An interview with Candice Heiden

When the music video to “Sweet Lovin’” by Sigala immediately became one of the most popular clips on YouTube, a lot of people were wondering who the incredible girl roller skating in it was. Since I first watched it, I had been one of them, too, so I wanted to know more about this amazing person. Making this interview was really making one of my dreams come true. She’s a world class champion with a lot of experience (also as a coach), an accomplished roller skater who has been featured in hugely popular music videos, and she’s always managed to have fun and find pleasure in what she’s been doing. We talk about the beginnings of her career, her greatest successes, the unique atmosphere at the rinks, roller skaters’ camaraderie and her craziest ideas. Candice Heiden will also take you behind the scenes of the music videos we can watch her skating in and share a few words of advice for those who have just started roller skating.

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Remote Talk: Did you watch the Olympic Games in Rio? What were your favourite moments?

Candice Heiden: I definitely didn’t watch as much as I would’ve liked, but of course the US women’s gymnastics has always been a favorite of mine, and so inspiring. I think I may have watched them while doing the splits at some point lol. I also loved seeing Claressa Maria Shields win the gold a second time in women’s boxing.

Skateboarding is now officially an olympic sport. It will debut in Tokyo in 2020. Do you think that roller skating will ever be an olympic sport too? Would it be a good idea? I’m asking about it, because some skateboarders are afraid the organizers may not get the right people to prepare skateboarding events during the Olympics.

I’m not quite sure if roller skating will be an olympic sport. It’s been a hope I’ve carried since I began skating over 20 years ago. If organizers used viewership numbers from ice figure skating, I think it would make a lot of sense to have its counter-part (roller) be shown in the Summer Games. There is also a great movement happening now with roller skaters in skate parks (I mean girls are throwing back flips in quad skates, it’s incredibly athletic and impressive to watch), which could compliment the skateboarding sport and perhaps have a cross-over of viewers and fans. As far as organizers go, I would hope that there is a team to properly market and brand roller skating to present it effectively to the general population. As far as I know, there is very little being done to market roller skating in an effective way by a group of organizers. The best at this seem to be skaters themselves.

As a member of the national team, you represented USA in World Championships many times. You also took part in World Games 2001 in Akita, winning Silver Medal in artistic roller skating. How did it feel like?

Its funny you ask about that one. The Silver Medal from the World Games has been the only medal, trophy or reward that I have ever shown to my students as inspiration. It’s quite impressive and represents so much to me. That competition in particular was very memorable because of the skaters that were on the US team, the closeness of the rest of the international competitors, our performance, the condition of the floor, and skating while injured… an experience I’ll never forget.

A lot of people have discovered you thanks to music videos. Music videos featuring you include Avid Dancer’s “I Want To See You Dance”, Chet Faker’s “Gold”, “Sweet Lovin’” by Sigala and “Make Me Like You” by Gwen Stefani. I’d like you to lead us behind the scenes and share some secrets of making these videos. Let’s start with Chet Faker’s “Gold” you made with April Corley and Appelusa McGlynn. Where was it recorded? Did filming at night matter? Did it make the ride more difficult?

We shot the “Gold” video on a highway north of LA over night. Filming at night was ok for us once we made sure our path was clean and free of debris. There was a large light attached to the bottom of the truck we were chasing that lit up everything we needed to see.

Is it true that the road wasn’t actually empty, but there were cars driving past your group?

We had the road locked down by local police, but yes, cars were allowed to pass through between our takes.

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There are many theories on what the story in the clip is about and who your characters are. What do you think?

We were given direction on our roles and characters by the incredible director Hiro Murai and translated by the incomparable choreographer Ryan Heffington. From what I understood we were sirens coming in and out of the light, but with a constant type of forward progression.

”I Want To See You Dance” looks like a scene from a movie. Did you feel a little bit like a star of the 80s roller skating film?

This was the first time I had done a music video that featured me solo and honestly it was a little intimidating at first, but I quickly warmed up to the freedom that the director gave me as choreographer, which inspired me to try things that I would do if I were just skating alone by myself. It was really fun. I love how that one turned out because the crew was literally 5 extraordinarily creative people that worked together beautifully to create solutions and ideas on the spot that read so beautifully on screen.

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Where did they film it?

This one was filmed at the famous Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, CA. Minutes from Hollywood. Half the skating work I do is shot there, it’s a beautiful facility and the owner, Dominic, is a sweetheart.

By the way, do you have your favourite movies about roller skaters?

Hmm… My favorite movie that features roller skating might be Roller Boogie just because my competitive coach taught Jimmy Bray (the main skater) and I love that he does a full competitive routine almost as if it were a physical monologue… and it’s technically a really difficult routine, which I’ve always been super impressed with. No one told him he needed to do a loop combo, but he does, just because he’s a badass!

”Sweet Lovin’” is the biggest hit among the ones mentioned, at least so far. Where did you make the clip? Who accompanied you on roller skates?

“Sweet Lovin’” was filmed all over LA, various locations including the downtown arts district, the LA river, and a Beverly Hills neighborhood. Some of my best friends and star roller skaters skated with me on that one: Nicole Leonard (4-time World Champion), Ali Stravino (National Champion), Michelle Steilen, Chelsea Traille and an incredible jam skater Tony Zane.

Were there any onlookers moving around when you were filming, any strange reactions?

For the most part, we were shooting with locked down locations, but when there were onlookers they were loving the smoke on my skates.

Can you say a few words about the techniques and figures we can admire you doing in the video to “Sweet Lovin’” (and, more or less, the time in the clip we can see them)?

While I don’t do much that I would consider technical in this video, as they wanted me to just have fun freestyling around LA, I do a shoot the duck at 0:27-0:28, a full 360 jump around 1:53, a spiral happens around 2:47, me and Nicole hit the splits as Chelsea and Michelle roll over the top of us, a 2 person move that I used and created with Danielle Hawkins in the DJ Fresh “Louder” music video. We actually had some pretty awesome choreography created by Chris Downey and Matt Cady (amazing choreographers and so fun to work with) that we didn’t have time to shoot more than once that day and unfortunately was left out of the final edit.

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Did you expect such huge popularity of that clip when you were making it? At the moment it has more than 172,1 million views.

I honestly am the worst about gaging which videos will do well and which ones will stay smaller, had no idea when shooting that this or “Gold” would become so popular. I feel extremely grateful and honored to have so many people see me skate.

“Sweet Lovin’” is definitely a summer hit that’s going to stay popular for a long time. What about your favourite summer hits? Do you have songs that remind you of great summer / holiday moments?

I love the Gwen Stefani “Make Me Like You”, it’s a perfect skating song and I heard it for 2 weeks straight while rehearsing for the video and still love it. That means something. I also love listening to “Love Never Felt So Good”, the lost Michael Jackson hit that they released with Justin Timberlake. I’m also really into “This Girl” by Kungs, definitely a summer fave.

The music video for “Make Me Like You” that you’ve just mentioned was special in two ways: firstly, because obviously Gwen Stefani herself is an exceptional artist, secondly – because you made live music video for the song! How was it? Did you have a chance to talk a little bit to Gwen Stefani?

I’m still blown away by what was pulled off for that video to happen. I’ve definitely never been a part of anything with so much risk and moving parts. It literally had to be executed with military precision lol. The planning and coordination involved was beyond comprehension, what we did in our skating scene was literally nothing compared to what the dancers, crew and Gwen had to do perfectly at the right time. Our biggest challenge was moving around one another smoothly at speed, while dancing in a confined space, while letting Gwen take the lead and hold down the front comfortably. She’s such a rock star! And yes, we did get to spend time with her and even met her boys, they are all super sweet.

Did anything funny or unexpected happen during making any of those music videos?

In Sigala’s clip, the smoke canisters were falling off all day and you can see it in a part of the video where I look down at my skate because it shook loose and I quickly put my foot in front of the other to hide it falling off and to save the shot.

Reading the articles about filming the music videos you took part in, I’ve got the impression that there’s no rat race among roller skaters, but rather mutual trust, respect, camaraderie. Is that true?

I’m extremely proud to be a part of the roller skating community because that’s exactly what it is… a community. As I’ve done larger projects, I have seen how different we are from other performance communities and although others are friendly, we definitely are a different breed, a bit goofy, and very supportive of one another. Even when a dancer has to throw on skates for a scene, you’ll see the professional skaters stepping right up to help and support that dancer. I love the camaraderie that we share, it’s inspiring and has led me to co-create an entertainment company that supports and creates work for roller skaters.

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As you’ve just mentioned, together with other accomplished world-class roller skaters, you founded LA Roller Girls (the photo above). When did an idea to set up such a group appear?

Me and the girls have been working professionally in LA for years and were being contacted frequently about finding other skaters for castings. We finally realized we were already doing the job we wanted to do so we got organized and created something we are really proud of – a unified front really, where people can go to find the best skaters.

Your group combine training young girls with working in entertainment. Can you say more about it?

Yes, this is one of the most important parts of what we do, and I hold it so close to my heart because I love teaching and helping others accomplish their goal. When I started working professionally as a skater, there was no one to help you learn how to take your training as an elite athlete and somehow present it in the right way for entertainment purposes. One of the most exciting parts of LA Roller Girls Entertainment is that I get to work with girls that I have coached as competitive athletes, and watched grow up. I love being able to advocate for them as they get started in professional skating and put their years of training and incredible skills to use.

Have LA Roller Girls been busy this summer?

We’ve been unexpectedly busy this summer, to the point that work became so frequent we had to cancel a trip to Europe to teach at the BCN Roller dance festival. We had been looking forward to it all year and were so disappointed to have to back out.

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On YouTube, in the comments to the videos we’ve mentioned, some people, especially ladies, admit that they started roller skating after watching you and your friends. Have you had any messages or comments from such people?

When I receive messages or comments about people returning to skating after seeing me or taking up roller skating because of something they’ve seen me do, I get a little emotional. I’m such a nerd. I feel like I’ve won somehow, I’ve accomplished something important if I’ve inspired someone. I literally read the message to my boyfriend and get all sappy. It’s funny.

We’ve talked about LA Roller Girls and extremely popular music videos you performed in, but it’s just a part of your career. Do you remember how it all began? When did you put on the roller skates for the first time? Why did you decide to try roller skating?

The earliest picture I have of me roller skating, I must’ve been about 5 years old walking around my backyard in them with my most special backpack on. They were plastic skates that probably didn’t even roll lol. My mom and her sisters dabbled in roller figure skating as young girls and my parents knew I needed something to do with my energy. Luckily for me, my aunt was still in contact with their old coach who happened to be coaching the reigning world champion, so I trained with the absolute best from the get-go… The stars were seriously aligned for me.

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Some people say that roller skating gives a special sensation, that you can feel like you were flying. Is it so? What’s so unique about it?

For me it’s complete freedom, floating, flying, it’s very ethereal. I used to close my eyes sometimes during competition in big overhead lifts, just to feel more like I was flying. Having the music playing as you float really creates a feeling almost as if being out of body. It’s great!

People who used to spend a lot of time at roller skating rinks in the past, for example in the 80s, say that friendships were born there, that they fell in love at the rink or came there looking for consolation after breaking up. Have you ever experienced something like that, for example making friends you still stay in touch with?

Most of my best friends are roller skaters, first kiss was a rink rat like me, my first job was in the snack bar of the rink, and definitely when I’m feeling empty I go skate alone (usually at the tennis courts near my house). Even though I’m in skates about 6 days a week for work, my friends and I will still go skating as a hangout activity. It’s hilarious.

Talking about hanging out with friends, I have to ask about jam skating. It’s something that looks absolutely amazing. For those who don’t know the name, could you explain what it is? Why do you think it’s so special?

Jam skating I would describe as break dancing meets roller skates. There are several different styles, some are big power moves that require all kinds of upper body strength (see my buddy Tony Zane in Sigala’s video) and other types of jam skating progressively move around the skating floor with amazing shuffling footwork integrated with tricks. I think this is very special because it is very stylized and you will almost never see two jam skaters that look the same, everyone has their own identity, the best ones look like amazing dancers with skates on their feet, you almost forget they’re rolling.

You’re working with young girls. If you compare the situation of roller skating (its popularity, the access to the rinks, the atmosphere at the rinks) at the time you started your career to the present, when they start training, do you see any big differences?

I’ve been coaching skating for about 14 years now and there has been a significant change in numbers of skaters, and quality of skating, even in my years as a coach. I try not to compare today with yesterday because the world is a completely different place now, children are different, families are different, the things that motivate people, children and adults are very different, the emphasis on family physical activities has changed so of course skating has changed. I’m trying to find ways to show the benefits of skating for your health, mind and development as an individual. The roller skating I grew up in, is an individual sport where almost all of my life lessons were learned. I was very fortunate to have it as a positive outlet for me and I would love for others to get out of it what I did. I feel that even with the differences in society now from then, roller skating still has a place to positively affect people’s lives.

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You do incredible things on roller skates. Did you train dance in the past? Or were dance moves just a part of your roller skating training?

I would love to say I have a background in dance, because I desperately wanted to be a dancer growing up. I danced all the time, but always chose to skate rather than pursue any of my other passions and in my house there was hardly enough money to skate, let alone do anything else.

You don’t only roller skate, you also ride on rollerblades. You once mentioned that you took up rollerblading as an addition to your training at some point. From your experience, what are the main differences between roller skating and rollerblading?

Yes I turned to blades as a kid as a way to practice outside, my parents wouldn’t let me use my good equipment outdoors, but I wanted to skate all the time so on days where there was no practice I would put on blades and skate in the driveway. The biggest difference was how they fit, they don’t hug your feet and react at all like a roller skate. Spinning is quite tricky too but you learn to make adjustments. I like how much lighter they are, it makes jumps feel quite different though.

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If you were to choose three most important moments of your career so far, what would you pick?

Hmm… I would have to say as a competitive athlete, earning the Silver medal at the World Games was definitely one of the best moments. Another stand out career moment for me would be earning my first John Wintz award for coaching a National Champion, and professionally it would have to be realizing how many people have seen roller skating by way of the Chet Faker video and now the Sigala video as well. It blows my mind that people can now see what roller skating is.

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Apart from being an accomplished roller skater, you have other talents, too. While watching your roller skating videos, I came across your “Boxing combos” clips – and they were pretty awesome! Haven’t you thought of combining roller skating and fighting – for a movie or a TV series episode?

I have trained in boxing and kickboxing and love learning about the technical aspect of those sports. I haven’t thought of gloves and skates at the same time.

And, in general, if you could guest star in a movie or a TV series, which series or what kind of movie would you like to play in? Maybe some director or producer will read this interview, who knows? 😉

I would love to do anything physical, I love learning and training in a new medium. Wrestling cracks me up and I think my size would be hilarious in a role like that.

Apparently, one of your favourite movies is Amélie. The title character of the movie “sends” a garden gnome on a journey and asks a friend, a flight attendant, to send the pictures of it, taken in different parts of the world, to Amelie’s father. Have you ever done anything as crazy as that? Or maybe even crazier?

I do love Amélie! One of my favorite little pranks has definitely been taking embarrassing photos of friends that would otherwise be throwaways and having them turned into wrapping paper, then giving them gifts in their paper, it’s great!

And what movies do you like watching in your free time? What books do you like reading? What bands and singers do you listen to?

While I don’t get to the movies often, I try to make it a point to see the ones that get nominated, I love good acting and aesthetically pleasing directing. Tarantino films are always a favorite of mine, and Lawrence of Arabia is in my top 3 of all time, its aesthetically gorgeous. My go-to reading is definitely spiritual guidance books because I can read them in pieces and it will completely take away my need to worry for the entire day or maybe longer, it’s like a reset for my perspective on things, it’s magic. As far as music goes, I’m a classic rock and soul girl so 60s and 70s are my easy listening genres, but I love finding new music with a classic feel: Alabama Shakes, Aloe Blacc, Jack White, The Black Keys to name a few.

What about other pastimes? Do you have enough time for any?

I design and create costumes, it costs me so much time but I love how I feel when I’ve created something from an idea in my head, put it on paper, cut some material and created a garment, it really is creating something physical from something that was not there before. There’s something magical about it. I also started to learn to play piano, I would love to spend more time on it, because I do love it and it forces me to sit still, it requires discipline, which I love. I practice yoga and I’m trained in stilt dancing. I do yoga about 3-4 times a week (thank goodness I have time for that).

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What advice would you give to the beginners, those who are just starting their adventure with roller skating?

Don’t give up or be discouraged, if something becomes frustrating or stagnant, move on to another skill and then come back, a fresh perspective makes all the difference.

Where can we see you live (solo or with LA Roller Girls) in the nearest future? Are you going to work on any new music videos (or movies)?

I just finished shooting a video for Norah Jones and shot another video for Hardwell featuring Jay Sean. They should be out shortly (RT: Both videos are already out now: Norah Jones “Tragedy (Lyric Video)” and Hardwell feat. Jay Sean “Thinking About You”). I’m also working on putting out a lifestyle video partnering with High Fidelity Pictures and HQ Avalon Studios where we will get to create the roller skating music video of our dreams! Im also excited to share that the LA Roller Girls will be skating in the “America’s Got Talent Christmas Special” over the holiday season.

We talked about summer hits, summer events and summer sports. At the end, let me ask you one more ‘summer’ question. Three things you like about summer?

I love when the weather is so hot that you have to be in water, I love the water! I also love that people seem to be more social in summer and want to do more things as a group, it’s hard to find time to connect with people these days. I like that I can get away with wearing shorts and sandals every day and not doing my hair is more acceptable because it looks like I might be going to or coming from the beach at any given time lol.

Thank you very much. I’m so happy you’ve managed to find some time for this interview 🙂

by Łukasz Garbol, September – October 2016

As usual, some links worth checking:

image10 Candice Heiden on Instagram

Candice Heiden on YouTube

LA Roller Girls – official page

LA Roller Girls’ Instagram

LA Roller Girls’ Facebook

Most of the photos are taken from from Candice’s archives / Instagram (by her permission), photos 1 and 14 by Elaine Reid, photo 2 is a still from the “Gold” music video, photo 3 – a frame from the music video to “I Want To See You Dance” by Avid Dancer, photo 4 – a frame from “Sweet Lovin” music video (by Sigala ft. Bryn Christopher), photo 5 by Michael Wise, photo 9 is a still from DJ Fresh’s “Louder” music video, photo 10 is a frame from “Freeskate in Los Angeles” video (filming: Niels Groenendijk, Remy Cadier). All photo copyrights belong to their respective owners.

 

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