Butler encourages diversity on the ice



Rebekah Butler (12) performs at the 2020 Winter Showcase for Theatre on Ice. Butler skated alongside a team of girls in winter-themed performances such as The Polar Express.

Gliding and panting, the raw scrape of blades on ice fill Rebekah Butler’s (12) ears as she straightens her arms and powers through her sit spin. Although she had only performed a two-minute program, her body had undergone the strain of a half marathon.

Butler began skating in the sixth grade and has stayed consistent ever since, practicing two to four times each week. She is currently in the pre-juvenile level at the Mid-South Ice House and will soon advance into the juvenile level with only four more tests until she completes the U.S. Figure Skating training. 

“I really enjoy skating because it’s freeing,” Butler said. “You feel really graceful and you get to do a bunch of cool stuff.”

When Butler had the choice between ballet and figure skating, she chose the sport that was somewhat uncommon. As she progressed through skating, she noticed that the figure skating community lacked diversity. 

“For the longest time I was the only black skater there, and I have faced some microaggressions even when I go places to compete,” Butler said. “People stare at you like, ‘Why are you here? What do you think you can do here?’ and people talk down on you.”

Butler has learned that rather than focusing on the negativity of others, she must focus on herself and her journey to improve. Although it was never Butler’s intention to become an influencer, she has innately left an impact on the black community. 

“We were doing a show, and I was just playing one of the animals [in Lion King], and a young black girl came up to me and wanted a picture with me because I was the only black girl out there,” Butler said. “That was the best feeling. Since then, more black skaters have come in and said, ‘I came because I saw you.’”

In the six years since Butler first stepped on the ice, she has developed a close relationship with her coaches and fellow skaters. With decades of experience, her coach Carla Bressler has guided Butler, not only as a mentor but also as a friend. Together, they develop choreography, decide on music and teach each other. 

“At first, she was so hungry to skate and soak it all in,” Bressler said. “Over time we settled into our friendship. We’re a team, and I feel that she collaborates more with me and comes more into her own. She feels the music when she skates to it and has turned into a very beautiful skater.”

Figure skating itself has many contrasts. It is seen as an individual sport, but skaters often practice in teams. It requires immense strength, but it is an art that also requires extreme poise and sophistication.

“It’s a tricky sport because it requires a lot of balance and body awareness, and on top of that, we do that with elegance and grace and pull in that artistry side of it,” Bressler said. “It’s art, and our art just happens to require athleticism.”

In order for skaters to improve their flexibility, mobility and strength, many train off the ice through yoga, ballet, biometrics or a form of gymnastics. As they advance from season to season, their bodies endure physical and chemical changes that offer the stamina to easily turn nonstop for minutes or perform axels and triple loop jumps. 

“In skating, they teach you how to not get dizzy,” Butler said. “Dancers spot, but figure skaters have to get used to staring straight at nothing when spinning super fast, so it changes your brain chemistry.”

Butler has demonstrated major improvement and dedication, persistently practicing her skills no matter the setbacks. 

“Rebekah is just a really great person and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Bressler said. “She truly puts everything into all she does and has shown so much improvement and progress on the ice. I hope even as she graduates, skating will always be a part of her life.”

From basic group lessons to USA competitive events, Butler now competes with two-minute programs and will soon achieve the senior level. 

“I am way more comfortable and I can do things that I thought I could never do. When I look back at videos, I think, ‘that’s crazy,’” Butler said.