Ice skating lessons for all ages in Michiana


Rosie Krzemien tells her ice skating students – a group of wobbly adults – to reach out like Frankenstein.

She makes us twist our blades back and forth like an old-fashioned boogie. She uses a marker to draw diamonds on the ice and has us trace the lines with our blades, pointing our toes out, then in, then back.

Here at The Ice Box in South Bend, the full-time instructor has us erase these lines by scraping the blades to the side – the skill we’ll be using in a “snow plow stop”.

Student big or small, Krzemien says these fun little tricks are all US Figure Skating Association standards, and are all part of learning body and blade control. They make me feel more natural on the skates.

The young girls practice their twirls around us.

“It was fun at first, now I figure skating,” says 11-year-old Anna Tibbitts of Niles, one of Krzemien’s students who is progressing through education levels. “You have to keep trying. Everybody makes mistakes.

“If you persevere, there are benefits,” agrees 11-year-old Elkhart student Lauren White.

Ice rinks quench our thirst for winter sports when the snow washes away. Like now. The indoor rinks at The Ice Box and the University of Notre Dame are open all year round. And refrigerated rinks like those at Merrifield Park in Mishawaka and NIBCO Water and Ice Park in Elkhart continue to operate as temperatures soar into the 1940s.

Nothing beats the attraction of skating on a frozen pond bordered by woods. A few weeks ago, Tribune photographer Robert Franklin photographed a rare sight: a group of boys skating on South Bend’s Pinhook Lagoon as temperatures hovered above and below zero. But it gave South Bend parks naturalist Garry Harrington a hard time.

“Because the lagoon is spring fed,” Harrington warns, “there are a lot of places where the ice is dangerously thin. It is difficult to know exactly where this warm groundwater is rising to the surface, and hence the danger. This relatively warm spring water from deep within the earth keeps ice from freezing deep (in several places). A misstep on the seemingly thick ice means you are suddenly underwater.

South Bend is set to open a few natural ice rinks on tennis courts whenever we come back in good freezing weather. Parks director Aaron Perri said he hopes to open them by this weekend. Now it could be February, but he says everything is’ ready to go with a few days’ notice ‘. That would compensate for the Howard Park Ice Rink, which is closed while the city decides what kind of ice it will rebuild and open there next year.

The temporary, refrigerated ice rink at University Park Mall in Mishawaka, on the Grape Road side, will remain open until Sunday as long as the rain stops and then close for the season. It’s free, with a limited number of skates to borrow, and open from noon to 8 p.m. through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Hannah Laird, 7, shows off her sense of balance just before class with the Irish Figure Skating Club at The Ice Box in South Bend.  Tribune Photo / JOSEPH DITS

Brad Laird watches behind the glass of The Ice Box with other parents as his 7-year-old daughter Hannah eagerly spins on the ice. He burns sugar to control his type I diabetes.

“She’s a very kinetic child,” he says. “It’s best for her parents that she gets plenty of exercise.”

Hannah easily chats with other skateboarders on the wall. And his father notes, “I have to remind him, ‘We’re paying for this. Please skate.

Cassandra Horner, of Mishawaka, says her 8-year-old son Henrik was frustrated with skating, noting: “It was difficult for him to shake off the imperfections. It doesn’t matter that her husband, Corey, played hockey at Nichols College in Massachusetts. Then they made it an event for the whole family and Henrik wanted to take lessons.

Instructor Danni Dunn skates with his students at the Merrifield rink in Mishawaka.  Tribune Photo / JOSEPH DITS

Danni Dunn didn’t learn to skate until he was 39. She learned it quickly through her own years of roller skating and from Tom Conley, an instructor at the Merrifield rink in Mishawaka for about 30 years. He was 70 years old and still competed in synchronized skating. He died a few years later and Dunn continued with the classes – a volunteer who has been doing so for 17 years.

She teaches all ages. She doesn’t use the plastic sneakers that kids can grab onto, like the chairs people used to use. At Merrifield, they are shaped like seals.

But it does include a lesson on how to fall, which is more important for adults. She knows. She broke her tailbone falling flat on her butt last year. It’s best, she said, to let her legs sink in and gradually slide down and then fall to the side of her butt.

Ice skating is a passion, not a job. Dunn teaches kids with a gentle touch and the occasional hug, adding, “Love this.”

Students line up for the next skating exercise at the Merrifield Ice Rink in Mishawaka.  Tribune Photo / JOSEPH DITS

Outdoor Adventures author Joseph Dits is at, 574-235-6158, @SBToutdoors, [email protected] and

Instructor Danni Dunn teaches children to bend their knees and balance at the Merrifield Rink in Mishawaka.  Tribune Photo / JOSEPH DITS
Instructor Danni Dunn works with her skating students at the Merrifield rink in Mishawaka.  Tribune Photo / JOSEPH DITS

• The cooler : The Irish Figure Skating Club offers half-hour group lessons from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Friday at The Ice Box, 1421 S. Walnut St., South Bend. It is organized in age groups, including one for a parent and a child aged 2 to 4. The sessions last six or eight weeks. The current session started on Friday and ends on February 17th. You can start now and the cost will be prorated. The cost is $ 60, plus an annual membership fee of $ 20. If kids aren’t sure if they want lessons, parents can get them to try it someday for free. Free skate rentals are available. Details on Or call Michelle Mensik at 574-288-3300, ext. 202.

• Notre Dame University: The Compton Family Ice Arena offers a similar class format to the Irish Figure Skating Club, except they are 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The current eight week session begins this week. The cost is $ 88, plus $ 13.25 for Learn to Skate USA membership. Visit or call 574-631-1231.

• Merrifield Ice Rink: Lessons for 3-4 year olds are from 5 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 11.30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Lessons for 5-year-olds and up to adults take place from 4.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. on Saturdays. The next two sessions take place from January 30 to February 11, then from February 18 to March 1. The cost is $ 20 per session. The rink is at 1000 E. Mishawaka Ave., Mishawaka. Details are at or 574-258-1665.

• Birds at the window: Rum Village Nature Center, 2626 S. Gertrude St., South Bend, offers an informal program at 2 p.m. on Sundays to study the many birds that come to the feeders there and quiz a naturalist about them over coffee or tea. ‘a cocoa.

• Earthshop: A 2 to 5 p.m. workshop on February 5 at Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol will teach engaging activities that can be used to inspire all ages, using essays from conservationist Aldo Leopold’s book, “A Sand County Almanac “. The cost is $ 30. Register before Friday at 574-535-6458.

• Snowmobile safety: The Cass County Sheriff’s Office will be holding a Snowmobile Safety Course from 8 am to noon on January 28 at the Cass County 911 Center, 130 N. Broadway St. Cassopolis. Pre-registration is required at 269-445-1240.

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