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Jimmy Ma, now 22, relocated to Dallas from the New York City area in late 2017 to train full-time with Peter and Darlene Cain. He is a two-time U.S. Junior national medalist (pewter in 2013, bronze in 2014) and had his highest Senior level finish (11th) at the 2018 U.S. Championships. He conversed with Figure Skaters Online initially in June and again in July.
Figure Skaters Online (FSO): How would you summarize your 2017-2018 season?
Jimmy Ma (JM): Overall, last season was pretty good. It ended on a really positive note. It was unexpected, but I was really proud of it.
FSO: Let’s talk about that short program from last season to “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, and DJ Snake’s “Propaganda.” The crowd inside the SAP Center in San Jose went nuts for your short program at the U.S. Championships. By weekend’s end, video of your short program had gone viral. What was that like to see such a huge response to your short program?
JM: It was unreal! At first, I was pretty nervous about it because the year before I did something that was unconventional I guess you can say (“Eminem’s “Till I Collapse” and “The Real Slim Shady”). It received a good response. When I spoke to Nikolai (Morozov before this past season), I asked him, “Do you think we should take a step back for the judges’ sake?” and he was like, ‘No. We are going to go straight on ahead, five steps forward and you have to make it work even better.’ So we sat down and we listened to a lot of music and we came up with that. We didn’t expect it to be that big. I just really wanted to perform and have fun. I wanted something to be different. It was just unreal the response that I got.
FSO: What has it been like training in Texas?
JM: It is very different from what I’m used to. I like it here a lot, but it is the totally opposite from what I’m used to. I’m happy that I made this change. Before I came to Texas, I had everything but I did not know what to do with it. What Peter and Darlene (Cain) have done for me is package it, give me direction. They set me on the right path. It has been a pretty good path, but it wasn’t an easy one. They gave me a plan, they gave me a schedule and they gave me an environment. In terms of my training mates, it has been what sold me on moving here. I have known the Cains for five or six years. I have been close friends with them for a really long time, especially Ashley. Amber (Glenn) and Alex (Krasnozhon) are two of my best friends. They, along with Tim (Dolensky) and Brooklee (Han), push me to my limits while I’m training, but off the ice they help me take my mind off of training. We all get along very, very well. I always say ‘Off the ice is just as important as on the ice in terms of mentality’. They got my mind and my heart right. Everybody back home whenever I visit them are like, ‘Are you coming back for good?’ and I’m like, ‘No, guys. I’m not.’ I do miss them and I do miss it back home a lot.
FSO: How has your quad consistency been?
JM: Not bad. Could be a lot better, but it also could be a lot of worse. With the quads though, there is very, very little room for error with training them. I try to train them (currently toe and Salchow) as much as I can and as safely as I can. I try to push myself to try to do them even when I’m not feeling too great. Obviously, Daniil (Barantsev) has been a big help with that, especially with the (pole) harness. But a lot of the time it is just mental. I try to get my mind right, try keep calm and also try to keep my body healthy and strong so that I can do two or three of these in a program. Overall, I’m super happy about where it is at and how far the quad has come.
FSO: The International Skating Union (ISU) has shortened the time duration from four minutes and thirty seconds to four minutes for the senior men’s free skate, starting with the upcoming season. What do you think about the change?
JM: Definitely in terms of stamina, with one less jump, it is a lot easier. My jumps have gotten easier. Aside from the quads, everything else I don’t have to worry too much so I can really really focus on telling the story, using my skating skills, my lines, my edges, my rhythm. I always say the footwork is the heart of the program and I’m really glad they [ISU] kept the choreographic step sequence in there–a) because it is a nice break for me (laughs) and b) because you can really see the soul of the program in there. I thoroughly enjoy performing footwork. However, the thing that I don’t like [about the new rules] is that only the last three jumps count for the bonus, which I really don’t know why because I feel like four would be quite decent in terms of balancing the program out. I think right now a program flows better with the 3/4 split — three difficult jumps in the beginning, footwork in the middle and then four jumps — back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I feel like that kind of program flows better. But I’m only one guy. What the hell do I know?!? (laughs)
FSO: How challenging was it to select music for your new short program?
JM: My short program music was difficult because of the standard I set (at Nationals). I can’t do something that is the exactly the same because that would be boring, in terms of energy and cultural influence. There has to be something more to it. So when Nikolai (Morozov) and I were picking music, we were going back and forth and he made a good point. According to him (paraphrasing), ‘last season it worked because some guy inside the arena knows that song. An old guy like me sings that song. It is popular. We can make it work. But this music you are giving me — it is good, but nobody knows it.’ So I took a couple of steps back and listened to what’s popular on the radio. I kind of went with the mindset of when you are in the club, and you are dancing, dancing, dancing and everybody is tired, but when you hear this song everybody just wants to come out and dance again… regardless of how they feel. So that is how we picked the music.
I’m skating to “Mi Gente” by J Balvin, Willy William and Beyoncé. We were able to mix it with something really really sexy (“Sahara Tango” by Sarah Louise Ings). I’m very, very happy about it. There is a lot more dancing to it this year. I have to take a couple more classes and really integrate athleticism and artistry.
FSO: Nikolai Morozov has choreographed programs for you for several years now. What’s it like to work with him?
JM: It’s a very different experience. He’s brutally honest and he has the chops to back up every brutal thing he says to you. He says something and you naturally listen. There’s a way that his mind works that sees the outcome way before anyone does and it almost always ends up working out. That’s why I trust his judgement. Even when he’s not watching, his presence just makes you want to skate better and work on what he’s given you. He’s a goddamn hard *ss, but a genius when it comes to skating.
FSO: Tell us how Josh Farris ended up choreographing your free skate and what it was like to work with him.
JM:: My best friend wanted me to stay longer (in Colorado Springs after Broadmoor Open in late June) so I approached Josh to ask him for some basic lessons. You know, just to mess around with ideas of different kinds of music… almost kind of prepping me for the future. Later that day I was like, ‘sh*t, Josh is one of the most beautiful skaters I’ve ever seen.’ The reason why I worked with Jeff Buttle two years ago (classical free skate in 2015-16 season) was because of the program he did for Josh. [Aside from Jimmy: As Nikolai put it to me at the time: “Jeff was too beautiful of a skater/choreographer for me to handle.”] At that point, I decided to stay a bit longer and have Josh choreograph.
It was an absolute pleasure. I remember watching him through the years and he was always an inspiration to me artistically. His Schindler’s List program, especially, made a huge impression on me. I’m like ‘damn, every movement he makes has meaning but it’s never contrived… how the hell does he do it?!” It was an amazing opportunity to pick his brain and see how he creates and how he generates so much energy but make it look so easy. Almost like a wave, natural but powerful. I’m really happy I made that decision and I’ll be debuting the program at Liberty (Philadelphia Summer International, August 3-5, in Aston, PA). [Editor’s Note post-Philadelphia: Jimmy Ma’s free skate music begins with “Juke Jam” by Chance the Rapper and ends with “Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd.]
FSO: What are some of your goals for this season?
JM: Kick some a**. I don’t know. (Laughs)
FSO: Another viral video?
JM: To be honest with you, I can’t think about that. The reason it worked last season was because I really didn’t give a sh*t, I went out there and performed and had fun.
FSO: How do you spend your time when you’re not training?
JM: I work as a server part-time at a new club-like sushi restaurant on the weekends. Other than that I’m pretty boring. Cooking, cleaning, annoying Amber (Glenn), hanging out with my dog. She’s a Shiba Inu named Winry.
FSO: To end, how would you describe “Jimmy Ma the skater” in 3 adjectives?
JM: Dramatic, uncensored, unconventional.