Kalamazoo Kinetics: Senior synchro-skaters glide in formation all the way to nationals

Kalamazoo's senior synchronized ice-skating team may not have brought home a trophy from this year's national championships. But that hasn't diminished the passion members of Kalamazoo Kinetic feel for the sport.

Ronda Kuhnert is one of them. She took to the ice when she was in fifth grade and skated in national competitions in high school. Now the consultant working with hearing-impaired students at KRESA is one of 14 skaters on the Kalamazoo Kinetic Masters Team, aged 25 to 54. The team is affiliated with the Greater Kalamazoo Skating Association (GKSA).
Kinetic team members say they do it for the love of the ice and for cameraderie.
"I love the camaraderie," Kuhnert says. "I love the team aspect of that and being along with fellow skaters. When the opportunity came around to skate again as an adult, I was all in."

Synchronized skating involves teams with eight to 20 skaters who perform flowing lines, circles, arabesques, wheels, and other formations to music. The sport has deep roots in Michigan. The first state team began as the "Hockettes" in Ann Arbor in 1956. They performed during breaks in University of Michigan hockey games. Twenty years later, Michigan hosted the first international synchronized skating championship competition for teams from the U.S. and Canada.

Synchronized skating is not the same as regular figure skating or ice dancing. Kalamazoo Kinetic Program Director Laura Marunde is the head coach of its Masters' team. She says, "Ice dancing is only between two people. They typically skate in a pattern or do the footwork. They don't do formations like we do." The Kalamazoo Kinetics are a 14-member syncrho-skating team ages 25-54.

Marunde says synchro-skating has some affinities with the performances of well-known commercial teams like Disney on Ice and Ice Capades. Those groups "definitely use some of the things that we do in synchronized skating in their performances. GKSA has had several skaters who skated at Disney on Ice, some of them being synchro skaters, and they use those skills there."

A few weeks before the 2023 National Synchronized Skating Championships in Peoria, Illinois, the Kalamazoo Kinetic Masters team gathered at Western Michigan University's Lawson Ice Arena. Team members practiced their moves to the thumping rhythms of Ciara's cover of the classic Rolling Stones tune "Paint It, Black." 
The Kinetics synchronized skating team is part of the Greater Kalamazoo Skating Association.
The team usually practices at its home base, Wings Stadium. But Marunde says it has a cooperative relationship with WMU's synchronized skating program, which also competed in Peoria. That cooperation includes Amy Yuengert, WMU's head synchro-skating coach. She helps the Kinetic team with its choreography. Marunde, a reading recovery specialist at KPS, says choreography of a synchronized skating routine "is a lot of writing numbers down and a lot of x's and numbers on pieces of paper to see if it works."

Practices don't always go according to plan. "I mean, it is ice skating," Marunde admits. "Ice is wet and slippery and there's a lot of falling. There's a lot of running into each other, clicking blades, getting someone else's blade in your leg or other parts where you don’t necessarily want a blade." Ouch. Younger skaters in Kinetic's "Snowplow Sam" program are quickly taught to keep their hands off the ice if they fall to prevent cuts from passing blades.

The Kinetics team usually practices at their home base, Wings Stadium. This year, Kalamazoo Kinetic's Masters' team placed tenth in the 2023 nationals held March 1-4. That was the first time the team qualified to participate after doing well at an earlier regional competition. While a national trophy would have been nice, team member and assistant director Jennifer Buchholz says that they don't just do it for the awards. 

Buchholz, a literacy consultant at KRESA and former Kalamazoo Public Schools third-grade teacher, grew up on skates in Cleveland, Ohio, before coming to WMU as a student and skating there. "It's always been a large part of my identity. It's all year all the time, and so being at the rink is just a huge part of our lives. I think, as adults, we've not been able to let that go, and that's why we're all still here."

Kalamazoo Kinetic's roots in the community go back more than two decades. The team is the successor to the former Kalamazoo Kommotions and others. GKSA has seven levels of skating based on standards set by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Synchro-skating has some affinities with the performances of well-known commercial teams like Disney on Ice and Ice Capades. Synchronized skating is not yet an Olympic sport. But Marunde says supporters are working to make it one. "This year, (the United States Figure Skating Association) started the 'Elite 12' teams in the senior division, which have only 12 skaters on the ice instead of the typical 16." That's because Marunde says the Olympic Committee ruled that regular-size teams are too big. "So, they kind of are trying to pare it down a little bit to make it possible."

There's more information about Kalamazoo Kinetic, including training programs at all levels, on the GKSA webpage. You can also email Marunde at synchro@skatekalamazoo.org.

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Read more articles by Andy Robins.

Andy Robins was a radio news journalist for four decades, most recently as news director of public radio station WMUK 102.1 FM in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is now an independent journalist and co-creator of the Retro Rockets podcast about vintage science fiction: https://retrorocketspodcast.podbean.com/