Engineer Turned Ice Dancer Hones Skills with Science
Jan 30, 2017 07:43PM
By Vanessa Orr
R.J. Springer with partner Jessica DeMaria
While a lot of kids in southwestern Pennsylvania grew up ice skating, Robert (R.J.) Springer says that he didn’t even know that ice rinks existed until he was in his mid- teens. Now a novice ice dancer at age 26, he is hoping to someday make the U.S. Figure Skating World Team and travel the world.
“Most of my training up until now has been improving my skills,” explained the mechanical engineer, who is currently in the process of recruiting for an ice dancing partner. “My goal is to get into the competitive circuit and try to dominate each level—Novice, Junior and Senior—until I am able to take part in the televised events and hopefully make the World Team.”
Springer saw his first ice rink when he was 16 while working for the Beaver County Recreation Department doing summer maintenance. “We were housed out of the ice arena, which I thought was kind of odd,” he explained. “One of the clerks got me out on the ice, and I tinkered with it, but it wasn’t until I was in college and took a job as an ice guard that I got into lessons.
“I used to be such a wall hugger,” he laughed. “I would use the whistle to get the kids’ attention because I couldn’t even move.”
After working as a guard for two years, Springer was comfortable enough to try to expand his abilities and began working with Coach Jen Sarver and partner Jessica DeMaria. “Jen got me to do a show number, and I was hooked!” he said. Springer has also worked with skating coach Bob Mock and ballroom instructor John Dryden to perfect his craft.
Ice dancing is one of the United States Figure Skating Association’s (USFSA) four disciplines, which include Freestyle, Pairs, Ice Dancing and Synchronized Skating. “Ice dancing is more about presentation, position, timing and patterns—there’s not a ton of jumping,” explained Springer. “We focus more on the artistic end of things.”
Springer has worked steadily toward improving his skills to achieve novice level, making him competition eligible. He is currently looking for a partner at the same level of ability to help him qualify for events. “Jessica was a higher-level partner who helped me leverage my abilities, but she doesn’t want to compete; she’s already been there, done that,” explained Springer.
The ice dancer practices five days a week toward his goal and even left an office job to start his own company so that he could find the time to practice. “You really have to juggle a lot of different schedules to make things work, including that of your coach, your partner, and the ice rink,” he said, adding that rinks usually give priority to hockey teams.
While ice dancing takes a lot of physical skill and talent, Springer says that he is intrigued by the scientific aspect as well. “I love that I’m always learning something new and facing new things to conquer,” he said. “But as a mechanical engineer by degree, I also find myself satisfied by the technical aspect; the physics behind skating appeals to me.
“There’s so much problem-solving involved,” he said, adding that he believes that skating has made him a better engineer. “For example, if you lose an edge, the real problem probably lies about three or four steps behind that where you entered the pattern, and you have to fix that. I just find the whole thing fascinating.”