Skating with the Stars Print
Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 19:09

Mesmerized by the beauty of figure skating as a child, Jon Sorkan of the Town of Belgium went on to a successful skating career, knew and skated with stars of the ice and today imparts his love of the sport to children at the Ozaukee Ice Center

    Children as young as 4 may not yet understand much about how to figure skate or the history of the sport.
    But their teacher at the Ozaukee Ice Center brings a decorated past, full of anecdotes and tales, including rubbing elbows with some of figure skating’s legends over the past 40-plus years.
    Jon Sorkan of the Town of Belgium has a unique connection to one of the sport’s most infamous stories — brought back to life through a recent documentary and upcoming movie — the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal.
    “I was there,” Sorkan said of the Jan. 6, 1994, attack at the U.S. Championships in Detroit that bruised Kerrigan and forced her to pull out of the event. Harding’s ex-husband and body guard hired someone to injure Kerrigan
    Sorkan once dated Harding’s coach Diane Schatz (now Rowlinson) and was there just to watch.
    The competition quickly became a media circus.
    “It was chaotic,” Sorkan said.
    Sorkan’s skating career had its own share of twists and turns. The Greendale native fell in love with the sport as a child. He remembers attending a football game at Wauwatosa.
    “They had an ice rink there. I watched the ice skaters instead. I thought, ‘Wow,’” he said.
    While in grade school, Sorkan got tickets to Holiday on Ice.
    “I was mesmerized,” he said.
    Like all skaters in the area, Sorkan began practicing his passion at area ponds such as those at Greenfield and Whitnall parks.
    “I just love the flow and the lean,” he said. “There was a challenge all the time, a one-foot spin, the different jumps.”
    After high school, Sorkan moved to California to train. He ended up earning a silver medal in the Pacific Coast Championships and trained with Olympic champion Carol Heiss. He was shocked to see her fall right in front of him once while she was practicing.
    Sorkan attended San Mateo Junior College but began running out of money. He joined the Army and was sent to Germany. After working in administration, Sorkan received a discharge and a friend asked him to join an ice show at Casa Carioca, a horseshoe-shaped nightclub in the Bavarian Alps on an Army base.
    But Sorkan chose to go back to California instead, and he got into coaching. He always wanted to join an ice show and earned an audition through a friend in Holiday on Ice in Los Angeles. Sorkan was selected and traveled to small cities across the country with the group, and then South America.
    “We had groupies following us,” he said. “We did some amazing shows.”
    Sorkan remembers the refrigeration unit breaking in Buenos Aires, so truckloads of crushed ice were brought in and leveled off. Skaters struggled to maintain balance through the rough spots.
    Sorkan was invited to wealthy people’s homes and ended up buying a margay – a small type of ocelot he named Max, also the name of Sorkan’s present housecat. He ended up taking his first Max home and shipping him to live with a friend’s parents in South Carolina.
    Through connecting with the famous international judge Gale Tanger in Milwaukee, Sorkan trained skaters in South America for two weeks a year for a decade. Standards there, he said, are nowhere near those in America.
    Sorkan was still looking for a different role. He sent publicity photos to Ice Capades, a tour known for featuring Olympic champions, and was selected. News came while he was practicing with Holiday on Ice in Madison. Sorkan said his parents were sick and he had to leave, and joined Ice Capades in Las Vegas. He toured with the group across the U.S. and Canada for three years.
    Then, Sorkan went back to Greendale. He worked out at the newly opened Wilson Park, and got involved in coaching.
    Sorkan started the skating program at University School of Milwaukee before it combined its Whitefish Bay and River Hills campuses into one. Billboards to promote the program weren’t allowed, but Sorkan snuck them up, avoiding police detection.
    Once the school was solely in River Hills, Sorkan said he “really got into it,” and began teaching synchronized skating, now a “big-time world event.”
    Sorkan has been teaching at the Ozaukee Ice Center since its inception in 1995. Now semi-retired, he runs the Learn to Skate program, which offers lessons to children as young as 4. At the early stages, children are taught just how to stand up, fall down and get up.
    Sorkan suffered the worst injury of his career while teaching at Wilson Park. He tripped while showing a move and got a concussion. He spent three days in the hospital and lost his sense of smell and taste for a year.
    Sorkan has served as a talent scout and coach. He still occasionally travels to competitions with his skaters. Once, she took his best skater to meet Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill.
    “I can spot a skater,” he said. “I can tell if they have talent or not.”
    At open sessions, if Sorkan and his longtime fellow coach Blair Holloway saw a skater that caught their eye, they would seek out the parents and ask permission to train him or her.
    In Sorkan’s skating days, the double axel was his toughest challenge. Today, it’s the triple axel.
    Modern technology has allowed for more precision in judging. Sorkan said cameras can show if jumps are done on the correct edge of the blade or not. If there’s a delay in a skater receiving scores, it often means judges are checking the instant replay, he said.
    “Every move you do you’re being judged on,” he said.
    While the jumps get much of the attention, Sorkan likes the artistic style element as well. A major contributor to that is the music. He always tried to match songs to skaters’ personalities and always include a change of tempo.
    “It sets the pace for the program. If you see somebody getting into the music, it draws you in,” he said.
    And today — unlike years ago — the way skaters interpret music is judged, he said.
    Judging has undergone other changes in Sorkan’s career. Sixty percent of skaters’ scores used to be on school figures, such as figure eights – and judges would stand on the ice to check their precision. That led to the public being confused about who won since they only witnessed the free skate portions.
    Sorkan said he never got into hockey but has worked with hockey players before. While the sport’s focus is often on power, he said they shouldn’t underestimate the advantage of their ability to skate.
    Sorkan said he is bothered by the fact few black people are involved with skating and would like to see more. He said his Ice Capades show was the first to include a black woman.
    Sorkan has followed American skaters and said the state of the country’s figure skating program right now is “not the best.” His favorite is Gracie Gold. He said Ashley Wagner is getting older but has improved, and he expects Nathan Chen to do well in the upcoming Olympics, where thousands of hours of training comes down to a few minutes.
    “To me, it all boils down to that one skate, that one performance,” he said.
    For more information on lessons at the Ozaukee Ice Center, visit or contact Sorkan at 285-7685.