The Surya Bonaly was art to watch. My mama, home on a rare half-day from work, was flipping through our local TV channels and, seeing a new black ice skater, hurried to record her on a VHS tape she reserved exclusively for classic movies and occasional Oprah Winfrey shows. After I got in from school, she slid it into the VCR. “Watch this little black girl,” she said as she smiled down at me. “She’s amazing.”

Surya glided onto the ice, all poise and confidence, her mahogany skin shimmering against the manmade glitters and sparkles of her sequined costume, and posed for her music to start. It was something classical — ice skaters always used classical music — but she moved around the rink less like a ballerina on blades and more like a bedazzled superhero.

She was sturdy and compact ― like me ― and the standard toe loops and salchows incorporated into her routine took on a completely different look when they were performed by Surya’s body. They were more powerful, more athletic, more demanding of space. Then, like a ninja warrior acrobat, she lifted herself off the ice, tossed her frame against the air and tumbled into a perfect aerial backflip to land on a single leg. She remains the only professional skater of any gender to successfully achieve the feat. Surya was Black Girl Magic before it had a name and a hashtag.


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