Sarah Hughes blog: Fashion on Ice

Olympic gold medalist experiences 24-hour whirlwind

Sinead Kerr, Sarah Hughes, Betsey Johnson and Johnny Weir perform a pinwheel at the end of the first act of <i>Fashion on Ice</i>.
Sinead Kerr, Sarah Hughes, Betsey Johnson and Johnny Weir perform a pinwheel at the end of the first act of Fashion on Ice. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)


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By Sarah Hughes, special to
(10/04/2011) - Sarah Hughes gives a minute-by-minute account of her adventures at Disson Skating's Fashion on Ice.

Date: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011

Starting Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.

12:30 a.m.: Get back to my room after hosting the USOC dinner. What a night! Evan officially announces his bid to try for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Excitement among the U.S. Figure Skating, Olympians, USOC and Olympic supporters ensues.

1:30 a.m.: Pack up my bags and do some stretching to keep my muscles loose before going to sleep. Early call time, but standing in four-inch heels for a few hours takes a bit of a toll.

2 a.m.: Can't sleep. Going through the choreography for one of my routines in my mind. Really don't want to forget the moves, especially when I'm doing Lady Gaga right before Johnny Weir. Who put together this starting order?

3:30 a.m.: *Shuffle shuffle shuffle* Why my mom insists on getting up 15 minutes earlier than we have to, I don't understand. She tells me I'll understand when I have kids. I'm 26 years old; we can sleep an extra 15 minutes.

4:10 a.m.: Taxi to the airport.

6-9:22 a.m.: Colorado Springs -> Chicago O'Hare. We lose an hour when we change time zones in the air.

10:15 a.m.: After walking around the entire airport, we retrieve our luggage ... and then realize we don't know where we're going, where we're staying or how we're going to get there. Fortunately, I find my updated Fashion On Ice itinerary relatively quickly. Mom wants to go to the hotel and I want a hot drink, so we decide to solve both by calling my dad (who had just landed in New York from Ireland) while we wait for our driver.

10:30 a.m.: With the driver and we're off to the arena!

10:31 a.m.: Mom asks me if there's a shower in the women's dressing room. I feel bad. Six children and three grandchildren later, she's stuck with me, two hours sleep, a lot of schlepping and no private shower. She deserves better.

11 a.m.-noon: On-ice rehearsal with the rest of the cast. Johnny flew in from Los Angeles that morning, so Lea Ann Miller, the show's artistic director, has Johnny and me go through the paces. The rest of the cast had arrived on Thursday and had a full day of rehearsal on Friday. Lea Ann replays the opening and closing music over and over so we can synchronize ourselves with the beat, and with the rest of the cast.

The free skaters usually look to the ice dancers for guidance with this, but 2010 Olympic silver medalist Charlie White is preoccupied. The University of Michigan (he's a student there) is in the middle of a football game. Charlie keeps his phone handy so he doesn't miss a second of it. Every few minutes we'll hear a grunt of despair or approval as he checks his phone.

Ryan Bradley asks about Emily. We both miss her. I tell him to text her that he's thinking about her. She'd like that. Then he asks about her love life, and I tell him to be nice. He can't be beating up potential suitors -- she already has two brothers for that. Ryan tells me he can't help himself. We spar for a few minutes about it. No one ends up texting Emily.

12:05 p.m.: Lea Ann gathers the cast at the center of the rink. David Finley, our long-time lighting director, passed away Thursday evening. He was in Chicago for the show and hadn't been feeling well. "Skate for David tonight," she tells us, as she starts tearing up. "He would have wanted the show to go on. He is here with us in spirit." Meryl Davis hugs Lea Ann for support. David has done lighting for almost every skating show in the U.S. He was the best in the business, a true professional, and loved by all. The mood is very somber. The cast nods in agreement to an emotional Lea Ann: tonight is about paying respect to him and all he's given to the skating world.

12:30 p.m.: Thirty minutes to dress rehearsal. I'm looking for a place to do a few warm-up exercises and stretch. Lynn Plage, the show's publicist, tells me I can use Aretha Franklin's dressing room. Aretha has two rooms. I sit on her luxurious leather couch and sneak a peek at her goodies. The answer is clear: your dressing room is better when you have 18 GRAMMY awards.

12:45 p.m.: Lynn tells me what happened with David while we're sitting in Aretha's dressing room. He wasn't feeling well when he got to the airport and wanted to go back to see his doctor. The person taking him didn't understand and after being transported to the gate, David figured that since he was there he'd get on the flight to Chicago anyway. He passed away in his hotel room that night. Lynn has been working in skating, and with him, for decades.

She tells me how hard it was to write his obituary the previous evening. "It seemed impossible until the emails started coming in (about all the lives he touched)," she said. Many skaters left a comment on this page she set up, including Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie, four-time world champion Kurt Browning, Olympic bronze medalist Jozef "Jumpin' Joe" Sabovcik, Linda Leaver and directors Meg Streeter Lauck and Yvonne Gomez. "It was as if he took sparkle dust and sprinkled it over the rink and everything had a glow," Streeter Lauck wrote, "and the vibrant colors were the perfect backdrop for every performance."

I feel so much sadness as I listen to Lynn, but ever the publicist, she reminds me that dress rehearsal is starting. Even with a heavy heart, we must go on.

David finished all the lighting for the show before he passed.

1 p.m.: Dress rehearsal. We put on our Betsey Johnson outfits for Act 1. If this isn't a way to bring levity to the day, nothing is. (When you see the show, you'll understand.) Betsey is about color, attitude, sexiness and craziness. Dress rehearsal is about wearing your outfit, blocking your number for the cameras with the lighting guys and getting the timing between each skater set. There are a hundred different things going on, with everyone running in a different direction. Many of the outfits are incomplete and require alterations. The talented costumer Denis Pizzacalla has his work cut out for the next few hours.

1:45 p.m.: Dressed in my crazy Gaga outfit complete with a fishnet body stocking, the hook on my corset gets caught on the fishnets to my leg. It takes me 30 seconds in the middle of my program to unhook my upper body from my lower body. (Did this just happen? I really, seriously, never thought I would encounter this problem skating.) The music keeps playing, so I finish the program. The assistant by the stage door tells me we're just going to keep going through the show, that it looked fine. I try to think of some different moves to do so I won't get caught during the actual show, but then Betsey comes by. Her skates are two sizes too small and one size too wide. Johnny and I assist her to the middle of the rink and into a pinwheel to close the first half. Betsey is thrilled to be on the ice surrounded by all her designs.

2 p.m.: Supermodel and co-host Karolina Kurkova saunters into the arena dressed in black leather pants, five-inch heels, wet hair, all smiles. The men in her view swoon but try to act cool.

"Is that catering?" she asks as I walk by with some food. "I'm about to do that!" she says enthusiastically after I nod and greet her.

2:35 p.m.: Charlie, decked out in his J. Mendel outfit, walks to the entrance tunnel in his skates for his second number. He's holding his laptop in front of him. ESPN is live streaming the U of M football game, and the light from his screen illuminates the area around him.

2:40 p.m.: Karolina comes into the ladies dressing room with her script. "Goat tail hem?" she says to me, shaking her head as she reads aloud from her script. She says most people don't understand the technical terms of the designs, so I help her by showing her everyone's outfits. She quickly crosses out and pencils in her own descriptions to say during the show.

3:10 p.m.: I'm now in Karolina's dressing room hanging out with her and her hairstylist. She's eating soup from catering while they discuss her hair. Unlike Aretha's dressing room, I was invited into this one. Karolina is friendly and upbeat.

3:45 p.m.: Aretha arrives. BIG NEWS! Big entourage! The entire cast is on the ice in our J. Mendel outfits. We just finished dress rehearsal and give her a round of applause. She acknowledges us as she steps on her stage to inspect the setup. "Nice and warm," she says as she approves the heaters surrounding her feet.

"She wasn't supposed to get here until five, but I knew she would show up early," Steve Disson, the show's producer, tells me. "She wants to sing into the microphone," he says. Or make sure he got her setup correct.

4:30 p.m.: Practice ice.

4:45 p.m.: Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen works on an essay for school in catering. She's taking classes at Columbia.

5:25 p.m.: British ice dancing champion John Kerr tweets, "1 hour 26 minutes till showtime for #FashionOnIce at the @Sears_Centre."

(Disson Skating has fully embraced the social media train this season. The Disson team was live Tweeting during the show and has established Tweeting and Facebook goals. Around 11:00 p.m. the night before, John Kerr Tweeted about having his "arm twisted to be a more active Twitterer."

A one-hour, 26-minute call time, while unusual, made for a good laugh at his effort in embracing Twitter.)

5:30 p.m.: Tara Modlin, Johnny's agent, walks by. I compliment her white lace Christian Louboutin slingbacks. "I was saving them for my wedding next year," she says, "but couldn't wait."

5:45 p.m.: Co-host (and Olympic medalist) Tara Lipinski stands by the ice looking stunning in her Betsey Johnson dress. Her stylist gives her one last touch-up. She is ready to shoot her on-camera.

7:05 p.m.: Five-minute call. We usually get a 30-minute, 15-minute and five-minute call, signaling the time until the show starts. No one usually does much until the 15-minute call. It's like having the whole rink to do a jump but waiting until you're 5 feet from the boards to get into the air.

7:50 p.m.: Act I is over, and Betsey is beyond the moon. She came out in the closing number with us and isn't ready to take her skates off. Johnny assists a skate-wearing Betsey back to her dressing room. The cast follows. Betsey has presents for everyone: autographed sketches of them in the outfits she created.

9:30 p.m.: Final bows followed by a special tribute to David. Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" plays as we do another lap around the rink. It's an upbeat but meaningful song. As we pass the booth in the upper deck where David would have been, we each make a special gesture, letting him know he is in our thoughts. The tribute to David will air during the show.

9:40 p.m.: Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette paints her toenails bright red before slipping on heels to go to the reception.

11:55 p.m.: Mom and I check into our hotel following the post-show reception. "Yes!" I say as Alec Baldwin dances across the screen mid-skit when I turn on the TV. "We're going to catch the rest of SNL!" I turn around when she doesn't immediately respond. She's already fast asleep. What a party pooper.

Fashion On Ice will air on NBC Nov. 13 from 4-6 p.m. EST.

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