Ice skating, in extremis

Freestyle skater Julien Dulière explains how he and his band of outsiders brought hip hop to the ice

“LMC Click, La Comera, Code 147...” Julien Dulière is rattling off the hip hop groups that made up a formative part of his youth in Grigny, a town in the suburbs of Paris with a turbulent past. For the now 27-year-old, these groups made more than just music – they embodied a style that would eventually inspire him to shake up the classical, ‘glitter and lycra’ scene normally associated with ice skating. 

His route to the rink was atypical. Usually, professional ice skaters start at 3-5 years old, attending lessons and then being assigned to a club team and trainer. Dulière started skating at 14, not for medals or glory, but simply to while away time in a small town. Proving a natural on the ice, he mastered moves copied from the more seasoned skaters on the rink, but quickly grew bored.

Taking influence from the breakdancing he saw in music videos and on the streets of Paris, he decided to changed up the typical spins and turns of classical skating, practicing moves like flares, 6-steps, and the vrille Chinoise, or the Chinese spin. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Philippe Candeloro, a four-time French national champion of ice skating, who Dulière calls his ‘ice father’.

It’s all about being a little bit crazy, and saying, ‘let’s do this – I don’t care'

“Philippe discovered me on the ice and proposed me my first contract. Without him I wouldn't have this career,” he says. With Candeloro’s help, Dulière has progressed his form of extreme freestyle skating from trying out moves in a Parisian rink to performing all over the world – most in Dubai with his show, ‘Break Dancing on Ice’.

“Dubai was really fun for me as a performer,” he says. “Although it was strange to perform in such a hot place, the rink and atmosphere was fantastic.”

Dulière has no choreographer, instead preferring to create his own costumes and routines to accompany a particular song. He often performs with other skaters, who get the crowd and each-other hyped up for each move. For freestylers, he says, the sky is the limit when it comes to tricks – it’s just a question of pushing through psychologically.

“I did a lot of Tae Kwon Do and martial arts training when I was a kid that really helps me with these kind of tricks. The front flip is one of the most difficult moves, and I try that kind of thing on the ground first. But when it comes to execution, I don’t have anyone watching me on the ice; I have to trust myself.”

Training for the skater consists of “some push ups, and some acrobatic tricks – not every day – because I’m quite lazy,” he jokes. “I don’t have the same style and formation as the classically trained guys…I know I’m not a beautiful, artistic skater. I can’t even skate in artistic skates, I have to skate in hockey skates.”

But, he emphasises that classical training is vital for him to be able to freestyle safely.

extreme freestyle ice skating
Dulière displaying a popular B-boy move on the ice

“I like classical skating and there is still definitely a place for it, as its important to learn the basics before you start trying to change it up. If you don't have the basics, it’s going to be dangerous. You have to know how to place your body.”

Though skaters do their utmost to protect themselves, injuries are commonplace in such a physically demanding sport. 

“With what I do, my knees take the brunt of the injuries,” says Dulière.

“That's the big problems for skaters in general, and particularly with this kind of skating. When you’re landing a front flip, you can feel the vibrations travel through your whole body.”

Injuries aside, Dulière hopes that freestyle, which already has its own communities around the world, will take off even further. “I really hope it will get more popular – it's a new style, and I think the discipline is exciting for the public to watch – there’s a lot of new tricks being imagined all the time.”

For now, the skater has just one aim – to stick a back flip, which he hasn’t tried since a bad fall.

“It’s the one trick I want to do, because I know I can. I kind of scared myself a bit [when I fell], so I’m trying to work up the courage to try it again… I just need to get back to the mental state I was when I was a kid. It’s all about being a little bit crazy, and saying, ‘let’s do this – I don’t care.’”