Ice skating, drawing & dance paved the way for this Otis College freshman’s creative higher-ed studies and Olympic aspirations

By Katherine Brubaker

For Otis College freshman Zarii Arri art is a gateway to her future

At age 18, Zarii Arri’s love for the arts can be classified as multifaceted. Primarily a talented figure skater, Arri has taken on other artistic pursuits along the way, while simultaneously maintaining straight As at online school California Connections Academy. Arri is now in her first year at Otis College of Art and Design, majoring in video game development.

Arri has always been interested in skating.

“My mom says that I had a little postcard of figure skates, and they were the white figure skates. And I thought they were really pretty, so I would always look at them,” said Arri, “and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I want those skates.’ And then I saw figure skating for the first time on television. And I was like, ‘I definitely want to do that.’”

Because of this interest, while living in D.C., Arri went to work with an ice-skating coach who encouraged her to “move around first” on the ice while starting out. “For someone who had never skated before and was two years old and had to wear a really heavy helmet, I was doing pretty well. And [the coach] was surprised and my parents were surprised. Ever since, I have been skating almost every day for the last 16 years,” Arri said.

Arri has trained at LA Kings Valley Ice Center and Pickwick Ice. She is currently coached by Randy Gardner, Edik Khachatriyn and Nicole Larsen, among others.

Last year, at age 17, Arri achieved gold status in U.S. Figure Skating’s skills test. Arri described the challenging process for obtaining this title.

“When you start skating you have to go up through certain levels to be able to compete or to be able to say you are at that level. There’s two different types of tests that you have to pass. Those are moves in the field and free skate. Free skate is basically doing your program. Moves in the field is just showing how well you can control your weight by making specific images in the ice. I remember figures were really intense, but to get gold status, you need to be able to pass every single level of moves in the field, starting with pre-preliminary, ending at seniors. And I did. I actually have never failed a moves test,” said Arri.

Arri, however, has never solely been an ice skater. She has also tapped into her musical artistry via the violin, and before ice skating, Arri started dancing at 18-months-old.

“I have been taking dance classes and going to dance for as long as I can remember, because I’ve always loved dance and I’ve always loved ballet. I think just because of how similar it is to figure skating,” said Arri.

Arri has trained with the Joffrey Ballet, dancing in their Nutcracker production as a snow angel and participating in their summer dance intensive one year. Arri also danced in Moscow Ballet’s Nutcracker as a Spanish dancer.

At age five, Arri became interested in acting. Soon after, she and her family made the move to Burbank, California to support this pursuit, which led to scene work in “Transformers” and voice acting gigs.

“Voice acting is still something that I am pursuing and doing,” said Arri.

On top of her performing arts pursuits, Arri can’t seem to remember a time when she wasn’t drawing. At age three she got her first easel, and has been hooked ever since.

“I would draw stick figures at first, or I would draw these little heart people. I still have notebooks filled with all of my weird drawings,” said Arri.

Arri didn’t start taking art classes until she was 15 at Xpress Art Center in Glendale. She later started taking art classes for oil painting and drawing at LA Valley College. “That really made me realize I can study art and that I can go to school for art. And that’s when I started looking into schools,” said Arri, who attended California Connections Academy online to accommodate her busy artistic schedule.

Arri’s ice skating coach, Randy Gardner, mentioned Otis College of Art and Design to her offhandedly one day. Fast forward a couple of months later, and Arri is attending Otis College, where she will be majoring in video game development and concept design. Otis was also appealing because “the campus is also close to an ice rink,” according to Arri. (The Toyota Sports Performance Center, where the LA Kings practice, is in nearby El Segundo.)

Arri is choosing video game development as her major because of her background in art as well as her love of video games.

“I’ve always loved video games. And as I’ve gotten older and I have started to love them even more, I realized that this is an industry I want to be a part of,” said Arri. She is specifically interested in character design and world-building.

Looking even further into the future, Arri still has aspirations of competing in the Olympic Games and is currently training for it. “I have so many different nationalities, so I’m not just limited to the U.S. or the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is where my mom’s from, when choosing a country to compete for in the Olympic Games” said Arri.

Similar to the uncertainty around what’s in store for the world mid-pandemic, the timelines for the summer and winter Olympics Games are also up in the air.

However, Arri remains unfazed and focused on her goal.

“… Right now I’m shooting for 2022 for the Olympics. I actually have one more [Senior Free Skate] test to take… I’m planning on taking that test near the end of the year, just when things start picking up again,” said Arri.

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