I have mentioned here before that Britain is now producing almost no ice dancing champions. And it isn’t difficult to see why. One by one most of our ice rinks seem to be disappearing - Streatham’s -81-year old ice rink became the latest casualty when it closed its doors just before Christmas.
The problem with ice skating is that you need ice - just as swimmers need water - and it’s an expensive facility to maintain. Or do you? Enter Karen Coombes of Dragon’s Den fame who has invented an “off ice” boot and Herbert Justice Academy in Beckenham which has provided her with the facilities to get local people using it.
The boot which Coombes has designed is based on curved wheels, but it behaves exactly like an ice skating boot - except that you can use it on any flat surface. Dan Whiston, twice a professional ice dance champion and star of ITV’s Dancing on Ice has road-tested it rigorously and agreed that it behaves exactly like a conventional boot. That means that anyone learning skills and techniques using off-ice boots could transfer to ice boots and ice at some stage in the future and it wouldn’t feel any different.
Alan Justice, HJA principal and founder, has an ice skating background and has long wanted to include ice dancing lessons and events in what his school can offer at Inspiration House, his headquarters.
Next month - using HJA’s 5,000 square feet theatre space and Karen Coombes’s off ice boots - classes will start in Beckenham on Monday evenings and the facility will be open to the public on Sundays when the theatre is not operating.
Coombes, who will teach classes herself, has enough boots for participants to hire for a 45-minute lesson followed by 15 minutes of practice. The off-ice boot costs around £100 for anyone who wants to buy his or her own.
Coombes has devised a curriculum for the teaching of ice dancing so that participants can work in groups without the need for the usual one-to-one tuition and Justice himself has trained as an ice dancing instructor.
“It has effectively given us an instant ice rink without any building costs” Justice told me delightedly. “And the publicity which I hope this will generate will help the rest of our work.”
He is currently making the good news known to local schools and hoping to see dozens of them soon on his “rink” and he’s even got a free car park for parents bringing their children and an on-site café for them to relax in.
With Dancing on Ice now back for a two month series, the timing of this HJA initiative is impeccable. And if it gives more children and young people more learning opportunities that can only be a good thing.