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Ice Theatre of New York Honors Diversify Ice Foundation for “Daring Greatly”

By Maura Sullivan Hill, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Hideki Aono, Donald Lang and Josef Pinlac

On Oct. 27, the Ice Theatre of New York will honor the Diversify Ice Foundation with their Will Sears Award, which is presented annually to a skater or organization who has “shown exceptional daring and persistence in pursuit of their passion.”

The Ice Theatre of New York, or ITNY, is a nonprofit organization that creates and advances dance on ice as an ensemble performing art, and also provides education and public performances to people of all ages. The award is named for Will Sears, a U.S. pairs skater who died suddenly at the age of 20. His personal motto was to “dare greatly,” and the award honors those who embody that idea.

Diversify Ice Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports athletes of color in competitive figure skating and works to increase diversity in the sport overall.

It was founded in 2017 by Joel Savary, a Washington D.C.-area figure skating coach and the author of the book “Why Black and Brown Kids Don’t Ice Skate: A Discourse on the Disparities of Race in Figure Skating.” In the six years since its founding, Diversify Ice has awarded more than $30,000 in sponsorship support to competitive skaters of color.

“I am so incredibly honored, and the team is incredibly honored, being highlighted this way,” Savary said in a phone interview. “The title of daring greatly, and my understanding of daring greatly, is perseverance, pushing through all the obstacles to continue striving for change. And that is really what Diversify Ice has been about. We’ve been doing this work on the ground for quite some time, before the idea of equity and diversity in figure skating and in sports really became sort of mainstream over the past couple of years. To have that recognition just means so much to the team that is working tirelessly to make the lives of minority skaters more beautiful, so that they can reach their fullest potential in the sport and in life. And I believe it’ll just open up more doors and eyes on the work that we’re doing.”

Moira North, who founded ITNY in 1984 and serves as artistic director, said this is the first time that they chose to honor an organization, as opposed to an individual skater. 

“We’ve been following Diversify Ice, and since our inception, we’ve always had a diverse cast of skaters [in the ITNY Ensemble],” said North, who cited performances like 2019’s “Presence” and 2005’s “2:1,” which featured skaters of color.

In “Presence,” skater Theron James performed to music from the Academy Award-winning film “Moonlight,” exploring themes about the presence and absence of Blackness within the predominantly white space of figure skating. In “2:1,” skaters Alyssa Stith, Line Haddad, and Tyrrell Gene perform to the music of Bach.

When it came time to choose the Will Sears Award recipient for 2023, North said, “The thought was that it was time to honor an organization that is focused on daring greatly within the context of helping skaters of color in their efforts to train and enhance their skills on the ice.”

Diversify Ice supports skaters of color in the competitive arena, and also wants to improve the equity of skating at the grassroots level. They raise money to support competitive skaters each year through their skate-raiser, a show featuring skaters of color. At the end of the show, the audience has the opportunity to learn to skate themselves, with the skaters they just saw perform serving as instructors.

Diversify Ice also is working on future partnerships with HBCUs to create skating programs on their campuses.

“We have to make skating cool and fun and accessible, and normalize it for people of color,” Savary said. “So supporting communities at HBCUs, the opportunities that will come even further down the line [from that], their kids will likely be interested in the sport. We’re trying to tackle the disparities in the sport, both in the short term directly with the competitive skaters, but also in the long term. So that in the future, we don’t have to worry as much about the attrition.”

Savary says that the heart of their work at Diversify Ice is to “change the sport to be more accepting and for everyone.”

Receiving the Will Sears Award will help them continue their efforts. “It’s really exciting to know that we are the first nonprofit to be highlighted in this way,” Savary said. “And there’s been so many great people and talented skaters who have been honored with this award in the past.”

Previous winners of the Will Sears Award include Olympic bronze medalist and two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, Olympic bronze medalist and U.S. champion Adam Rippon, and four-time Mexican champion Donovan Carrillo and his coach Gregorio Núñez.

Savary and the Diversify Ice team will receive the award at the dinner following the ITNY Fall Frolic performance at Sky Rink, Chelsea Piers. The show begins at 7 pm, with dinner to follow.

The show will feature performances by the ITNY Ensemble and performing apprentices, the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team, and Emmanual Savary, a U.S. senior men’s competitor and brother of Diversify Ice founder Joel. Savary will skate to “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song by soul and R&B artist Sam Cooke that was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s going to be a beautiful, exciting time, because it’s going to be a reunion for so many of us within the Diversify Ice family. Many of our board members and ambassadors that are from all over the country are making the trip to the Fall Frolic, so we’re really excited about that, and also connecting with so much of the skating community that is all here to celebrate the progression that the sport is making,” Savary said. “It is a communal opportunity to celebrate how beautiful skating is, and why it should be accepted for everyone.”

For tickets to the Fall Frolic, visit icetheatre.org/fall-frolic.html. Tickets are $20 for the show and $250-$1,000 for both the performance and dinner. Junior tickets are also available for those under 25 for $150. Proceeds from the dinner will be used to fund rehearsals for the ITNY ensemble and their outreach programming in New York City.

You can also enter to win a pair of tickets by following FSO on Instagram and filling out this form.