"Yes, monkey, what is it?"
"Why do you call them kids? I'm a kid. They're grown-ups."
"Good question. I guess because I think of them as part of the family."
If Hamill treats her skaters as family, it's only because that's the way she wanted to be treated when she was in the show. For one thing, the new Ice Capades pays for hotel bills, which sounds reasonable enough but is actually unprecedented in the ice-show business. For another, the number of shows has been cut back, from an average of 11 a week to an average of eight. And there are no more silly rules like curfews and weigh-ins. (In her early years with the Ice Capades, Dorothy constantly worried about her weight.) "I've been in a lot of shows," says stepsister No. 1, Jared Randolph, "but this is the first company run by skaters for skaters."
As impressive as any triple Axel is the way Hamill jumps from being the boss to being one of the skaters. They are as free to criticize her performance as she is to comment on theirs. One class in Hartford involved a lot of twisting and turning that hurt her ribs, but Hamill never raised a complaint to Birch, who ran the class. She has also been known to shoot pool with the crew (although, truth be told, she is no Tonya Harding).
Hamill can be very tough, though, when it comes to important details, such as the condition of the ice. Perhaps you've seen that Campbell's Soup commercial—who hasn't by now?—with Nancy Kerrigan checking the hockey players. That, in effect, is what Dorothy has to do every week that the Ice Capades goes into an arena that is home to a hockey team.
"Hockey players like the temperature of the ice very cold, around 12 degrees, so that the puck goes faster," Hamill explains. "We need it to be about 25 degrees, so we can dig in our blades. Some engineers understand that, but others give us a rough time." That's when Hamill and company play hardball to get soft ice. Jones has been known to tell an arena that Miss Hamill will refuse to skate if the temperature isn't raised.
The Ice Capades took a hit recently when TV's American Journal ran a piece accusing Hamill of antiunion practices after she hired some nonunion skaters. "Our goal was simply to assemble the best skaters we could," she says. "And then to make them even better. That's what outclass is for. The class is something I borrowed from my friend John Curry."
Curry, who suffers from AIDS, is being treated in his native England, but his presence is very much felt at the Ice Capades. Hamill and several other members of the company once skated with Curry—who, in fact, couldn't stand ice shows. He once said he did not spend "12 years training to go dress up in a Bugs Bunny suit." But over Christmas, Foulkes got a card from Curry. "I wasn't sure how John would feel about me skating in such a commercial show," she says, "but I took his card to be sort of a blessing."
It would be hard for Curry not to like this Cinderella. As good as the individual performances are, the show really comes alive in the ensemble numbers, when all 30 skaters are out on the ice. The eye can't possibly keep up with all the acrobatics and pageantry and comedy and precision. "We have too many great skaters and not enough parts," laments Dorothy. "Brian Boitano, when he saw the show in Oakland, kept asking during the ensemble numbers, "Which guy did that triple?"