‘Turn Down for What?’: Jimmy Ma Pushes Envelope in World of Figure Skating

Ma spoke with NBC Bay Area to discuss why he chose to perform a hip-hop number during the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the short program instead of a typical classical rendition.

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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
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Jennifer Gonzalez/ NBC Bay Area
A: We had the criteria to find some music that could relate to the audience but also get them excited. It couldn’t just be regular EDM, it had to be something people knew about.nWe had a couple of pieces we had already thought of, but one by one we had to shoot them down because the music that you listen to on your headphones or your computer is going to sound completely different on the speakers at the rink. We kind of had to find a good balance that would get people excited but would not sound too messy, but also would be really loud and stuff like that.nThat’s when my coach said, last year, right at the end, one of the dancers had a “Turn Down for What” medley, just like the last five seconds of the performance. You know let’s try that, that sounds really exciting. So we listened to it and realized there was really good build up to it and right before the drop, he said “alright, this should work,” and we tried it on the ice. And that’s how the idea came to fruition.n(January 4, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/ NBC Bay Area
A: I’m a big DJ Snake fan. I like listening to his music and his most recent album. I’m just a big hip-hop fan. I like music in general; I like to listen to a lot of different pieces. So if I find something that I like, I’ll think “Hmm” it’s a little unorthodox.n(January 4, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: The new rule came out after the last Olympics, which these last four years gave skaters a lot of freedom to express who they really are on the ice. I think it was a good decision for them to do that. This was an International Skating Union decision; it gave skaters a lot more freedom to express themselves on the ice.n(January 4, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: I was hoping that people would flip through the channels and think, “this is boring, this is boring, this is boring,” and then they say “Oh my god, this little Asian kid is skating to hip-hop music at the championships.” So that kind of draws them in and then if I’m the one who draws them, maybe they’ll stay for the people that represent the sport at the highest level like Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, you know all those guys that are really all the top notch skaters. I hope that brings them in and they realize that figure skating is actually kind of a cool sport.nIt goes back to the judging thing; I kind of expect them to not like it, but in order to push the sport forward into the new generation, maybe that’s something that I need to do. You know?n(January 4, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/ NBC Bay Area
A: I spoke to a lot of judges about that and kind of heard what they had to say and they go both ways. Some of them really enjoyed it, one of the judges from my home club liked this program but loved my other program because he’s a huge Eminem fan. But it was brought to my attention, and I knew going into it already, it’s very different from what they’re used to. They’re brought up with a very traditional type of skating, you know classical music – I don’t want to say boring, but like this is something very very different for them. It’s a bit of a shock for them.nI understand if they were a little bit “eh” on it but I want to push the envelope forward. I want to push this sport forward where people will be more comfortable skating to music like this. So if I get the bad rap for it, it’s alright.n(January 4, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: It’s very very different, and it’s a different feeling too because it’s not just movement. I’ve seen hip-hop done on ice before, but for a lack of a better word, it’s kind of like when you do hip-hop you have to have a certain “swagger” certain “swag” to it. So it’s not just a movement, it’s how you feel the movement. But I’d like to say that the short program is my personality on the ice whereas the free program is more my style. Believe it or not I’m actually much more comfortable skating my free program, even though it’s much more tiring, longer and way more difficult. But it’s something that I can really show the passion, my passion for skating. Whereas the short program, I just like to have fun, it’s a good time; everybody’s having a good time.n(January 6, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: I would probably die at the end of the program from exhaustion and it was very coincidental because we kind of choreographed the free program – the foot works and stuff like that – before we chose the piece. And then basically what we did after that, we just went through this library of music that we thought would work and skated to each of them. It was really tiring, it went on for about an hour and then we found this piece that I resonated with and was able to match the choreography really well. (January 6, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: I think they’ll do a good job, they’re good friends of mine. Vincent, I’ve been talking with him all year and even trained with him a bit, and I always told him you know, “You got this, you got this.” Same with Mirai, I skated with her a little bit. She’s such a hard worker. I’m definitely aware of controversies around the selections, but I’m still very proud of them for making it and they have my full support. (January 6, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: Before I landed everything, well “landed” everything, I was just like alright have fun with it, take everything one at a time, and don’t get ahead of yourself. Take it easy, you’ve done this before and you can do it again right now. Without having a small personality, basically skate for the cheap seats, everybody in the nosebleeds, skate for them as well and have that presence and after that is when the bass drops, I unzipped the jacket and whatever. That’s when I’m like okay, foot work is really easy for me, all I have to worry about is not tripping over my face, I’ll just have fun with it. It’s not just the movements, it’s the presence behind the movements and I want to have a really big presence around the arena. It takes a lot out of me but it’s something that I like to have fun with.n(January 6, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: I feel that the judging should be a little less biased. To a certain degree, yes a skater has earned their pedigree in the sport, but in terms of judging rotation, in the jumps especially, that should be judged a lot more fairly among all skaters. I don’t want to point out any names but there have been certain cases throughout the years – only because this person has a powerful name in the sport – judges turn a blind eye in terms of leveling in the foot works, levels in the spins and rotations in the jumps. That also affects the second score, because there’s a rule in the figure skating that you’re not allowed to get a component score of 10, you’re not allowed to have any tens if you have any under rotations or falls. Which I mean, the skaters, absolutely deserve to be where they are because of how hard they’ve worked and what they’ve done for the sport – for someone who doesn’t understand that it’s like ‘Wait this guy skated so well, or so clean. Why is he or she so behind this person that messed up? They fell a couple of times or popped.’ You know what I mean? I feel like that’s what drives people away from skating – they don’t’ understand what’s going on. In skating, somebody who skated a clean program, everything was beautiful, and they still lost to someone who didn’t skate as well. More casual watchers don’t have the time or energy to dissect the performance in why this person had a lower score than this person. (January 6, 2018)
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Jennifer Gonzalez/NBC Bay Area
A: I got to be comfortable. I’m trying to make things as simple as possible and sharp as well. That’s a conversation between me and my choreographer to see what kind of story we’re trying to tell. For the short program, last year, the new Eminem just rocks a leather jacket and some black pants and he looks like a thug. He looks like a badass. So we just wanted to give that simple leather look to the costume. It was sharp. (January 6, 2018)
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