We’ve heard only THE BEST things about the Stars on Ice tour, which just so happens to be rolling through Long Island this weekend at NYCB Live. The cast includes some of our favorite Olympians (like Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu, Nathan Chen, Alex & Maia Shibutani, Bradie Tennell), and in advance of this weekend’s show, I was lucky enough to grab ten minutes on the phone with the one and only Karen Chen! We talked about how she’s a Dua Lipa fan (AREN’T WE ALL???), how she’s been using the long bus rides to study for the ACT and SAT (it’s easy to forget homegirl’s only eighteen, you guys) and more, so read up on all of that below, and grab tickets to Stars on Ice if you’re free!
How’s this tour been going so far? The schedule seems so stacked! Are you hanging in there?
It’s honestly been a lot of fun! I was part of the tour last year, but I was only guest starring. This year, being part of the cast and being part of the group numbers, and just spending time with everyone, getting to know each other, has been so much fun. I’m really happy to have this experience. Obviously it’s a bit exhausting, for sure, and I’ve never done anything like this before. But being able to perform in front of great crowds and to have that experience has been pretty amazing.
Yeah! And tell me about the program – how do you figure out who’s going to skate to which songs, and what those songs will be in the first place? Is the music and choreography predetermined, or are you all in control of your own creative direction?
Each of us has two solo numbers, and for those numbers we have our own say. So we get to pick what we skate to and whatever choreography we want, but for the group numbers we have Jeff Buttle (Director/Choreographer), and he’s been amazing in working with us, giving us choreography and telling us what to do. Before every show, we all get together and review the steps to make sure we’ve got everything, and that everything feels comfortable. That’s for sure something different, but definitely overall it’s been great to work with everyone. And a group number is totally different – you don’t just get to make stuff up, you have to make sure you’re in line and in sync with everyone. It’s really cool.
How’d you decide on the songs you picked? I know one is a Dua Lipa track, which is rad, and then the other is…
“Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman.
Amazing! So how’d you settle on both of those?
Well, I’m low-key a huge fan of Dua Lipa, and I’ve been in love with her album, so that music has really stood out to me. I was like, “I want to try out something different for this show,” and I mean, there are twenty-two shows altogether, so I wanted to challenge myself to do something new and something fun, something that I wouldn’t usually do. So that’s why I ended up choosing that piece. And as for the other one, I watched the movie and felt like there were so many great songs on the soundtrack. It was tough to decide which one I wanted to skate to, but once I really listened to the whole soundtrack, “Never Enough” really stood out to me. It’s just a beautiful piece, and every time I hear it I get goosebumps. So I really wanted to skate to it since I felt like I could relate to it, and I wanted to perform it to the best of my ability.
Is there any music you really love but would never consider skating to?
I feel like I’m always up for the challenge. Like, if someone told me “Try skating to this! You can do it! It’ll look good on you!”, at first I might think, “Oh my god, this is so different, I’m not used to it…”, but I’d give it a shot, and I feel like I’d make it work. I’ve always kind of been that type of person. I like to be challenged a little bit, pushed out of my comfort zone a little bit. Thinking about skating to a pop song like “Blow Your Mind” was really out there, because it’s a totally different personality that I have to put on the ice, but I thought that it’d be so much fun, and I was willing to try something different. I think it’s good to challenge ourselves, and it helps us grow, too. Like, you want to expand and be able to try different things. Maybe one day I’ll do a program that’s cha-cha inspired or something. I don’t know! It could be fun, you never know.
Absolutely! And in terms of the group numbers, how have you guys built up a good group dynamic? Were there any initial things you did to get into the vibe to perform together?
I think a lot of it was that right before the tour started we all spent three days training together, and that was to feel nice together, get to know each other and go through the group numbers. It was like a rehearsal during that time, and we definitely help each other out.
I don’t know how much time you guys spend together off the ice, but have you set up any boundaries so everyone is guaranteed some personal space?
It’s honestly been pretty easy. I mean, the tour’s been really amazing – we get our own rooms at the hotels where we stay, and sure we spend some time together on the bus during the drives and stuff. Also, the shows are usually on the weekends, so afterwards we get to go home or wherever it is we’re headed to relax and reset before getting back together for tour.
Does your headspace change at all in terms of how you mentally prepare for something like this, which isn’t necessarily competitive?
It’s definitely different. Again, it’s the off season, so we’re done competing for now, and this is kind of our “down time”. Being able to do the shows is a totally different feeling. There are spotlights, the ice is smaller, the crowd is much more noisy, and it’s just a lot of hype around shows. It’s for sure a different experience, because you get to express yourself more and not worry about the technical elements. Sure, we still do tricks and do triples and whatnot, but it’s completely different, because instead of targeting the judges, you’re targeting the whole audience. You want to perform to them.
Right. And do people throw stuff onto the ice like I’ve seen them do during competitions? Like flowers and stuffed animals and things like that?
It usually happens during competitions, but not really during these shows. First of all, we don’t have people to help pick up the stuffed animals that we may get, and also, we try to keep the show moving. It all really just flows together and makes sense.
[Laughs] Yeah, I feel like that would be tough to cram all that stuff on a tour bus, so that’s probably a good thing. Now, I know you’ve been staying busy with this tour, but during periods where you have more down time, what do you do to stay motivated, occupied, etc.?
Currently I’ve been trying to use the long bus rides to study for the ACT and the SAT, because I’ve taken a break from studying for the Olympics, and I need to start thinking about that in order to get into my dream colleges. But I actually really enjoy drawing and sketching and doodling, so when I’m studying, I’ll find myself doodling in the corners of the pages. [Laughs] But staying busy is always good, and I really enjoy what I’m doing right now.