by Matteo Morelli \ Photos by Danielle Earl
Jordan Cowan tells us how he managed to combine his passion for music, dance and videography, to create On Ice Perspectives, a platform that takes us on the ice through an immersive skating experience on video.
Jordan, you are a former team USA skater, which competed at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for a total of six times. At what age were you when you started skating?
I started skating when I was 8, at the same time my sister and our next-door neighbor started. I grew up in Southern California, so being in an air-conditioned skating rink felt really good! Figure skating was this completely different universe that was separate from school and home, and I could be a different person when I was on the ice rink.
A couple of years into it, I realized I didn’t like jumping very much, and when I found out that I could ice dance I jumped at the opportunity. I tried out with a lot of skaters until at the age of sixteen I took the big decision to leave Southern California to train in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I continued to skate like that for a couple more years, teaming up with Anastasia (Olson). While I was there, I developed more into technology than I was before, getting into YouTube and reviewing tech stuff, and I started thinking that I really wanted to get into a career in technology and computer science.
So this is when your passion for technology started to develop.
I have always been tech minded. When I left skating, I really thought I was ready to go to the school for computer science, but I wasn’t. I completely sidestepped into ballroom dancing, where if you had skating experience and technology skills you could do really well. I worked in a ball dance studio with my girlfriend (now wife), who was also a former skater. I fully went into technology and dance combined, videoing the students and helping them learn their choreographies.
After a while, however, I missed skating a lot. I was coaching on the side and really enjoyed it. I also felt guilty about not pursuing a college degree, so I said goodbye to ballroom dancing, went back into skating, and I finally put myself into those science computer classes, although realizing that it wasn’t what I imagined.
When did you start thinking about linking filming and skating?
A bit unexpectedly, I ended up being a part of Doug Webster’s The World of Ice Dance International for a season, in Sun Valley. My former skating partner, who got into the company a year before, recommended me and I skated with Kim Navarro, because Brent (Bommentre, her skating partner) was not able to come to rehearsal. I immediately thought about what a skilled cameraman would have added to this show.
I separately bought a little gimbal for my phone which I took on the ice. I was filming Benoît (Richaud) choreographing a new number, and I live-streamed one of his edge classes on Facebook, enjoying the idea that people could be on the ice with us in Sun Valley. This was in September 2017; after that, I was hooked. I decided to buy myself a GoPro and try to make videos of everything while relearning how to edit to feel professional and confident in what I did.
How did this passion convert into On Ice Perspectives?
I spent the next five months slowly working my way into using a computer for editing video again. I knew there were some skaters out there that had 10,000 followers simply by putting their phones on the boards and filming themselves doing jumps. I felt that if I could make a video every day, and it looks just a little bit better than that, maybe that was worth a try! So I started On Ice Perspectives on Instagram, and through a couple of lucky circumstances, I got to film Jeremy Abbott, who gave me my first 250 fans! After one month of doing this, I had 500 followers and by the end of the year they went up to 20,000.
From that moment, one thing led to another. For example, I happened to be where Scott Moir was coaching, and he recommended me to the producers of The Thank You Canada Tour. Thanks to this, I was able to show footage of Scott and Tessa to Dancing on ice, proving that what I was doing has never been done before to this degree. Mirai Nagasu, who is now an Olympian but I’ve known since we were kids, invited me to come to a Stars on Ice practice, and that led to me working with the show professionally the following year.
What defines On Ice Perspectives?
I wanted to create something that wasn’t about one person, but rather about every skater, skating fan, performance, and the feeling of being on the ice. That’s the reason why I called it On Ice Perspectives and not Jordan Cowan’s perspective. It’s definitely my vision, my character and soul are inside it, and that’s why I keep my content consistent. I think that if someone has watched at least 20 of my videos, they see the way I see things and it makes me so happy to be able to share that bond with people.
You have recently filmed the I.AM LIVE event with the Ice Academy of Montreal, organized by Markey Int’l Arts. How did it all come together?
The feeling of people being able to watch skating live on their computer has been with me since the beginning. With shows like Dancing on Ice and Battle of the Blades this is literally what I do.
In March, I was going to go to Montreal for worlds and I.AM was going to have their I.AM a Skating Fan seminars, where I would have filmed the penultimate version of everyone’s skating routines, and make an archive of them. Covid, however, changed everything, but we still wanted to do something. Everyone at I.AM, skaters and coaches, wanted to do this. Before the I.AM LIVE in September, I’ve done another live event in July in LA, where I could test my live equipment. The event in Montreal ended up being 2.5h long, with 20 numbers!
Did you have to prepare for I.AM LIVE, for example by learning some of the choreographies?
I try not to watch the choreography and pre-plan what I am going to do with the camera. When you watch a video of mine and you have that “head-turning” feeling, it is because I am having that feeling too, behind the camera.
At I.AM LIVE there were a couple of routines I filmed that I had never seen before, for example, the one by Shawn Sawyer, with whom I have never worked before but I knew he was doing a backflip, a big spiral, a big cantilever, and I had to figure out when those were!
What is your approach when you film on the ice?
Everything I have done so far had to be so careful and proper, through the right channels and in the right way. I have some very specific rules about the way that I conduct myself, and the way that I film. Safety is my number one priority: I don’t want a skater to feel unsafe, I need to make sure that everything I do is accountable. With skaters like Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, Nathan Chen, Alexa and Chris Knierim, you can see that part of their performance is guiding you through the next seconds of what they are going to do. Some of the most inexperienced skaters or the celebrities on the TV shows, on the contrary, are learning how to skate, they are reacting to where they were a second ago, and I have trained my reflexes to react to that too.
How do you interact with skaters when you work with them?
I tend not to talk very much when I am on the ice. I film off the ice a lot, and I don’t get on the ice until I feel that unspoken invitation, which everyone has, subconsciously. It needs to be a true, open invitation, with no pressure from both sides. If I am on the ice for an hour, I really record for a total of ten minutes of that hour, and of that ten minutes of footage every hour, you only see one minute of it.
Do skaters feel confident with you around them, or do they check you out of the corner of their eyes?
It’s funny when they do! For example, when I was with the Great Park ice pairs, I’ve filmed with Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim before, but I’ve never filmed Alexa with Brandon (Frazier). There was that uncanny moment where I knew that Alexa was ok with it, but Brandon has never done this before! I had one day this entire year to film them, and I was on the ice with them for an hour and a half. I have at least a clip of them and every team that trains with them.
You also work off the ice. As an example, last April you live streamed Open Ice Live with Kaitlyn Weaver, helping to raise an astonishing $42,970 for the U.N. Foundation COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund by bringing together a lot of present and past champions.
The vision and idea behind Open Ice was Kaitlyn’s. I brought to the table my promoting expertise and technology resources. She called me knowing that I was good with technical stuff, and explained that she wanted to do something that was not yet defined. I told her to write a script, and how I would do things on On Ice Perspectives. A couple of hours later, she called me again with a plan! She really wanted to do something, and I wanted to do live streaming, as it is such a great tool to have under my belt.
Have you got any other job on top of this?
I’ve started On Ice Perspectives two and a half years ago, but I move very slowly. I am not allowed to post any content outside of what I film from Battle of the Blades or Dancing on Ice. In a way, those shows, and other professional shows that I aim to achieve, are my income that funds On Ice Perspectives. I really do want to focus on skating completely.
What does the future hold for Jordan and On Ice Perspectives?
I want to keep pushing myself into the professional TV and movie world because I believe that seeing skating in television, movies and on live TV shows is going to be so important for the future of this sport, and my career.
On Ice Perspectives to me is the closest you can get to see skating live, but it still doesn’t match the experience of seeing skating live. I now have enough gear to put up pretty impressive live shows. My plan is to rent a van, drive to training centers with all my equipment, make videos of skaters to upload on YouTube and Facebook, occasionally with a really well-recognized skater. I want to give every skater the experience of performing in front of a live audience, I want them to feel the pressure they would feel in a competition.
On your personal website, you have a Patreon funding page. How important is it for you to receive the support of our community?
I don’t charge skaters to film. I think On Ice Perspectives has achieved what it has achieved because I’ve done things in ways that no one else have thought would make sense, following my principles and never compromising on them. I can’t even monetize my published content through ads because I don’t control or own the music that skaters skate to.
People donate via Patreon out of their own hearts, they appreciate what I am doing for the sport. Every donation helps me to plan for the future and create more content to share.