Before Jimmy Ma, a 22-year-old figure skater from Great Neck, was an internet sensation for his short program paired with “Turn Down for What,” he was an 8-year-old who didn’t have the smoothest start.
“I was eight when I started, but the first time I ever stepped on the ice, I fell on my face and I hated it,” Ma recalled with a laugh. Then his mom, seeing his reaction, decided to sign him up for skating lessons.
“She wasn’t hoping I was going to be a skater for the rest of my life, but she signed me up so I could face my fears,” Ma said. “…She never intended figure skating to be such a passion of mine.”
While living in Great Neck, Ma said, he would often take advantage of the Andrew Stergiopoulos Ice Rink, since was in walking distance from the local high school.
Teachers, colleagues and friends were also very accommodating to his pursuit of professional figure skating, he said.
His counselor worked hard in terms of scheduling and being lenient with absences, while teachers said that as long as he kept up with the schoolwork, there would be no problems, Ma said.
His colleagues were also “extremely supportive” of the fact he was a male ice skater, he noted, a contrast to some other stories he heard.
“It was a great experience and I can’t thank them enough,” Ma said.
Ma’s now famous performance at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship this year began with gliding and spinning across the ice to the pumping music of “Propaganda” by DJ Snake, a contemporary sound not often heard during figure skating routines.
He hit a triple lutz and then landed a triple axel. Soon, after attempting a triple flip and toe loop, the music of a new song began to build.
The moment Lil Jon’s voice boomed, “turn down for what!” Ma jumped right into it.
A quick series of striking moves, intense spins, drops to the ice and other dance moves followed, causing some audience members to loudly cheer and clap their hands, before Ma finished with a triumphant fist in the air.
“When I got to the competition, I was out there. The energy at the rink – it gave me a lot more to work with,” Ma recalled.
Ma said he didn’t know just how quickly the performance would spread.
His story has been picked up by the likes of the Daily Mail, NPR, Newsday and Vice, for example, and videos of his performance have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
“It’s quite surreal,” Ma said of the social media reaction following the performance. “I’m trying to block it out a bit, because I want to keep my head small, keep myself grounded.”
But, he added, it is a bit of a “great feeling.”
This wasn’t Ma’s first foray fusing modern twists into an icy art known for being paired with classical music though.
At least year’s championships, he skated to a melody of rapper Eminem’s music.
His choreographer Nikolai Morozov also has an extensive background in this, Ma said, having choreographed Daisuke Takahashi’s energetic 2007-08 short program to a hip-hop remix of “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky.
Ma said that Morozov has believed in the need for music to have a story, while being familiar to many people as possible, hence choosing Eminem’s music, as well as “Swan Lake” about a decade ago.
“But we knew we kind of had to step it up a bit, make it more exciting, make the choreography more fluid, integrating the hip hop into it more seamlessly,” Ma said, hence their choice of club songs.
Ultimately, Ma placed 11th in the short program, meaning he will not be competing in the Winter Olympics next month. Following the performance though, Ma said he received a lot of advice on how to improve afterward – as well as encouragement to keep on going.
“At first, the intention was to just get everybody excited. But since [then], I’ve been reading a lot of messages online and a lot of people are like, ‘oh my God, I might actually watch figure skating’ because of it,” Ma said. “It gives me a lot of confidence to continue doing what I do, but I’m just really happy I could resonate with a broad audience because of what I do.”
“The next step is a lot of relaxing, a lot of rest,” Ma added. “I have to love figure skating again so when I can go back, I can go full force.”
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring ice skaters, Ma said they should go for it – so long as it’s something they love.
“I’d say ‘do it, but do it only because you love it,’ Ma said. “It’s not something you should do with somebody else telling you to do it. It’s like that for everything. There’s a lot of commitment.”
Video from Rebekah Wilson on YouTube