Young Stars on Ice

Moorhead figure skating coach Dawn Franklin directs her 30th ice show this weekend at the Sports Center. Dawn (far right) was 8 years old when she took part in the very first ice show in 1978. (Photo/Nancy Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

She was 8 when she and her little sister debuted in Moorhead’s very first ice show.
“It was nothing like it is today,” figure-skating coach Dawn Frisch Franklin remembers. “Parents made a curtain out of taped-together black garbage bags. There were no spotlights, no glittery costumes – it was all very homemade. That first one was more of a recital than a show.”
But the Moorhead second-grader was hooked. Along with her sister Shelly Frisch Schreiner, she embarked on a passion for skating that can be traced directly to this weekend’s 41st Moorhead Ice Show at the Moorhead Sports Center – the 30th that Dawn has directed, starting the year after she graduated from Moorhead High, and a far cry from that humble launch back in 1978.
Dawn has been coaching young skaters since she graduated from Moorhead High in 1988. Thirty years ago, her own first show featured five girls in the big opening number, followed by five soloists and 30-some youngsters from her learn-to-skate classes.
When the lights come up this Friday, a packed arena will watch 60-some graceful girls in the opening act. More than 20 soloists will take their turns in the spotlight. The learn-to-skate numbers will bring out more than 100 … the youngest just 3.
Their theme, “Fun Through All the Seasons,” features a bevy of sparkly dresses, graceful moves and evocative music. It’s the electric atmosphere backstage before the show begins, though, that’s the director’s favorite part. “I love the little skaters’ excitement – all dressed up, running around feeling famous behind the curtain with the music, the spotlight, their parents buying flowers. I love the ice show parties. We really pump ’em up. It’s like a big ice show family having a fabulous time together.”
Dawn and Shelly, she says, had little interest in figure skating before their mother, Judy Frisch, signed them up for Archie Vraa’s park district classes. “We quickly grew to love it,” she says. “Both of us achieved all the gold medals offered by the U.S. Figure Skating Association. I got my degree in mass communications from Minnesota State University Moorhead, but I knew I wasn’t going to use it. I knew I’d go on with skating.”
Today, Dawn is employed by the Moorhead Park District to produce the ice show and teach learn-to-skate classes – starting with toddlers as young as 3, and proceeding through eight basic levels. More than 200 youngsters, almost all female, are enrolled at various levels. Shelly is at her side, along with two assistants, Michelle Roman and Katie Paseka. (“I taught Katie from the time she was a little itty-bitty all the way through her gold medals,” she interjects).
Among them, they teach Tots classes for little ones from 3 to 5 – six groups of 10 a week. “We always have a waiting list,” she says. After that, they move on to Basic One through Basic Eight. Participation is based on skill and interest, not age. “By the time they’re in late elementary, they generally move up to private lessons or move on to other interests,” she adds.
Young skaters can begin private lessons whenever they feel they’re ready. Their youngest private student is 6 and the oldest, a 20-year-old collegian among their 60 or so private students. Dawn also teaches power skating for hockey players, with 25 enrolled at the moment, and occasionally figure skating for adults.
Some private students also take part in the separate Red River Valley Figure Skating Club competitions, working their way to medals – like Dawn’s and Shelly’s – in ice dancing, “moves in the field” and free skate. Most take part in three or four juried competitions a year, including last month’s Red River Classic.
Skating has changed since the days the Frisch sisters were coming up. “When we were growing up, you couldn’t be on the ice year round,” the coach explains. “We had to get off in spring and fall. It was hard to get really competitive with limited skating time. Now it’s pretty much year-round, like most sports.”
Too, the level of performance has zoomed upward. “Back then, Dorothy Hamill was doing double jumps. Now, even females are starting to do quads, spinning four times in the air.”
As Moorhead has added rinks, the competition for ice time has eased. “Now, with a lot more ice, a lot of rinks, we’re pretty okay,” she says. That doesn’t mean, though, that schedules have eased back too far. During winter, Dawn teaches classes in early mornings and late evenings five days a week, plus a few hours every Saturday and Sunday. The timing is considerably easier spring, summer and fall.
Through it all, Dawn and Shelly have raised their families. All three of Dawn’s sons play hockey, as do their two brothers’ offspring. Shelly’s son and daughter skated early, but have moved on to other sports. “All 10 of our folks’ grandkids skate – not bad for a couple who never skated themselves,” Dawn reflects. “And all of them have been in the Ice Show.”
At 48, Dawn spends less time on the ice herself than she once did. Part of the reason is a recent foot surgery. “For a long time, my foot wouldn’t fit in a skate,” she confesses. Another part: In observing and talking to fellow skating coaches, she has come to understand that she teaches best from the boards rather than on blades herself. “I want the kids to think … not just see and do,” she explains. “When I’m on skates, I’m always demonstrating; but not all of them learn visually. Teaching from beside the rink works better.”
Thousands of Moorhead area residents – parents and fans alike – will get to see the skills Dawn’s coaching team has burnished this weekend. Performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 1 p.m. Sunday. Other than parental pride – guaranteed to reach the loftiest levels – what will audiences take away from the ice show?
“Good question,” she replies, and reflects a moment. “I don’t think they’ll expect it to be as professionally done as it is. The skating, the spotlights, the music, the costumes … this is first class all the way. No matter what they expect, it’s always so much more.”

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