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the dancer on wheels

An Asian skating champion and India’s representative for Artistic Roller-skating, Pranamya Rao takes us through her distinctive journey.

The silver screens highlighted the realm of figure skating to a global audience with the release of ‘I, Tonya’ in 2017. A reflection of the sport, artistic roller skating is a competitive expression of choreographed dance routines on roller skates. The year 2007 rewarded Pranamya Rao with a gold medal at the National level and there set a mark in her life to keep the wheels rolling.

“He was my inspiration to get into skating,” says Pranamya, as she recalls watching her brother, I.K. Siddhanth Rao, a national level speed skater, with fascination as a seven-year-old. Dance had always been her passion and on discovering artistic skating, she immediately switched over from Speed to Artistic. Catered through age and ability, experience and style, Artistic Roller-skating first gained official recognition back in the 1870s and today, under the umbrella of The Federation of Artistic Roller Skating, the sport has risen to popularity amongst all ages.

The combination of artistic finesse and athleticism is rather mesmerizing and hard to look away from. However, to an untrained eye, it is not always easy to understand what is going on – many of the jumps and twirls will look the same. Jumps, spins and moves are complemented by music, Pranamya says.

“People believe this sport is easy as it only involves dancing. Little do they know that it involves a lot of technical understanding, especially performing elements like footwork, jumps, spins etc.”

pranamya rao

There are six types of jumps in figure skating – the Axel, Lutz, flip, loop, salchow and toe loop, with the Axel being the hardest. The more difficult a jump is, the higher its point value. One needs enough airtime to perform one and a half revolutions through the general axel jump. 2018’s US figure skater made history at the Olympics, landing triple axel. Artistic rollerskating however is performed on roller skates as opposed to on ice.

Other than the difference in skates, the ice often allows the skater to draw a deep edge to push off from when they perform jumps and roller skates are generally heavier than their ice equivalents, making jumping harder. Therefore, practice and fitness is no joke to this sport. “When it comes to practice for Artistic skating, it differs from person to person. According to me it’s the quality of practice that matters the most, more than the number hours of practice. Even if it is one hour of practice or lesser, it should be effective and efficient,” she opines.

The participants are also assessed on their accuracy of steps when performing a dance. “I specialize in Solo Dance under Artistic Skating, which has two parts: Style Dance and Free Dance,” Pranamya says. Style Dance changes every year and involves a certain style that has to be performed. “For example, this year is Latin Medley which has Rumba, Samba, Mambo and more where its characteristic style must be articulated through the routine,” she explains. Similarly, the free dance allows the participant to highlight any style or theme; nonetheless, they must be creative in their interpretation of the music. Dancers cannot do any jumps or spins that are recognizable in freestyle skating.

Which has been her favorite memory through her journey? “When I won my first ever Asian Championship in 2012: two Silvers and a Bronze, where I competed with seniors and I was one of the youngest in my event,” she reveals. Now a first year postgraduate student, Pranamya’s present medal tally is 107 medals of which there are 62 Gold, 26 Silver and 19 Bronze.

Not only does a unique journey like this require finesse and discipline, it also requires a pillar of support and guidance. Pranamya was initially trained by Pavan Kumar Akula (Vizag) and then by Aaron Saldanha (Chennai). Her choreographer, Deepak Muthukrishnan, (Chennai) has been associated with her in all her events for last decade. Pranamya has also undergone training under Hugo Chapouto (Portugal), who is regarded as one of the world’s best trainers for the Solo Dance event in Artistic Roller Skating.

She has represented India five times; the latest in 2018, at the 18th Asian Skating Championship held at Namwon, South Korea, where she bagged a Silver and a Bronze. “The most fascinating part of my journey is that even though we (the participants) are competing against each other, we all share a friendship that’s beyond competitions,” Pranamya unravels.

A part of Champions Development Scheme in the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, she says, “The basic eligibility is to have a National Gold Medal. They help us in partial/full reimbursement of expenses we incur in the sport – in terms of equipment, skating costumes, air tickets etc.”

How many facilities are available to artistic roles skaters in Chennai?

“It’s unfortunate that not only Chennai, but India as such lacks infrastructure for this sport. Every international competition is held in an Indoor 25x50m wooden floor which requires different wheels depending on the smoothness of the flooring, whereas we get to practice only in Kota tiled outdoor rinks,”

Pranamya rao

With the unforeseeable pandemic looming and the Artistic World Cup cancelled, messages of resilience and solidarity have rung across the community, including from the World Skate Judges who are working on the 2021 project from home. “What keeps me going is my parents’ constant motivation and support in helping me give my best in this sport. I’m also coaching a few students and seeing them win at the Nationals gives me immense happiness, satisfaction and a sense of achievement,” she expresses. As she carves a niche for herself and her country, she finds happiness reveling in dance routines and the occasional fries as her cheat meal.

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