A Figure Skater Spins into a Career as a Power Skating Coach
For over 50 years, beginning in the 1940s, fans heard about the “Spirit of the Ice Capades—it’s magic, excitement, explosive entertainment,” as the advertisement stated. Tanya Quigley had heard those ads, and when she was 18, that magic and excitement became her own. “My biggest accomplishment was signing a contract for the Ice Capades–East Company,” says the Harmony resident. As she started out, she was an impressionable bundle of energy, and she could not foresee that this stint as a performer would lead to her becoming the iconic power skating coach she is today.
“In the summer going into my senior year of high school, my coach, Joan Vienneau-Bunnell, suggested that I audition for the Ice Capades. She was also a former Ice Capades skater as well,” says Tanya. The successful audition started Tanya on her path towards her career and passion.
In 1989, Tanya began her three-year tour with the Ice Capades as a chorus skater. She was also a principal understudy skating with Richard Dwyer, known as “Mr. Debonair” of the ice. She skated in many of the group’s 50th anniversary vignettes.
“When I was around the age of 21, my first skating instructor was looking to retire from teaching, and she asked if I would be willing to take on her students. I was ready to leave the traveling ‘gypsy’ life and thought this was a great opportunity to take my skating in a new direction,” she recalls.
Today, at 50 years young and standing a mere 5 foot one inches tall, she celebrates 27 years of coaching. She finds herself coaching mostly figure skaters in the summer months, but her winters are packed with some 500 hockey skaters from multiple teams across New England.
“I never intended to be a power skating instructor. It just happened,” says Tanya. She was dating her now husband, who knew of a hockey team that was struggling. “I actually volunteered with that team, and I know at first they thought ‘here comes the little figure skater,’ but by end of season, they won States.” She does acknowledge, “It’s definitely a different kind of work in a man’s world.” She recognizes that no women in Maine and few in New England are trained figure skaters working with hockey players.
So, what do figure skating and ice hockey skating have in common? Tanya will tell you: A lot! “For figure skaters and hockey players, there are many similarities in teaching the basic elements of edging and balance, which then develops into the proper skating technique for forward and backward skating, variations of turns, stops, etc.” And, no question, “There is a point when these basic skating elements take different paths. Figure skating develops into jumps and spins, and hockey, speed and power.”
When Tanya arrives to coach a team, the perception is often that she is a petite figure skater. But, as she shares, “I gave one group a head start to get to the end of the rink, and then I beat them all while skating backwards, so they didn’t question my ability after that.”
She goes on, “I think of it as teaching rather than coaching. The teaching is the ability to break down a skill and then being able to have the skater perform that skill correctly. Sometimes it takes many training sessions to master a skill.” Through Tanya’s teaching techniques on edging and correct skating skills, the player not only becomes faster and more agile, but also is more powerful and confident.
“It was about six years ago I brought Tanya in to work with our players from the Providence Hockey Club in the winter and then run power skating camps for players during the spring and summer,” says Matt Smith, owner of two hockey programs based in Rhode Island. He goes on, “Tanya was an instant hit. The parents and players loved her. Her knowledge—of skating stride, and using edges, and being able to adapt her teaching to kids of all ages and skill levels—is second to none.”
When the Salzbergs moved to Maine, Lisa Salzberg was looking for a private skating coach for her son Jack, who enjoys hockey. “He was looking to become a better skater and wants to do well at the sport.” Tanya and the now 15-year-old Jack were in sync instantly. She has even become part of the Salzberg family at their business—a summer camp in Belgrade that offers a small hockey program. “Tanya runs the hockey program for the children who attend summer camp at Camp Modin, and she does a power skating program for several summer camps,” says Lisa.
Another special touch Tanya offers is her patience. “It’s pretty amazing you can put 50 kids on the ice with her, and she has control as they listen and focus on her. She really knows what she is doing out there. She teaches more than hockey—she teaches skating skills,” according to Lisa.
Kayla Roach, a figure skater, credits Tanya with being “very kind and non-judgmental.” Roach is a part-time figure skating coach and acquired much of her skills through learning the sport from Tanya. “Over the past three years, she has helped me become who I am, both on and off the ice.” She continues, “As I started to get more into coaching, she took me under her wing and taught me how to be the best coach I can be. I am proud to say that everything I have learned from her, I will use for the rest of my coaching career, and even the rest of my life.”
Kayla goes on, “Her energy is unmatched. As a coach, she has inspired so many people, including me. Although she does not go easy on her students, she is always saying positive things and encouraging us to be our best.”
Calling the ice rink her “home” since she was a child, Tanya claims, “It was where I was most comfortable and able to express my feelings through skating, choreography. I loved to perform in club shows and competitions.” She credits her instructors with teaching her proper skating techniques coupled with her determination. “It took me many years to understand that skating wasn’t black or white. There was grey area, such as not getting off the ice until I landed that perfect jump, so I would do that jump over and over while continually falling and getting frustrated.”
It’s clear Tanya Quigley is a mentor both on and off the ice, with hands-on teaching. “I feel it is important to demonstrate what I am teaching. Not every skater will understand by description. It is important that I am able to teach each skater in a way that they will understand, whether it is through visual, tactile, auditory or a combination. Most important is that the skater understands what is being taught and is able to then demonstrate with the corrections.”
No matter the form of skating, Tanya says, “Many of my clients are perfectionists. I teach my students that it is okay to make mistakes. Through positive reinforcement and correction, the skater will achieve their maneuver and skill.” Tanya has taught ages 2 to 82, admitting she loves teaching adults because they know what they want. “It was about 10 years ago when I taught my oldest skater, who wanted the exercise, so we started working on Moves-in-the-Field, and she was so delighted.” (Moves-in-the-Field are elements of figure skating that emphasis basic skill and edge control.)
Tanya has endless stories to share from a four-year-old skater she is working with now to the ongoing success stories that come back to her. “I have had figure skaters make it to Senior Freestyle/Moves-in-the-Field competitions, and hockey players being chosen for USA National Camp as well as Division 1 and 3 College.”
For four months (a break driven by the pandemic), Tanya hung up her skates to take to the saddle for what she calls “barn days”—riding with her daughter and tending to the family homestead. Now Tanya is back on the ice recognizing, “Ice rinks have great air filtration and ventilation systems, and it’s a cold environment which is a healthy work environment for all of us.”