediate lines and will co-coach the new senior line. "There are a lot of specific rules you have to follow and you still have to be creative. It is tough, but I really enjoy the team aspect.

"The quality of synchronized skating has improved tremendously over the last five years," he adds. "It's extremely competitive."

This year, the Skyliners junior and juvenile teams are national champions, the intermediate team won silver and the novice team, which is relatively new, took fourth place. The junior team competes internationally.

Babb's two award nominations were for 2011 USFS/PSA developmental coach of the year and Paul McGrath choreographer of the year. Although he didn't win, he says he was surprised and honored to even be in contention with choreographers like Lori Nichol, Cindy Stuart, Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband.

"I assume it was for my work with the Skyliners," Babb says. "[The junior team's] long program this year was pretty special. It was to Phantom of the Opera. They were asked to perform at the exhibition gala [at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships] in Greensboro. It was pretty cool. It was the first time they'd skated for that size of a crowd, with spotlights and everything. They ended up getting a standing ovation."

He is honest in saying the first couple of years he worked with Skyliners it was a struggle to build the program, but times have definitely changed. Over 200 skaters came to the recent tryouts and there was only room for 165.

In addition to his work with the Skyliners, Babb also does choreography for freestyle skaters and teaches edge classes. He does a good deal of seminar work for synchronized skating and some seminars on musical interpretation for singles, pairs and dance.

Babb laughs about his own past in synchronized skating. As a young skater he took part in some local recreational precision teams. When he and Rebecca were competing at the national and international level, he took part in an all male synchro group called Ice Nightmare.

"There were 20 of us, and we were all national and international competitors either in pairs, dance or freestyle," Babb recalls. "We did exhibitions to raise money for breast cancer research."

When he moved to the New York area, he was hired by some synchro teams to teach edge classes. "Then it developed into doing choreography. Then I was hired for Skyliners," he says.

In the coming season, Skyliners will introduce a senior line, which Babb will coach along with fellow developmental coach of the year nominee Pam May, who is director of synchronized skating and head coach of Team Braemar. She'll fly in from Minnesota twice a month to work with the team.

To choreograph for Skyliners, Babb draws inspiration from diverse sources.

"I look at the ability of the team," he says. "I try to get my inspiration from everything from music videos to musicals to plays. I like going to see ballet. I also check out other disciplines in skating."

He's done some preliminary choreography for the Skyliners junior team and given them step sequences to work on over the summer. They'll train in June and then have July off from organized practices. They'll pick back up in August with eyes toward an even bigger 2011-12 season.