When the Student Becomes the Teacher
It was a chilly day in 2009. While choreographing and training skaters at Ice Castle International Arena in Lake Arrowhead, California, Misha Ge’s parents, Sasha and Larissa Ge, asked Phillip Mills to look at his step sequence and spins to check on their IJS levels. Misha was a young, junior level skater full of energy and enthusiasm, which impressed Phillip from their very first lesson.
Over the past 10 years, Phillip and Misha have developed into a magnificent team, working together to refine Misha’s skating skills and draw out the best in his choreographic efforts. Their close relationship is obvious to anyone who watches them work their magic on the ice. Misha came to refer to Phillip as his “sensei” or teacher. It is a charmed relationship that the two of them share and they have a bond and closeness which is beautiful on and off the ice.
Not many of Phillip’s skaters come to him with a definitive plan to be mentored not only in their skating skills but also to enhance their own choreography. But then again, Misha is no ordinary skater. His beauty and grace have earned him high praise and huge popularity with fans throughout the skating world. His choreography and movements are something to behold.
Phillip shared his thoughts about their relationship. “Over the years, while guiding Misha to enhance his own choreographic efforts, I was able to zero in on many of the specifics of his movement and frequently used similar dynamics to that which I used working with Tatsuki Machida.
“Over the years, I have spent time working with Misha on my "Balanced Edge" program which is designed to improve edge quality, choreographic expression, and skating skills. I found this process to be necessary and beneficial. Classical design and form are paramount to what I believe every skater needs and Misha understands the importance of this concept. In the ballet world we spend years trying to perfect the basic principles of classical movement and that is exactly what I have tried to help Misha enhance.
“As Misha’s choreographic skills matured over the years, I have become increasingly proud of the beautiful and innovative work he has incorporated into his own programs and now for his students. From time to time, Misha brings his skaters to me to look at and evaluate the programs he has choreographed, to give them a second eye.
“Misha, very much like myself, has a voracious appetite for continual learning and refinement. It is obvious to me, as well as to elite coaches and skaters, that Misha is becoming known as a real force and choreographer for our sport. The student has become the teacher.”
Misha always refers to his mentor of ten years as Phillip Sensei (teacher). It is an endearing term spoken with the deepest respect and reverence. “It is a treasure to have this type of mentor in my life. Phillip Sensei taught me not just how to craft better skills on the ice but also how to be a better person in life and as a professional. Everyone around Phillip, whether it be a skater, a coach, an official or a parent respects him. He models respect and shows kindness to all. He works so hard and for so many hours each day to help his skaters be the best they can be. Watching him work on the ice is simply inspiring. Phillip only knows how to give from the heart. He is the rare individual.”
Misha shared a story with me that his grandfather was an entertainer being both an artist and an actor. So like Phillip, his grandfather taught Misha to always create art from the heart. This essence is at the core of how he skates and choreographs for his students.
“Like Phillip Sensei, I strive to see what I can bring forth from each skater. Phillip taught me that in addition to using an athlete’s strengths while choreographing, I must also see the weaker side of a skater in order to improve upon their skating skills and performance,” stated Misha.
Several weeks ago, Misha drove down to the Lake Forest Ice Palace in Lake Forest California, to thank Phillip for all of the years of teaching and mentoring. To show the love and respect Misha has for Phillip, he gave him a set of one-of-a-kind John Wilson blades inscribed with the precious words that he uses to call his coveted mentor, “Phillip Sensei”. It was a magnificent and touching gesture between two of figure skating’s elite.