The lobby of the Ann Arbor Ice Cube is overflowing with girls and young women dressed in matching athletic suits. They move in packs, the color of their bright scarves differentiating each team. Their hair pulled back severely, they are obviously serious athletes, but their eyes are incongruently made up, like fashion models or ballroom dancers, with extra-long fake eyelashes, serious screaming eye shadow, and lots of rhinestones in their hair.

As I walk into the ice arena, the audience is screaming! Chanting! Bellowing! What kind of raucous sporting event have I walked into? Then the music starts, and, suddenly, graceful ladies are poised like ballerinas on the ice.

A friend explains that synchronized skating was invented in Ann Arbor, and that the “Dr. Porter Synchronized Skating Classic” (returning to the Ice Cube December 7 and 8) was the very first synchronized skating competition. Teams come from not only all around the country but from all around the world. No wonder the parking lot was so crowded.

How to explain synchronized skating? Visualize a team of twelve to sixteen Michelle Kwans or whoever your favorite skater is. You have the beautiful flowy gauzy gowns, graceful expressions, delicate hand motions, twirls, and turns, but multiplied and complicated by the difficulties of navigating something like a busy dance floor while sliding backwards at high velocity.

The skaters’ configurations shift as quickly and seamlessly as a kaleidoscope. Four groups of four skaters arm in arm morph into two lines of eight skaters arms across shoulders, morphing into a circle turning counterclockwise, morphing into a whip of skaters spinning out of the circle, morphing into pairs of skaters holding hands. Often, parallel lines of skaters will intersect–letting go of one another’s shoulders right before impact–turn, and suddenly be in a completely new grouping.

Wait. How did they just do that? I cannot differentiate individual skaters, I only see the formations they create. The velocity at which they skate but do not crash and do not fall is mind-numbing. What coordination and courage this takes! I cannot take my eyes off the ice.

The two long tables of judges give the competition a gravitas that should not be missed, but it is the cheers of the crowd (mostly skaters) that let you know which moves were particularly impressive.

Afterwards, I walk through the lobby to check out the vendors and smile to see the seriousness of these young women athletes give way to their youth and girlishness as they squeal over sparkling skating costumes, piles of cute stuffed animals, huge bins of scrunchies of every color, and tables full of rhinestone-studded hair clips.