Girls get in sync in the rink

Hinsdale synchronized skaters help their teams reach nationals

Imagine 16 skaters gliding and twirling across the ice in perfect unison.

It's not imaginary for Hinsdale residents Methuli Jayesinge and sisters Elia and Ammie Hsieh. They all competed at the 2023 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships March 1-4 in Peoria, testing their timing and skills against the best troupes from across the country.

"It was a really huge, fun experience," said Ammie, a seventh-grader at Hinsdale Middle School.

Members of the Dazzlers program based in Downers Grove, Methuli and Ammie skate with the intermediate team, and Elia with the novice troupe. Methuli, a Hinsdale Central senior, and Elia, a Central junior, grew up skating together over the last decade. Ammie has six years under her belt.

Elia said the discipline is a special challenge.

"Synchro is pretty neat because it's different, I feel like, than individual skating because you're skating with a whole team, and you're doing different elements," she said. "It's less jumping and spinning, and more about edge quality, spirals and flexibility."

There's also more camaraderie and less competitiveness, but that doesn't mean training is any less rigorous. Saturdays and Sundays are for team practices, and weekdays are when girls area expected to get in as much independent work as possible to keep pace.

"We're expected to practice our own spins and jumps and work on things ourselves," Elia said. "I reality, we're skating like six or seven days a week. You've got to hold your own. It effects more than just you."

"A team is only as good as their worst skater," Ammie chimed in.

Both the intermediate and novice teams sensed they were good enough to reach nationals, the girls said, but that required being among the top six at the Midwestern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships in Rockford in January.

Performing a Chicago jazz-themed routine, Methuli and Ammie's team placed third among the 12 entries, and Elia's novice team took sixth with a "strut" theme, advancing the girls to their first ever nationals competition.

"We got to stand on the podium," Elia said.

"I was crying," Ammie said of her reaction to securing their spot.

The "kiss and cry" waiting area has become well known from Olympics coverage, and it's the same for synchro, if a bit more crowded.

The celebration soon gave way to preparation, with the already rigorous training schedule becoming even more intense.

"We had a lot of extra practices," Elia said.

But the close-knit dynamic makes them almost like family gatherings.

"The team is like a sisterhood because you're up every weekend at 5 a.m. for practice, and they see you at your worst and your best," Methuli said. "You form bonds that you won't forget."

In addition to the endurance involved in jumps and twizzles, all in coordination, a standout performance also exudes personality.

"This year our team was really fast, so we had a really, really fast program," Elia said. "It was a sassy program, and one of the hardest things is being able to develop a certain character when you're skating and maintain a happy (countenance) when skating fast."

In Peoria they tested their skills against the top groups from the Eastern and Pacific regions.

"We got party buses for transportation, and that was so fun. Going to practices early, it helped wake us up," Methuli said. "The stadium was huge."

At official practices the teams would show their routine to judges, who would make recommendations that could be incorporated into the final performance.

"They're able to get a full view of your program and can look at your strengths and weaknesses," Elia said.

It's a lot of work for a three-and-a-half-minute routine, not to mention the attention to appearance.

"We do our own hair and makeup," Methuli said.

"Image is such a big part of the presentation," Elia remarked.

Ammie said she grew tremendously as a synchro competitor this season.

"This year was the first year I started to understand skating, because all the other years I just sort of showed up and skated," she related.

The girls said the sport is a mystery to many of their non-skating peers.

"A lot of our friends don't know what it is, and it's hard to explain it to them," Elia said.

"A lot of them think it's pairs skating," Methuli said, smiling.

They encouraged people to check out synchronized videos online to see its blend of grace and power.

"The reason why it works is because you do it together," Elia said.

It was the last Dazzlers dance for Methuli, who will start college in the fall. She said ending on such a high note helped ease any melancholy.

"Since nationals was our last competition, it was very sad," said Methuli, who intends to still serve as a volunteer coach when able. "But at the same time, it was a great way to finish out the season."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean