Jelle Butzen teaches kids to skate on Belgian TV

October 29, 2010
By Mireille Geurts
Photos © 2010 Absolute Skating

Skating with the stars”, “Dancing on ice”; the idea of combining figure skating with a television show is certainly not new. In a multitude of countries these shows have been aired, and although not all equally successful they have resulted in many new members for the skating clubs. The young students watch their idols and want to copy their style. A children’s channel in Belgium, Ketnet, chose a different path, making use of those enthusiastic children and creating a show around them. “Will 8 newbies to the sport be able to put together a skating-show?”

It’s an interesting concept. From 850 kids 8 got selected in a process lasting several days, which of course also was caught on tape.
“The selection was done taking several things into accounts. Body control, jump-strength and rotation speed. Stuff you need to have in your inventory to be able to manage this task. Of course we also selected on personality, you need to have a cool tight group.”

Speaking is Jelle Butzen, one of the main coaches of the tv-show. For Absolute Skating readers he is already a familiar name, as are several of the other participants of “Ketnet on Ice”:
“The selected 8 will be coached by Kaat van Daele, Monique van der Velden, Jeroen Kustermans and Joris Peusens; hockey coaches from Leuven and Valerie Verbert.”

Kaat and Monique are well known to us through their frequent participation in Ice Fantillusion, Kevin Van Der Perren’s annual show. And a figure skating show in Belgium would not be complete without Mr. Van Der Perren himself. Jelle continues:
“Every coach has one week to train the kids in a specific area. Kaat did the basis; steps and basic skating skills. The hockey people will be handling team spirit, competition.
I teach jumps, performance, presence, working the audience and showmanship. Kevin got a role you can compare to being the circus director. He gives the kids their assignments, the tasks “I’d like you to be able to do….” The kids don’t know which week they’ll have which coach, so every time that comes as a surprise to them.“

Performance, presence, showmanship… the tasks for Jelle couldn’t have been more suiting, if you ask us. We have gotten to know him for his passion for skating and entertainment and his capability to let this shine through to the audience, while his programs are often not only entertaining but also filled with actual content, great steps and jumps included.
Of course, the people behind the show did not grab out of thin air who would do what. The producer Isabelle Boutriaux tells:

For the selection of the coaches we asked for help from BLOSO (Belgian organization/icerinks+clubs -ed) and invited everyone who teaches. We got many requests, invited several people to an audition and selected the best ones. Of course we also tried to get some different types.”

The selections of the coaches as well as of the kids were done several weeks before they actually started recording the show. The lucky 8 children were presented to the audience for the first time in May, at the end of one of the Ice Fantillusion shows. This came as a surprise, not just for the audience, but also for the selected kids themselves, who were pulled onto the ice after a nice performance by Jelle, Kevin, Kaat, Valerie and one of the hockeycoaches.

Tiemen-Cis-Valerie-Mathias-Kristien (host)-Axelle-Kevin-Kobe-Kaat-Hannelien-Jelle-Chloe-Jeroen-Renee

Jelle’s coaching week took place in July, which is why we travelled to Belgium on a very warm and sunny day. The ice rink was located in a very quiet area, surrounded by sports fields and some military buildings. If we hadn’t known they were taping the show there, we never would have guessed. Which is kind of the idea; the audience will not know beforehand what exactly will happen during the kids’ training-period. That in itself creates a problem too:

Isabelle Boutriaux: “The skating show the kids will put on, if they manage it, will be held here. And what is a show without an audience? The problem is that the show should be taped before the broadcasts start, so we can’t invite an audience. If we do that people will know whether the kids succeeded or not, and the excitement of the show’s concept will be broken.”

That is an example of where not all on tv is as it seems. Like retakes when something is being demonstrated, the first tries of said demonstration, the passing of time, etc. It was very interesting to witness how such a show gets recorded. It’s probably naive to think they just tape the training session and edit it afterwards, while in reality the crew present makes sure they got the moves of all skaters and if not, also that gets redone. It makes sense and it is, after all, more efficient.

Beside Jelle and the 8 kids (Renee – white sweater, Cis – darkblue, Axelle -blue/purple, Mathias – orange, Kobe – red, Chloe – red/pink, Hannelien – green, Tiemen – lightblue) there were constantly five guys on the ice, working the cameras and sound equipment, and three members of the production team. The camera and light guys stayed very close to the kids and their teacher, practically circling them. We were welcome to stay the entire time they were working, as long as we made sure not to be on camera. In practice this meant ducking behind the boards every single time a camera seemed to be swaying in your direction. There were décor settings on the ice, which looked really nice on camera, and huge pieces of lighting equipment hanging above the décor.

“It is hard to find a location for this, can’t put all the equipment, light, sound etc, everywhere. I was shocked when I first saw what they had put up here and it’s been here 1,5 month now. That just isn’t possible in every ice rink.”

No, we guess not. Having watched a while how the kids were doing with the moves taught by Jelle, we noticed that for having skated only about 6 days, they were actually picking things up pretty well. Even though each element only got repeated 2-3 times and then they had to move on to the next.

Yeah, that is a disadvantage, that’s why I try to compensate that in my lessons with performance etc. In theory everyone can do that, you just need to let loose, remove your mental boundaries and go for it. One hour to learn a jump is not much, after all.
The first trainings hour this morning they learned the Waltz jump. That was the tv-Monday and the second hour they learned the Salchow, that’s for Tuesday. And of course how to camouflage if you fall etc.”

In this case camouflaging a fall meant Jelle demonstrating how the kids could react when they fell; how to work it into the program. There are several different things one can do, so Jelle had to “fall” several times, while being wired to the sound, equipment he shouldn’t fall on. Not too hard, or too often at least, so he wouldn’t damage it. It’s not all as easy as it may look on television!

“Every day there will be an episode of approximately 7-8 minutes. It’s not very long, no, but it is children’s tv after all. Every episode resembles one day but we shoot 2 episodes a day.

Kevin, being the ringleader, sets the tasks each week and he is also the one who decides together with the coach at the end of the week if the kids made the certificate for the set task. These certificates come in the form of a colored badge. Some already earned 1, some 2. Some will get one at the end of my week 3, some will not.”

So it’s not like because it’s children’s tv they will all earn their badges every time, like often is the case when kids are involved. They will actually be evaluated halfway through the week, and this will be done in a fair and direct way, without the sugarcoating just because they are kids and cute. Of course we probed Jelle to tell us who he thought would earn the badge at the end of the week and who would not, and even though he did have inkling, he didn’t want to mention any names.

“I can see pretty fast if kids have potential or not, because of my experience in teaching skating. Not from my own skating, because then I just feel and don’t see. By teaching you learn to see. Potentially they all have “something” otherwise they wouldn’t be here.”

In his daily life Jelle sometimes assists a trainer with choreography and bits of technique lessons. For us it was the first time seeing him in this capacity, and it was quite interesting.

“It is different from the normal students, yes, not because of the cameras, those you don’t see anymore after a while. But unconsciously you handle the situation a bit differently, you realize that it is not just about the lessons, but also about forming fun connections within the group, it is a team. There is a big age difference, but all are cool people and we have a lot of fun with them. Which is good too since we are together 9 to 10 hours a day. Today, after the on ice training, we will have a training session outside. Everything has to be done correctly, but there also has to be enough recreation. We need to blow off some steam.”


That they all got along and had a lot of fun we could very well see; during and in-between recordings the kids and their coach played on the ice and there were lots of laughter. But also a few tears, like when one of the kids, lightblue dressed Tiemen, fell on his already injured knee. But after some words of consolation by Jelle and a bit of rest time, that drama was soon over too. It can’t be all peaches and cream when it comes to a project like this. We wondered how the preparations went, how they defined what would be done etc.


“In the planning meetings we explained to the producers what all is involved in a production like this from a skating point of view. Now, during taping, they ask if I can do this or that, but that is because they know where we come from. For example, if I had told them that skating entertainment to me is a back flip, they would ask me to do that now. Of course I didn’t say that. *laughs* But that is the production point of view, cameras need to be placed etc. We as trainers have to cooperate with that.”

Does he prepare what to say for each take?

“ No, the producers do ask if I know what to say, then we go over the content bits, but the actual sentences I fill in for myself.”

At least that seems less fake.

“ Oh, to me I always come across fake on tv. I also don’t like to see myself skate.”

That is hard to imagine. The 2008 junior bronze medalist of the Belgian nationals, who stands out for his presence on the ice and outstanding performance skills, does not like to watch himself on skates! Oh well, it is a good thing then it will be the 8 kids who have to perform in the mini show aired on Ketnet,and not Jelle, isn’t it?

“After the mini show the program is over. Valerie will create the choreography for that show. If they manage to put the show together in the end, of course.”

Will they? Will Renee, Cis, Axelle, Mathias, Kobe, Chloe, Hannelien and Tiemen manage to get the badges for the tasks set by Kevin and in the end pull off a show on the ice? We will just have to see how it all unfolds.


Ketnet on Ice is at the moment being aired daily on Belgian TV, and is also found on the Internet: (just click on the Ketnet on Ice logo). At the moment they are in the end of Jelle’s week (but you can watch it all back online). You will be able to read more about Jelle this season, exclusively here on Absolute Skating.



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