He's filming synchro to capture "what it feels like to be a skater"


Jordan Cowan filming the Canadian team Nexxice Junior. (Credits: Danielle Earl Photography)

Find out about Jordan Cowan's project On Ice Perspectives, a new way to see synchronized skating.

Jordan Cowan is an ice dancer who has combined his passions for ice skating and filmmaking and created a new way to see synchronized skating. He has worked recently with many top teams like Les Suprêmes, Skyliners, Marigold IceUnity and Nexxice in different countries.

Hello Jordan, to get started tell us more about yourself and your skating career...

Jordan Cowan: I started figure skating when I was 8 years old in Southern California; I really loved the cold, being on the ice rink and how it was very different from the weather outside. I just loved it because it felt so different from every other sport, it was just you and the ice and your blades.

I became a better and better figure skater until I was encouraged to switch to Ice Dancing and that, eventually, took me to Michigan to find a skating partner. I trained there for 8 years and became very competitive on team USA. Now it has been almost 9 years since I stopped competing.

I also did some coaching in New York and I coached skaters from team Skyliners through their ice dance moves.

Jordan Cowan filming Team Nexxice Junior (Credits: Danielle Earl Photography)

How did you find out about synchronized skating?

I've always been aware of synchronized skating.

Before switching to Ice Dance, I tried out on a synchro team, but I didn't join. It was a cool experience! I remember we had a blackout, so they basically threw me in the team and tried to see what would happen. It was very funny.

Then, when I was in Michigan, there were the Hockettes who trained there as well. So we knew about synchro teams, but we never actually watched any synchronized skating.

And that was the most experience that I had with synchro before I started filming some teams.

How did you come up with the idea of filming skaters directly on the ice?

It all just happened very naturally. I saw videos of skaters putting their phones on the boards and filming themselves doing a spin or a jump and their followers were being so supportive, people loved watching them. So I thought: "What if I could film skating but make it look more professional and be able to do it every day".

I knew I have to figure out a way to make it easy and simple enough that I could put a video out every day, I also wanted to learn filmmaking; so I challenged myself to do a video every day for a month and it has just never really stopped.

For now is still just a hobby. It seems all big and professional but at the end of the day, it's just me having fun, experimenting different techniques and just trying to capture what it feels like to skate.

How do you prepare yourself before filming a synchro team?

I try to learn their choreography a little bit. I'm not the best at learning choreography quickly, but I'm good enough to know where they're not going to be, and that's where I try to be. I just try to go where they are not, I found those spaces and get from one place to another.

Synchronized skating is the best challenge I could find for filming skating. I don't know it very much and there are so many skaters on the ice and so much to keep track of that it's like the most exciting adrenaline to be trying to lead my way through a synchro team.

What was your first experience filming synchronized skating?

The first team I have ever filmed was Les Suprêmes in Montréal. I have been visiting Montréal to film with the ice dancers there and one of the coaches, Pascal Denis, coaches Les Suprêmes with Marilyn Langlois.

I don't really know how it came up, but he told me that he coaches synchronized skating, so I asked him if I could come with him to the practice. And it really was that day, I just got in the car with him and my camera.

That was my first time watching synchro skating practice, I had no experience at all. I filmed a bunch of clips that I actually never ever posted because it was all fresh and new.

I have a lot of respect for how much synchronized skating wants to show its very best side and I knew I have to work with them a lot before I could post something that shows the best of their work and mine. So it was a while until I actually share anything.

Do you have any anecdotes to share?

The first time I actually filmed with a synchro team on the ice, I almost got decapitated.

I was just standing by the boards, where the coaches were. I remember being drawn into the ice a little bit, and then, the next thing I know, all the skaters were doing spirals arm to arm, and I just remember feeling the wind of the blades in front of my face.

I was safe, I wouldn't have gotten hurt, but the fact that I was so close to so many blades, it was like an adrenaline rush for sure.

Since then, I had seen like two skaters practicing, but never more; they created an aerodynamic chain. It was really cool!

Apart from North American teams, you filmed also a Finnish team!

Yes, last year I flew to Finland for two days to film with Marigold IceUnity.

It was early 2020, and I was in the UK working for "Dancing on Ice". I had two days off a week, so I booked a flight the night before and just left and came back before I had to go back to work. I just wanted to film them again.

They came to skate on the show "Dancing on Ice" as guests in 2019 and did a big group number. I just kept their contact, so when I came back to the UK in early 2020 I asked their coach, Anu Oksanen: "It's there any way I could come and film you?" and she said: "Yes, absolutely, please do!" And so I did.

Jordan Cowan with Anu Oksanen and Marigold Ice Unity (Credits: Jordan Cowan / On Ice Perspectives - early 2020)

What's the most spectacular element to film on the ice?

Well, the ones that give me the most trill are intersections, especially the angular intersection. It's really fun to put myself as the last person and then follow the skaters and be on the wall as they pass through.

You get this feeling of like everyone just becomes a blur, but then they're spinning as they cross each other. So, when they come out of it, you are tracking that one skater who's at the end of the line. It feels like I am the other person on the line.

You have seen synchronized skating both from the stands and from the ice. Which one do you think emphasizes our sport the most?

Personally I think synchronized skating is best seen from the judges' point of view. The choreographers of synchro are genius and they make everything look good from every angle, but especially from the judges' one.

Being on the ice, I can just capture a small portion, just a glimpse. I catch the feeling, I show the speed but, to really see the pattern, you need to be on the stands.

It's hard to peek one way or the other. I think it will always look good as long as it's filmed by a skater, whether is on or off the ice. It's just need to be filmed by someone who knows skating; it doesn't matter where the camera is as long as you know what you're filming.

I hope that synchronized skating would become more popular, especially if it could be in my home country, the United States. I want to see more synchro teams, I know it's already great but it can always use more skaters for how bigger the country is.

I would love to know more about synchro too, like the terminology and the patterns. I'm very curious to know how in the world a coach can come up with those amazing choreographies, how do they manage so many people at once.