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Social dance draws a crowd to recognize Joan Devitt

August 30, 2019
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - When Skating Club of Lake Placid coach Joan Devitt passed away suddenly at age 84 in 2017, Lake Placid lost a great presence in the local skating community.

However, Devitt's name lived on Aug. 18-24 during the Lake Placid Adult Skating Week, when the Joan Devitt Social Dance was hosted. About 25 skaters could be seen waltzing, gliding and whirling around the 1932 Jack Shea Arena on Monday, Aug. 19 as several first-time social dance attendees skated alongside veteran dancers.

Traditionally, social dances are organized affairs, meant to allow skaters to dance with other partners while completing and/or learning standard compulsory dances. Often likened to "ballroom dancing on ice," ice dance sessions used to be held as a way to attract skaters and families to figure skating clubs.

Article Photos

Skating Club of Lake Placid member Maggie Atkins, a former show skater and long-time member of the Skating Club of Lake Placid and long-time Adult Skating Week participant Bridget Woodward, of Bangor, Maine, at the 2019 Joan Devitt Social Dance.
Provided photo — Christie Sausa

While ice dance is a recognized discipline in competitive figure skating, social ice dancing is the non-competitive branch of the sport and emphasizes the social and cooperative aspects of the discipline. All dance abilities are welcome, although to enjoy the experience to the fullest, participants should be able to dance most of the first six dances in the US Figure Skating compulsory dance structure. Dances that are no longer part of the structure are also "passed on" to other interested skaters by dancers who know them.

Overall, the social dance scene promotes the spirits of education, cooperation, kindness and promotion of skating that Joan and Jack Devitt so enjoyed.

The Devitts were an important part of Lake Placid skating culture and the Skating Club of Lake Placid. When they moved to Lake Placid in 1969 after coaching in the Philadelphia area, it was a return of sorts. Both had trained in Lake Placid in the late '40s, skating ice dance with each other as partners.

The couple served as program directors for the Club for several years.They coached several local skaters to national competition, including the pairs team of Leanne and Jeff LaBrake and Kathaleen Kelly. Countless other students competed in regional and sectional competition, and earned their gold tests in figures, freestyle and pairs skating, and pre-gold tests in ice dance.

Several of their pupils also became coaches, figure skating officials and performed in shows like the Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice. They were also involved in the administration and organization of the club, producing 14 Skating Club of Lake Placid shows and several special event shows, including the skating portion of the inaugural 1979 Skate America, where they were involved in all facets of the production.

In 2012, the Devitts were inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame for their great impact on Lake Placid figure skating.

In later years, while Jack continued to coach, Joan mostly served as an ambassador for local figure skating, often skating alongside fellow Skating Club of Lake Placid members at the weekly "Coffee Club," which is an hour and a half session hosted Thursday mornings during the winter season for adult skaters.

Jack Devitt was a very popular coach in Lake Placid among the adult skater population, coaching several Skating Club of Lake Placid adults regularly while also teaching during the adult weeks and weekends in the summer season, with Joan always nearby to encourage local and visiting skaters.

It was fitting that the Joan Devitt Social Dance was hosted during the Adult Week, where adult skaters from all over the world gather to figure skate. David Kobe, adult skater and former President of the Skating Club of Lake Placid, remembers the Devitt's dedication to the Club.

"Joan Devitt was a lovely person and it was wonderful to participate in an event that she would have loved," Kobe said. "Mr. Devitt did coach Gina (Jadwisiak, Kobe's wife and ice dance partner) on a number of occasions and Joan was always willing to help us out when we had skating questions and she was always greeting people with a smile. She was the unofficial club greeter without a doubt."

As relatively new ice dancers who had originally focused on singles and pairs skating when they first got together in 2006, Karen Kan and James Gann were participating in their first ice dance social. If not for Joan Devitt's encouragement, they might not have tried ice dance at all. Devitt consistently reminded them that ice dance is a lifelong sport and that they could enjoy it well into their 80s if they wanted to.

Kan, a retired local medical doctor, noticed that while she was healing some autoimmune reactions in her knees, pairs and singles skating was temporarily becoming a challenge, so she convinced Gann to start ice dancing.

Given the creativity and choreographic challenges of ice dance, both Kan and Gann, who are also musicians, discovered they enjoy the discipline. Now that Kan has healed to the point of physically being able to do the athletic tricks in singles and pair skating once again, the couple have added ice dance to their skating repertoire and will be competing in all three disciplines (the first time any SCLP adult skating member has done so) in the upcoming International Adult Figure Skating Championships here in Lake Placid in October. They both felt grateful to be able to represent the club honoring Joan Devitt at the first annual SCLP Joan Devitt Social Dance.

Laura Morrissette and George Blaszczynski, who have been ice dancing as adult skaters for 10 years, also host ice dance weekends at home in the Boston area.

"We had attended several ice dance weekends and decided, with our coach, Dawn Jarvis's encouragement, to try hosting one in the Boston area," Morrissette said. "This April will be our fourth ice dance weekend. We combine over 10 hours of social ice dancing with instructions, food and fun.

"(We're) so happy that you are starting to include some social ice dancing. Many people don't really know what it is. It gives all skater a way of enjoying the ice while dancing and socializing."

Morrissette and Blaszczynski have been coming to Lake Placid since 2011, and always enjoyed their interactions with the Devitts.

"We love the coaches and fellow skaters. Plus, LP is so beautiful that is a great place to skate," Morrissette said. "I met Jack when we were both waiting to get on the ice during a schedule mix up my first year at LP. He was so friendly and told me about his history with the club. I made a point of chatting with him every year."

Although Jack Devitt moved shortly after Joan's passing and currently lives with family in Kingston, New York, he still returns occasionally to visit the people and place he loves. Their legacy lives on through their skaters, their contributions to the skating club, and the attitudes of warmth and ambassadorship for the sport that they shared with others.

"Joan would be so delighted to see her good friends gathering on the ice to dance and chat and just have fun together - nothing would please her more," Devitt said. "And it's a special honor for me to know she's still inspiring skaters to get out there - this is really what coaching has always been all about for both of us."

For more information on figure skating in Lake Placid, including the Adult Week, visit



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