January 13, 2021

Wednesday was a practice day at the U.S Championships for dance, ladies, and pairs. The men, who were all supposed to arrive on Tuesday, don’t take the ice until Thursday. Each of the three disciplines had two practices each, and I was hoping to get my COVID-19 test results early in the morning so that I could attend the first dance practice.

I started the day early with a Zoom meeting with our architect (we are building a house in Cleveland), and when we finished the meeting, I still hadn’t received a text with my results. I started to get ready for the day and then decided to check my web portal for the health system running the testing here, and there they were! With a “not detected” test result ready to show on my phone, I headed over to the arena, where they clipped the red band on my wrist (designating that I was in quarantine and awaiting results) and gave me a credential.

I headed upstairs to the concourse-level dining area for athletes, coaches, media, and chaperones (for athletes under 18) for breakfast. Orleans staff serves food from a station behind sheets of plexiglass. The staff asks if you want a plate or a box (to take the food to eat outside or in your room), and the dining area is further down on the concourse. Media has designated tables so we don’t mix with the coaches and athletes, and the tables have signs reminding athletes and coaches to only eat with people that are already within their micro-bubble. Every time I’ve eaten there, people have been paying attention to protocols, eating alone or in tiny groups, and avoiding lingering too long without a mask.

There isn’t a press room this time, since there are only spots for eight photographers, I believe. We all have a designated space at the boards (6 feet apart) and our own table for editing and processing photos. It’s definitely very different from past events, when photographers are often shoulder-to-shoulder, fighting for power outlets, and with gear bags overflowing. The work tables are in the arena, right next to our photo positions, which is so nice and convenient! Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for this and didn’t wear enough layers. Lesson learned for tomorrow!

It’s strange to just exchange passing waves with people instead of giving hugs or stopping to catch up, but it’s encouraging to see everyone taking the health and safety protocols seriously. It’s so nice to see some colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year, but we are also missing everyone else and the energy in the press room, especially after a really great event.

Being in the rink again with my camera felt amazing! Besides one outdoor rink private shoot in December, I had not photographed skating since last year in Greensboro. I had missed the chill that gets into my bones, the smell of the rink, and the sound of a nice deep curve cutting into the ice. I had missed the way that my hand freezes into a claw after an hour of shooting and the way that fumbling between two cameras eventually turns into a rhythm. It’s a thrill unlike any other when I know that I nail a shot; I don’t even have to check the screen on the back of my camera (but I do anyway). It’s landing my own triple Axel. Maybe, I don’t know. I’ve never landed a triple Axel.

The dancers looked great on their practices, and I’m looking forward to an exciting event. The Madisons each sported a new rhythm dance dress (sparkly silvery-white for Chock and black & mesh for Hubbell), and I had fun trying to capture close-ups and interesting details with the long lens that I rented. It was strange to see some programs for the first time at this point in the season, but here we are.

I have one set of practice photos published already (https://photos.ice-dance.com/2020-21/21USN/Sr/PractWed1/), and I’ll get to work on the next set and check in here again tomorrow (probably/maybe).

– Melanie