by Melanie Hoyt

Have you ever heard a can of soda pop explode? There’s a distinct POP! and then a slow, quiet fizzing sound as the carbonated liquid drains out of the small hole that the POP! created. This can be especially distracting as you’re driving on I-96 east towards Detroit, approaching the place where I-275 and I-696 split off in different directions. An explosion–small as it may be–in the backseat of your car can cause you to panic, resulting in a moment of indecision and a sharp veer into another lane.

A word to the wise: when your uncle tells you that soda pop cans left in your car can explode in the winter, listen to him. Otherwise, you will find yourself sitting at a stoplight on Grand River Avenue when you should be zipping southward on I-275 towards the arena in Plymouth.

Fortunately, I’d left myself plenty of time to get to the arena. After a quick consultation with my atlas, I arrived about an hour before the show began, picked up my credential, and watched the last couple minutes of warm-ups.  The cast list had not received much publicity (aside from the headliners, of course) so I started getting more and more excited as I began recognizing the skaters. After the warm-up, I got a program, and my jaw dropped at the array of ice dancers. Dance fans have been complaining for years that dance does not get enough recognition, but this show featured nine dance couples!

In my opinion, the dancers stole the show. Their group numbers were so well done, and the teams who did solos skated with so much enthusiasm. I was very disappointed that none of the skaters were announced during the show except for Oksana Baiul, particularly when the performers veered off of the order in the printed programs. Casual fans in the audience might have liked to know that the show featured two dance teams who finished in the top seven at last year’s World Championships, something not accomplished since 1986. While everyone else just took the ice and waited for their music to start, Oksana was introduced as an Olympic champion. Granted, she is and deserves that recognition. However, I had a lot more fun watching the “Christmas Waltz” number than I did watching Oksana, but then again I’m the person who jumps out of bed at 6 a.m. to watch compulsory dance warm-ups during competitions.

I can’t get over the talent in Michigan. Tanith and Ben have been here for years, and the Detroit area has historically been one of the great skating centers in the United States. In the ‘90s, Todd Eldredge, Tara Lipinski, and Elizabeth Punsalan & Jerod Swallow all trained at the Detroit Skating Club, but after the establishment of additional training centers at Onyx and Arctic Edge, it seemed like Detroit fell behind other skating meccas like Southern California and Delaware. But in the two years that I have lived in Michigan, seeing the young skaters blossom like they have has been fabulous. Detroit is on the map again, and kudos to Tanith & Ben for showcasing so much excellence.

In addition to the dancers, it was great to see another fantastic pair in Detroit. I saw Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski debut their short program at Thornhill in August, but they were sidelined by injury during the Grand Prix Series. I was so happy to see that they look like they’ve made up for time lost this fall. When I talked to Brooke a couple of weeks ago at the Skate Canada Senior Challenge, she said that they were skating better than ever. I think she’s right. They look faster, stronger, and more confident. I hope there’s an exciting battle for the pairs title in St. Paul next month.

After the show, I wanted to catch up with some of the dancers and get some quotes for my report. Unfortunately, I was told that there wouldn’t be time for the media to speak to the skaters between the afternoon and evening performances. I didn’t want to be pushy, but since I’ve met most of the dancers before, I figured that if I happened to run into any of them after the show, and they happened to have thirty free seconds to give me a quote, that it would be fine, right?

So I walked around the arena once. About fifty people were lined up against one of the walls and clutching their VIP passes. I wondered if they were going to parade the stars of the show onto the concourse, or if the fifty people were getting whisked backstage. Either scenario seemed chaotic.

A lot of synchro skaters were on the concourse, but no ice dancers. Oh well. My report would have to do without quotes. I spotted an unmarked set of glass doors at one end of the arena that look like they might lead to an exit. My car was parked much closer to this side of the building than to the doors I entered before the show, so I pushed open the doors, rounded a corner…and discovered that the mystery doors led directly to the room where the skaters were having dinner between the two shows. Hmm. Non-intentional mini-moral dilemma time.

Fortunately, a lot of the dancers recognized me, and most of the others didn’t give me a second glance. I did a quick group interview with a few of them and then talked with Lauren Senft for a few minutes. She made sure that I would definitely be at the Canadian Championships in Vancouver next month, and we talked about how she is really looking forward to skating at home for the first time. I commented that it has been a long time since Canadians have been in Vancouver, but I didn’t mention to her that I know exactly how long it has been. Every couple of months, I feel the need to refresh my memory of the locations of Canadian and U.S. Championships since 1990. Canadians were last held in Vancouver in 1997. And 1997 just happens to be the year Detroit skaters took three of the four U.S. Championship titles. Just tossing that tidbit out there for some intertwined skating world trivia.

With a memory card full of photos and a page of scribbled notes, I left the Compuware Arena in Plymouth, noting that I wasn’t the only one leaving with a smile on my face. I saw a lot of awestruck children in the audience, which is always great to see. The show was already a success for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and there was still an evening performance to come. I do hope that this is only the first of many “Home for the Holidays” shows.