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Nevermind the competition when you’re figure skating to Nirvana

Scott Williams at Champions On Ice (Screenshot: YouTube)

The world of figure skating is, at once, both expressive and remarkably staid. The participants wear eye-catching outfits bedecked with glitter, sequins, and rhinestones. With that daring fashion sensibility, it seems like skaters would be a fun, anything-goes kind of crowd. But no. Because their routines are scrutinized and harshly judged, these athletes are more conservative than they look. That attitude extends to their sometimes timid musical selections.

This begs the question, Is there any room for rock ’n’ roll in figure skating? Former world champion Scott Williams decided to find out one night in 1998 for a televised special called “Champions On Ice.” Instead of “The Skater’s Waltz,” he performed to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The results are either extremely cool by figure skating standards or extremely uncool by normal standards. Either way, it’s worth watching for the cognitive dissonance.

Williams was likely emboldened by the fact that “Champions On Ice” was an exhibition event, not a competition. Even so, the announcers acknowledge that it’s a weird choice for a figure skater, one not likely to be aped by his fellow performers any time soon. Through his outfit and choreography, Williams attempts to evoke the aimless rage and free-floating nihilism of the grunge years, but he comes much closer to Kevin Bacon’s infamous warehouse dance scene from Footloose. Still in all, it’s an impressive and bizarre display of athletic skill.

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