1974 U.S. National competitor, Novice single men
1977 U.S. National competitor with Danelle Porter, Junior pairs
1982-1985, Performed with the Ice Capades
For some skaters, the skating world offers a way of growing up in which it's not only okay to be gay, but in which there are so many like-minded others that sexual orientation is not a traumatic issue. A skater since the age of 9, David Hicks came of age as an amateur competitor, show skater, and coach before retiring from the sport.
Back when the skaters were still called "amateurs," David competed in Novice men in 1974.
"At Pacific Coasts I put down some nice school figures (remember those?), did a decent freeskate, and next thing I knew I was on my way to Nationals," he said. "I have always been a big fan of figure skating and skaters. So it was exciting for me to see people like Dorothy Hamill, Charlie Tickner, Melissa Militano, Barbie Smith, Tai and Randy, Gordie McKellen, Terry Kubicka, Lisa Marie Allen (Novice ladies), Lynn Holly Johnson (Novice ladies) and so many others in person."
His second trip to Nationals came in 1977, with best friend and Junior pair partner Danelle Porter. He is still proud to recall that they won their first-ever competition, Pacific Coasts, over two strong pair teams: Robert Wagenhoffer and Vicki Heasley, and Larry Schrier and Maria DeDimenico (still one of David's favorite teams) . At Nationals, he said, "The Junior pairs didn't skate a short program. We skated the first night of the competition and really enjoyed the next four days of the competition. We had a great time! I remember we ate a lot of ice cream with M&M's!"
David always knew himself to be gay, and never considered himself to be in the closet.
"The wonderful thing about skating and starting young for me was that skating was the focus, not being gay or a sissy or a fag or whatever 'civilians' (a term a friend uses to refer to non-artistic types) at that age liked to call us," he recalled. "I was a skater first, and for the most part my schoolmates liked it. I was traveling, setting up my future, and meeting and skating with famous people. I don't really remember any traumatic experiences with being gay or a figure skater in school."
"Skating wasn't about being gay or straight for me," David said. He did not recall that skating officials discriminated against gay skaters: "In my day, 1966-1977, if you wore jeans to a competition you were chastised! As in society, homosexuality was spoken of in hushed tones. So while everyone was whispering about everyone else's lifestyle, a clean, strong program was still more important to the skating association."
Above all, he said, skating "made me feel as if I had a place, in the sense that I wasn't interested in the 'normal' things my brothers were doing. My skating friends and I were all on the same level, trying to be better skaters and having fun doing it."
Over the years, David was coached by Judy Westerlund, Hope Cuny, Richard Garrett and Jim Hulick, and credits them all with being nurturing teachers.
"Now that I've coached, I know it's part of the job, a big part," he said. "Judy Westerlund coached me on and off from the age of 11 to 20. She really knew me, and one day, after I had embarrassed myself badly at a competition, said in a way that was more like from one skater to another than coach to student, 'You can either train properly -- and if you decide to do it that way I'll support you the whole way -- and not embarrass yourself, or not (and why continue skating then?).' For some reason it hit home and I went for it and skated very well in the next competition. I will be eternally grateful to Judy for that experience. It changed my life in an important way."
"Richard Garrett changed how I viewed myself as a skater," he said. "I was so busy trying to be a Ken Shelley or a John Curry that I wasn't being me. He helped me find myself and at the same time taught me a lot about technique."
"Jim Hulick wasn't warm and fuzzy at all, but what he knew about skating was so huge it didn't really matter much," said Hicks. Hulick, who was nationally known for coaching Rudy Galindo and Kristi Yamaguchi to becoming pair champions before he died of HIV-related complications, introduced Hicks to "the wonders of ballet training." Already predisposed to ballet because of admiration for balletic skating idols John Curry and Peggy Fleming, David took up dancing full-time.
"I left the wonderful, yet small, world of skating and started to grow up," said David. "I had a part-time job, moved out of the house and began the maturing process, finally, at age 20! I enrolled at a very good ballet school and found two wonderful mentors. My life changed completely. Don Eryck and David Ramos, life partners and owners of the school, showed me the way. Travel, food, clothing, etiquette, all kinds of wonderful new things. I did a lot of performing with this school. My partnering abilities were quite good and I loved and love the art of partnering. I eventually danced professionally with the Oakland Ballet."
When the Oakland Ballet didn't renew his contract, David returned to the ice after five years and joined the Ice Capades, happy to bring what he had learned from the world of ballet and theatre back to figure skating.
"Unlike in amateur training, show skaters spend far less time on the ice training and more time performing and focusing on creativity and new directions," said David. "Happily, eligible skaters are now doing this as well!"
"I was in the ensemble, a 'line skater,'" said David. "I loved it. Being part of a big group, entertaining people all over the country. When I was a skater, shows like this were popular. My coaches had all been on the road and I loved the stories they told. I did take a stab at adagio understudy, but couldn't find the right partner and decided not to pursue it. I was happy in the line! People now, particularly those internet message board types, look down their noses at 'show skating,' but it had its place-it's where all of the champions at the time went, and it made a lot of people want to skate. Sometimes the new tour formats bore me to death, Torvill and Dean's tours being the exception. Our guests were Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Robin Cousins, Underhill and Martini, the Carruthers, and many more. I was reunited with some of the people I had competed against--like Robert Wagenhoffer--and it was a wonderful time for me."
David called the atmosphere at the Ice Capades "very supportive" of gay skaters -- "And contrary to what people hear," he added, "there were many straight men in the company and everyone got along fine. We had more things to deal with than our sexuality, like living on the road for nine months at a time, and the weigh-ins we had every week, promoting a pretty unhealthy environment."
After three years in the Ice Capades, David felt he needed a new challenge. He moved on to coaching, and particularly enjoyed the mentoring aspect. He was openly gay, and found that both the skaters and their parents "were more concerned with quality coaching than my sexuality."
As someone in the Bay Area skating community, his path crossed Rudy Galindo's more than once. Galindo's late coach Ricky Inglesi was David's favorite show skater, and David himself coached in one of Galindo's training rinks.
Speaking as a former coach and a gay man, David said, "Rudy's win was fantastic. We'd watch him do wonderful runthroughs of his programs and then, as we all know, fizzle at Nationals. So to see him pull it together was almost too much. And then to go forward with his lifestyle and to push the envelope is wonderful. I'm so thrilled for his success."
Now retired from the sport, David looks on some changes -- such as the elimination of figures -- with mixed feelings, but welcomes skaters such as Lu Chen, Michelle Kwan, and Lucinda Ruh who are "pulling the focus back to creativity and artistry," in the tradition of David's idols and contemporaries such as Janet Lynn and Starbuck and Shelley.
"I feel I skated in the 'golden age' of skating," he said, "and feel lucky to have seen and worked with the skaters and coaches I have."