Spreading the Gospel of Synchronized Skating: Triangle Formation Making Noise in the South


Synchronized skating is gaining some serious traction in the South with the creation of Triangle Formation in the Raleigh–Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina.

Upon consolidation of two synchronized skating programs — Triangle Ice Gliders and Raleigh Rockers — Triangle Formation launched last spring with five competitive teams, 61 skaters and seven coaches. Teams practice four days a week at three different rinks.

Jannika Lilija, a former competitive skater with one of the world’s perennial top teams, Marigold IceUnity, of Helsinki, Finland, was brought on board by Jackie Hobgood, skating director at Polar Ice House Cary, to help coach the younger teams.

Lilijasaw a perfect storm for success in this burgeoning area of the country when she arrived in 2016.

Photo by Dan Crawford/DC Arts Photography

Photo by Dan Crawford/DC Arts Photography

“Carolina Ice in Hillsborough already had a firm history of synchro in the area, and the infrastructure was right,” Lilija said. “With seven rinks and one new one on the way, this location is the perfect place to foster a growing community like synchro.”

But first, restructuring had to take place. When Lilija came to the area, Triangle Ice Gliders and their three tight-knit teams shared one hour of ice per week, and were searching for someone to replace outgoing coach Josie Bodie. The Raleigh Rockers and their four teams also were seeking a new direction.

“Both programs decided it was in their best interest to unify, and thus Triangle Formation was born,” Lilija said.

At the start of its inaugural campaign in spring 2017, Triangle Formation hit some expected logistical speed bumps. Securing ice time in a hockey-centric area was difficult. Area coaches were tasked with increasing their awareness of synchronized skating and its moves requirements to best instruct and prepare students. Dance coaches found themselves in much higher demand. Inexperienced synchronized skaters had to learn to practice individually and in pairs alongside freestyle skaters, which proved daunting at times.

“The entire rink culture needed to adopt to synchro’s increased presence in the community,” Lilija said.

Building a more competitive program also meant attending additional competitions and practices, which impacts not only the skaters but parents and siblings, too. For some, the prospect of the increased financial commitment paired with more absences from school and time spent away from home was intimidating.

“The majority of our families live in either Wake Forest or Cary and were used to a maximum rink commute of 15 minutes one time per week,” Lilija said. “Needing parents to travel 15 to 50 minutes, two to three times a week was a big ask.

“Most of the area’s school districts operate on a year-round schedule with three different tracks. Some of our skaters attend schools using a traditional calendar, while others attend private schools. This can become a parent’s organizational nightmare.”

Photo by Dan Crawford/DC Arts Photography

Photo by Dan Crawford/DC Arts Photography

But rather than being overwhelmed, parents met and devised an intricate and forever-improving carpool system. Teams travel in packs and skaters know which moms bring the snacks. Siblings serve as mascots and are future team members.

The team’s slogan is “It takes a village.”

Lilija has helped to instill in her skaters some of the same lessons that she learned as a young skater in Finland.

“These years instilled in me the value of dedication, hard work and an intractable commitment to my teammates,” she said. “Following failure, we found strength in each other to get up and skate on.”

Those relationships still exist today, she said.

“It is exactly this, the opportunity of investing in a lifelong community of support and encouragement that I want to pass on to new generations of young people,” Lilija said.

“We ask that our skaters commit themselves to their teammates, not just at the beginning of every season, but at every moment throughout, applying a firm focus on compassion and appreciation of the effort of others.”

Read more about Triangle Formation in the March issue of SKATING magazine.