Once she laces up her skates and steps on the ice, figure skater and Santa Clarita Valley native Jessica Pilner, 23, sees the ice rink as her stage and her skating routine as a theatrical performance.
Pilner’s theater background combined with her passion for ice skating led her to create routines that expressed herself in a way only she can.
From back spinning to “Beetlejuice” to doing jump sequences to “Jailhouse Rock,” Pilner’s non-traditional music choices not only put her own personal spin on her performance, but also resonated with the audience, earning herself her first standing ovation.
“Once I’m on the ice and I hear that music, it’s like a switch flips on,” Pilner said. “All I want to do is just basically perform and allow the audience to get into the music and get into my program.”
As a member of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, Pilner had the ice in her veins as she skated through the competition at the 2022 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships at the University of Delaware in Newark last month, bringing home a gold and silver medal.
The gold medal was for the “Lyrical Pop-Character-Comedic” skate, which gives the skater more creative freedom for their routine. Pilner won the silver medal in the “Intermediate-Novice Ladies” skate, which limited creativity and focused on the technicality of the performance.
For the silver medal skate, Pilner said she was given a final score of 45.19, but the skater who won the gold medal scored a 45.24. Although she lost by a difference of .05, Pilner said she is still grateful for scoring high in her first national competition, and she has her eyes set on the gold for next year.
“I could have walked away with a gold medal at my first nationals,” Pilner said. “But obviously now that just kind of pushes me and motivates me more for next year to really come back and just be better and get more points.”
According to Pilner’s mother, Tracey, the crowd was captivated by how she constructed her routine in a unique fashion that put her special style of skating on display. During her routine, the audience clapped in tune with her medley of “Beetlejuice” songs and, afterward, gave her a standing ovation.
“She was having the skate of her life,” Tracey said. “Everybody was cheering while I was crying. She was the only one that got a standing ovation when she completed her program.”
At the time, Pilner said she was not aware of the standing ovation because she tends to mentally mute the crowd noise so she can focus on her performance.
“For me to go out there my first time with nobody knowing who I am or how I skate and have it finish like that, it was just such an amazing moment,” Pilner said.
After seeing her daughter train heavily for this competition for months, Tracey said she was overjoyed to see the hard work pay off.
“You could tell that not only was she skating the best she’s ever skated, but she was loving every second of it,” Tracey said. “It was definitely one of my proudest moments as her mother.”
Prior to competing in nationals, Pilner said she stopped competitive figure skating when she was in high school to focus on her education. Once she turned 21, Pilner’s figure skating coach, Erika Shorr, suggested she begin participating in adult cup competitions.
“Usually in the skating world, once you turn 18, you’re pretty much done,” Pilner said. “So I’m glad that there is an adult community for anyone 21 and older. So for pretty much anybody that wants to keep practicing their passion in skating, they’re giving you this opportunity.”
In comparison to the youth competitions where the skaters were harshly intense, Pilner said she found the adult skating community to be more light-hearted and supportive of each other.
”Of course we all have some kind of a competitive side but everybody just wants to support everybody because we know how hard it is to keep up with skating, especially as our bodies change and we get older.”
In order to compete in the adult national tournament, Pilner said she had to qualify at the adult sectional competitions with high scores. According to Tracey, what separates her daughter from the rest of the competition is her ability to entertain.
“She’s not only a great figure skater, but she’s also an entertainer,” Tracey said. “[Her routine] was pure entertainment along with competition, which not every skater has her ability to entertain.”
Pilner said she adopted her theatrical style of skating when she was around 9 years old as a member of the Los Angeles Ice Theater team. Pilner said the team performed play productions on ice with costume changes, props and more.
“Theatrical performance has always been my kind of competition,” Pilner said. “It’s really what I’m used to so I wasn’t really nervous for this competition. I was just excited to perform.”
Pilner also doubles as a youth figure skating instructor at The Cube Ice and Entertainment Center in Valencia. Since she works with kids, Pilner said she puts extra pressure on herself to perform well so she can set a good example for them.
“I want to do well so that my students can see that this is what can happen when you put in the hard work, you put in the effort and you continue to skate.”
Overall, Pilner said she is proud of herself for doing well in her first time competing at nationals, but she isn’t satisfied just yet. After all her years skating, Pilner said she still plans to improve on her moves this year so she can win more points and take home two gold medals in next year’s nationals.
“I don’t see myself ever stopping skating,” Pilner said. “My ultimate goal is just keep competing, keep improving and basically see where this adult skating community can take me because I think once I turn 25 or 26, I can start competing in internationals.”