MILLERSVILLE -- Cheeks flushed from the cold, hips bruised from her falls, skater Samantha Huntt confronts her next double axel. Her 14-year-old face a scrunch of concentration, she skates ... jumps ... falls ... and tries it again. Over and over and over.
Coach Denise Cahill stands on the ice at Benfield Pines Ice Rink, analyzing every angle of every movement that can produce the two successful revolutions in the air.
There are glory moments when the teen-ager nails it, like a soprano harnessing a tricky passage of high notes. Then she loses it again.
Cahill and Samantha have been working on this jump for the last year, trying to plant the formula in a body that keeps changing. Cahill knows just how tough it is for her student -- 26 years ago she was skating competitively, too.
"You've got to do this about 18,000 times before you get it," she says, watching Samantha brush the ice from her tights.
Coach and student confer in the rich private language of attitude and gesture. Suddenly, things click. Samantha's slender frame spins in the air and lands effortlessly.
"Yeah, that's right," Cahill calls across the ice. "That's way good. Do you feel it?"
Samantha grins. In this instant, all things, including the Olympics, seem possible.
As the Games unfold this week, Cahill expects her students to be a bit more star-struck than usual. And she's caught up in the drama of possibility as well. Every day, she sees new potential on this ice, celebrates skaters' break-throughs, feels the flush of their dreams.
Many Olympics ago, Cahill was one of them. A regional medal-winner from Baltimore -- an achievement in itself -- Cahill finally made it to the national figure-skating competition in 1972. She lost -- Janet Lynn won -- and her competitive career ended.
In those days, figure skaters had few options after they stopped competing. Today, Cahill is determined to give them more, and is helping Baltimore emerge as a skating center.
Two years ago she founded the Chesapeake Skating School, a figure-skating program that is making a national name by teaching artistic ensemble skating -- ballet on ice -- and by using a relatively unusual teaching technique that focuses on what skaters do between their spins and jumps.
Learning to perform
As well as getting the one-on-one coaching needed for athletic competition, the roughly 150 students at Cahill's school are learning the grace and artistry of ensemble skating, a discipline that teaches them how to perform in a highly trained corps of skaters.
Cahill and her school have linked up with Baltimore's professional ensemble skating company, the Next Ice Age, creating a synergy that promises to spread the gospel of the ensemble art form. The Next Ice Age's founders, choreographers Nathan Birch and Tim Murphy, teach part-time at Chesapeake.
After last spring's successful engagement at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the Next Ice Age has been invited to become the first skating company to participate in the prestigious American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C.
Dorothy Hamill, who performed with the Next Ice Age in May, has moved to town to be closer to Birch and Murphy, who is her choreographer. The Olympic gold medalist has served as a guest instructor at Chesapeake.
And, last year, Cahill persuaded New Yorker Bobbe Shire, acknowledged as one of the nation's top coaches for spinning, to join the faculty.
But Cahill's most exciting hire is Rob McBrien, an instructor whose expertise integrates the worlds of acting and skating. A former competitive skater with a degree in theater, McBrien has not only served as a coach to champion skaters, but has also acted and directed in theater and film productions. Under his artistic direction, the Ice Theatre of New York was the first figure-skating company to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Chesapeake students recently appeared with the Ice Theatre at First Night Annapolis. And they are winning national attention as well: Denise Cahill's 14-year-old daughter, regional champion Cara Morrissey, recently skated in her first national competition. Anne Arundel County skater Shaun Rogers, 12, will enter his first junior Olympics next month.
Don Laws, a senior statesman of skating perhaps best known for coaching Scott Hamilton, has invited Chesapeake and the Next Ice Age to Atlanta to help initiate ensemble skating at his two rinks.
Although there are many fine training centers for competitive skaters, Laws says none offer Cahill's curriculum of competitive and performance instruction.
"The process can produce outstanding skaters, and they have proved the point because they have students who have reached the national level," he says.